Leaders appeal to families, small business

Canada's federal party leaders set their sights on families and small businesses Tuesday, offering money to students, tax breaks to employers, and help for people managing credit card debt.

Tories tout EI tax break for business, Liberals offer RESPs for students, NDP targets credit card debt

Canada's federal party leaders set their sights on families and small businesses Tuesday, offering money to students, tax breaks to employers, and help for people managing credit card debt.

The Liberals unveiled a $1 billion campaign plank Tuesday that would help fund university and college educations for Canadian students. 

Called the Canadian Learning Passport, the program would give $1,000 a year for up to four years tax-free to every high school student who chooses to go to university or college. The money would not have to be repaid. The annual stipend would rise to $1,500 a year, or $6,000 over four years, for students from low-income families, the party said.

Conservative Leader Stephen Harper reintroduced a plan that would give a one-year employment insurance tax break for small businesses to hire new employees.

The Hiring Credit for Small Business would give a one-time credit of up to $1,000 against the increase in an employer’s EI premiums in 2011. The incentive credit will be available to approximately 525,000 employers, reducing their 2011 payroll costs by about $165 million. The plan was part of the 2011 federal budget that died with the last parliament.

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff made his announcement at Sheridan College in Oakville, Ont., at the start of the federal election campaign's fourth day.

"I can say without exaggeration that this is a real revolution in learning and training in Canada — and that will give us the means of becoming the most competitive society in the world," Ignatieff said.

A Liberal Party release Tuesday morning said the Learning Passport "will be $1,000 in every RESP account in each of the four years leading up to the typical start of post-secondary education, when the recipient is 14 to 17 years of age."

At an afternoon briefing, however, Liberal party spokesmen said no money would actually change hands until students enter university or college, meaning a Liberal government wouldn't be adding to RESPs in advance. No interest would be earned, therefore, they said.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper delivers a speech during a campaign stop in Regina on Tuesday. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)
While the earlier release had praised the value of "putting Learning Passport funding directly into their RESP when students are in high school and still making decisions about their educational choices," in fact the CBC was told later that this wouldn't happen.

The Liberals would start the program immediately, allowing students entering post-secondary institutions this fall to receive the full $1,000 amount this year, a party spokesman said.

Ignatieff was to leave Ontario and Quebec for the first time in the campaign, heading to Vancouver on Tuesday afternoon for a town hall-style event in Vancouver South, followed by a nighttime rally in Richmond, just outside Vancouver.

Vancouver South, held by Liberal MP and former B.C. premier Ujjal Dosanjh, is expected to be a close race. Dosanjh won by 20 votes in the 2008 election.  

Layton takes aim at credit card debt

A sign in Brantford, Ont. promotes NDP Leader Jack Layton's plan to cap interest rates on credit cards at five percentage points above the prime rate. Layton made the announcement Tuesday. (CBC)
NDP Leader Jack Layton said he is committed to capping credit card rates and fees as a way to control the household debt of Canadian families, as he announced his party's first platform plank at a news conference in Brantford, Ont.

The NDP proposal would cap credit card rates at five percentage points above the prime interest rate and extend powers to federal regulators to control "excessive fees on credit cards."

That would mean a Canadian with a credit card would be paying closer to eight or nine per cent interest, instead of the common 20 per cent that they are paying now.

Layton also said he would make a voluntary code of conduct on transaction fees implemented by the Conservative government a law.

"It will allow banks to recoup a profit while keeping family debt loads manageable," Layton said in his speech.

"And unlike Stephen Harper's latest idea, my plan will help Canadians families now — not in 2015," said Layton, in reference to a the Conservatives' announcement Monday they would allow income-splitting for parents of children under 18 after the deficit is eliminated.

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May was canvassing in her Saanich, B.C., riding and had an evening event planned.