Hockey helmet tariffs remain despite cuts on athletic gear

The government's recently announced tariff cuts on sports equipment won't cover hockey helmets, the NDP's consumer affairs critic says, and in fact the cost may increase.

Tariffs so complex it masks tax increase, business professor says

The government's recently announced tariff cuts on sports equipment won't cover hockey helmets, the NDP's consumer affairs critic said Thursday. (Jack Dempsey/Associated Press)

The government's recently announced tariff cuts on sports equipment won't cover hockey helmets, the NDP's consumer affairs critic says — and in fact the cost may increase as the government raises tariffs on certain countries.

Writing on Facebook Thursday, Glenn Thibeault says he made the discovery when he was researching the so-called iPod tax, an expected increase in the cost of iPods due to tariff increases planned for 2015 for the countries that produce and export the devices.

Hockey helmets are imported under the "protective headgear, athletic" category, which is a separate category from the one under which other hockey equipment falls.

Thibeault says there are no changes listed in the 2013 federal budget for the customs tariff chapter that applies to helmets, "so this means protective headgear for sports will continue to be charged a Most Favoured Nation 8.5 [per cent] tariff."

"So apparently the Conservatives want to make it cheaper for you to be able to play hockey, but have no interest in making it cheaper to protect Canadians from concussions!" he said on Facebook.

The budget announced tariff elimination for cricket, golf, hockey and a handful of other types of sports equipment. The hockey equipment mentioned specifically in a list distributed by the government when the budget was tabled includes sticks, skates, and elbow, shoulder, waist, thigh and hip protective equipment.

'Test case'

A spokeswoman for the Department of Finance said the elimination of tariffs on baby clothing and some sports equipment 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," Stephanie Rubec said in an email to CBC News.

"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 to consumers they would save $76 million a year, according to the federal budget.

The tariff increases are estimated to cost consumers $330 million a year.

For those who buy helmets made in China, Thailand or one of the other 72 countries that will see its tariffs rise in 2015, the cost of helmets is likely to increase.

The government will move those countries off a list of less developed countries subject to preferential, or lower, tariffs in a bid to encourage trade.

Some of the countries being taken off the list are emerging economies, like Brazil and South Korea.

'Smoke and mirrors'

Thibeault said the tariff changes should have been better thought-through.

"We're making it more expensive for iPods, we're making it more expensive for baby carriers, we're making it more for helmets. But it's cheaper to buy a pair of pads and the Conservatives have not looked really at how it's going to affect Canadians," he said in an interview.

"It was a lot of smoke and mirrors when it really is affecting Canadians in the pocketbook every single day."

Mike Moffatt, an assistant professor of business, economics and public policy at Western University's Richard Ivey School of Business in London, was the first person to publicize the tariff increase for iPods. He suspects the government didn't realize the increase would affect iPods until he pointed it out.

"This whole exercise has shown how out of date this tariff code is and how many changes really need to be made," Moffatt said.

"Nobody's given a coherent argument about why we need a 13 per cent tariff on bicycles. The government said we have to treat China the same way as we treat Japan. Well, okay, but why is Japan facing a 13 per cent tariff on bicycles?"

Rubec said the reason for the tariff change is to update a system that was designed "to help the very poorest developing countries." She denies the change increases tariffs.

'A way to raise revenue'

Moffatt suggests the government has found a way to increase its revenue that's so complex that consumers won't know why prices have gone up.

"The government really seems to be trying to find areas where [they can] increase revenue from a lot of different areas by a little amount ... they just take a nickel here, a dime there and hope that it all adds up," he said.

"[They say] this is all about treating countries fairly, whereas if they simply said we're going to raise the GST a point or we're going to raise corporate income taxes or what have you, it would be really obvious what the government's doing. But here they're finding a way to raise revenue that is just so unbelievably complicated that they have this sort of back story about, well, they're not raising taxes at all."

Questions about the tariff increases have played a major role in opposition attacks on the government this week. Both the NDP and Liberals are making middle-class families their focus as they fight for votes in the political centre.

It's expected that retailers will pass on the cost of the tariffs to consumers.

On Tuesday, MPs defeated an NDP motion urging the House to condemn the new taxes.

Thibeault also has a motion at the House industry committee calling for a study into the effect of the tariff increases.

Thibeault also advocates for a national strategy for sports injury surveillance to monitor concussions, including guidelines and measures to ensure athletes are not being returned to play before they are medically ready, his website says.