Harper targets 'corporate welfare bums'

Harper revives old NDP slogan from the past, pledging to go after "corporate welfare bums" who are costing taxpayers billions of dollars.

Conservative Leader Stephen Harper revived an NDP slogan from the past, pledging to go after corporate welfare which is costing taxpayers billions of dollars.

Speaking to the Toronto Board of Trade Wednesday, Harper challenged the business community to stop receiving government subsidies, making it a condition to lower their business taxes.

"I won't lower one without lowering the other," Harper said. "That is what I mean by low-tax solutions rather than high-spending solutions."

Harper lashed out at a system that has allowed corporations to benefit from government subsidies, saying Canadians have not received value for their money.

"It was an NDP leader, David Lewis, who coined the term corporate welfare bums in 1972", Harper said. "Unfortunately, in the past 30 years, too many corporations have been drawn into this trap by the available plethora of government loans, grants, and subsidies."

Harper described Prime Minister Paul Martin's own company, Canada Steamship Lines – which received $160 million in loans and grants – as one of the "worst offenders."

"But I don't mean to single out CSL," Harper said. "There are many questionable examples of transactions between government and business."

Harper said he would also reform regional development agencies, focus on tax cuts or credits and "get out of the grants and subsidies game."

By reducing corporate welfare, Harper said he could eliminate the $12 air security tax, reduce capital gains tax rates, and reduce the business income tax rate, including cuts to the small business rate.

He said he believes a comprehensive audit by the auditor general would discover that $18 billion in subsidies, grants and contributions "does not deliver value for money."

He said the audit would free up at least $4 billion.