Conservatives reverse course on hockey helmet tariffs

The Conservative government is reversing course and adding hockey helmets to the list of athletic equipment no longer subject to tariffs.

MP Shelly Glover contradicted Finance Department officials over import tax

A Conservative MP is denying the import tax will remain on hockey helmets, directly contradicting Department of Finance officials over a tariff that's expected to increase on the protective gear in 2015. (Jack Dempsey/Associated Press)

The Conservative government is reversing course and adding hockey helmets to the list of athletic equipment no longer subject to import taxes.

The change was announced in an email to reporters shortly after a Conservative MP denied in question period that hockey helmets would still be subject to import taxes, despite a move by the government in its 2013 budget to remove tariffs on other hockey equipment as of April 1.

"It has been brought to our attention that hockey helmets were not included on the list of products receiving tariff relief. This was an oversight at Finance and they will be eligible for tariff relief going forward," Department of Finance spokeswoman Stephanie Rubec said in a statement to CBC News.

The tariff that applies to helmets was expected to increase in 2015 when the government is to change the tariff rate for countries that produce the protective equipment.

That change was also included in the 2013 budget, which said the government will move 72 countries off a list of less developed countries subject to lower tariffs. Among those countries are China and Thailand, two major exporters of hockey equipment.

Prior to the announcement by finance officials, a Conservative MP denied helmets were left out of the tariff relief, but didn't say why she was directly contradicting Thursday's statement by the officials.

NDP sport critic Matthew Dubé said the government's financial policies are costing Canadians dearly.

"They've raised tariffs on almost everything while trying to distract people by claiming to reduce tariffs on hockey equipment. But hockey helmets, essential safety equipment, are still subject to tariffs. And Budget 2013 will likely raise the price of hockey helmets," he said in question period.

'List is not exhaustive'

Shelly Glover, parliamentary secretary to the minister of finance, denied that the cost of helmets could go up.

"For greater clarity, hockey helmets will be covered under the tariff relief in the budget," she said in question period, without explaining the change.

The department's spokeswoman had said the elimination of tariffs on some sports equipment, as well as baby clothes, was a test case.

"However, the list is not exhaustive and doesn’t include every single piece of equipment produced in the world today, including hockey helmets," Rubec said in an email to CBC News on Thursday.

"The government fully expects this first test case will result in significant savings for Canadian families and is working with consumers, retailers and manufacturers to monitor prices and to ensure consumers benefit from these tariff reductions. Eliminating these tariffs will allow the government to assess whether tariff elimination can help narrow the price gap for consumers in Canada and will help guide future decisions."

The tariff cut came into force on April 1 and if retailers pass the cuts on, consumers would save $76 million a year, according to the federal budget.

The tariff increases, which retailers are expected to pass on to consumers, are estimated to cost Canadians $330 million a year.

'Worst possible moment' for tax increase

Liberal industry critic Marc Garneau said the increase comes"at a time when the economy is fragile, when household debt has reached record levels, when the unemployment rate is high, when wages are not budging."

"This is the worst possible moment to hit Canadians with new taxes on close to 1,300 products that Canadians need in their everyday lives. When will this government wake up and cancel these tax hikes on Canadians?" he said in the House.

Glover sounded frustrated with NDP and Liberal questions about the tariff increase, at one point calling it "nonsense" and "absolutely false."

"IPods have been coming into Canada tariff-free for many, many years. And this government intends to ensure that they continue to come into Canada tariff-free in the years to come," she said in response to an NDP question about tariffs on MP3 players.

There is a tariff exemption for items that are in continuous use with a computer, but it's not clear if that exemption would apply to MP3 players, which are meant to be used away from the computer. The logistics director for Sony Canada told The Canadian Press earlier this month that the process to qualify for the exemption is too onerous, and that it would drive up the cost of electronics for consumers.