Income splitting questions dog Conservatives for second day

Conservative MPs continued to be dogged by questions about whether the party would introduce income splitting once the federal budget is balanced, one day after Finance Minister Jim Flaherty questioned the policy.

No clear answers day after Finance Minister Jim Flaherty says it doesn't benefit most Canadians

Conservative MPs continued to be dogged by questions about whether the party would introduce income splitting once the federal budget is balanced, a day after Finance Minister Jim Flaherty questioned the policy.

Flaherty suggested Wednesday that he doesn't support the Conservatives' promise to introduce income splitting for two-parent families with children once the budget is balanced. It's a pledge the party made in the 2011 election campaign and that many of them have repeatedly pointed to since then.

It's expected the budget will be balanced in a year.

MPs up to and including Prime Minister Stephen Harper have declined to reiterate the 2011 promise. It could mean the government is dropping the income splitting policy in favour of another idea that's yet to be introduced.

Speaking in Gormley, Ont., Harper reminded reporters it was the Conservatives who brought in income splitting on pensions for seniors, but said only that reducing taxes is a priority.

"It's been a very successful program, lowering taxes for the elderly and benefiting older people, our senior citizens, very widely," he said.

"Once we get a balanced budget, and once we get a surplus, we can have, obviously, the discussion about what we do next. But we're very clear that we made some commitments and that reducing taxes for Canadian families will be among our highest priorities as we move forward."

'Don't discuss forthcoming tax changes'

Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver also refused to repeat the promise to introduce income splitting.

"We will look at a range of policies next year and, as you know, our government stands for the reduction of taxes," he said outside of question period.

"I'm not the one to formulate those policies, but we will advance in the direction of tax reduction."

Oliver insisted though that Conservatives haven't changed their minds in refusing to repeat the promise.

"I think the issue is that individual members of Parliament or ministers don't discuss forthcoming tax changes. It's as simple as that," he said.

"Frankly, we're in the beginning of an important public policy debate about what to do with the surplus."

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau said it appears officials hadn't thought through the idea before making the promise — or had no intention of keeping the promise.

"We're quite pleased that they're thinking twice about it because it has been shown that it does not benefit close to 86 per cent of Canadians," he said.

"It's fair game to reconsider promises ... I certainly hope that the Conservatives start reconsidering a lot of their approach, which is more about what is good for the Conservative Party than what is good for Canadians."

'Not sure' it benefits society

A day after tabling a budget that shows the government is within its own margin of error of balancing the books, Flaherty cast doubt on whether income splitting is a good idea.

"It benefits some parts of the Canadian population a lot. And other parts of the Canadian population virtually not at all," Flaherty told reporters following an event in Ottawa on Wednesday.

"And I like to think I'm analytical as finance minister, so I will, when we discuss it eventually in cabinet, in caucus, I will present my analysis to my colleagues." Earlier, Flaherty said "I'm not sure that overall it benefits our society."

The Conservatives promised income splitting for couples with children under 18, a plan that would overwhelmingly benefit families where one adult has little to no income, such as a stay-at-home parent, and the other has a high income.

Other Conservative MPs, including Employment Minister Jason Kenney, said Wednesday that they still support the policy.

"The bottom line is it's about tax fairness for families so they don't get penalized," Kenney said.