Conservatives say Liberal campaign is copying Tory policy ideas

For the third time in this federal election campaign, the Liberal Party has rolled out a policy proposal similar to one already promised by its Conservative counterparts — and some Tories are saying the governing party is now clearly cribbing from the Conservative playbook.

Two campaigns roll out similar policies on taxes, maternity benefits and home retrofits

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau shakes hands with Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer during the Tintamarre in celebration of National Acadian Day in Dieppe, N.B. last month. The Conservatives say the Liberals have been following their lead on policy this campaign. (Marc Grandmaison/Canadian Press)

For the third time in this federal election campaign, the Liberal Party has rolled out a policy proposal similar to one already promised by its Conservative counterparts — and some Tories are complaining the governing party is cribbing from the Conservative playbook.

On tax measures to help the middle class, on parental and maternity benefits and with green home renovation incentives, the two parties have released policies that are very much alike with some notable tweaks.

"Our whole platform is ready for the entire campaign — and they just follow behind us. Clearly, we're leading, we're leading the campaign and they are saying 'OK, it's a good policy, let's copy it,'" Conservative candidate Pierre-Paul Hus, the incumbent candidate for Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, said in an interview on the sidelines of a campaign stop in Quebec City.

"Maybe they think people don't follow the news. It's unusual in a federal campaign to have this kind of situation ... to copy. But, maybe, it's good for us because they see we have some engagement and they follow behind," he said.

On Wednesday, Scheer re-announced a major plank of his climate change plan — a two-year, $1.8 billion promise to give tax credits for green-friendly home renovations — only to see the Liberal Party promise a similar measure — an interest-free loan program for renos — later that day.

The former Conservative government was the first to establish such a home renovation program in 2009 as a recession-fighting measure. Former prime minister Stephen Harper promised during the last federal campaign to revive the program — it had been discontinued as the government sought to get back to a balanced budget. The plan didn't see the light of day when Harper lost and the new Liberal government enacted other environmental plans.

The NDP and Green Party have also announced ambitious home retrofit policies aimed at making the country's buildings —which account for 12 per cent of the country's greenhouse gas emissions — cleaner.

Parental, maternity benefits

There are also notable similarities on the parental and maternity benefits file.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer introduced a private member's bill in Parliament in February 2018, which would have provided a non-refundable, 15 per cent tax credit to cover the taxes incurred on employment insurance (EI) benefits for new parents. Scheer said a person earning a salary of $50,000, who then goes on EI benefits after a birth, would save about $4,000.

The Liberal Party voted against the legislation with the party's MPs saying they'd rather stick with the Canada Child Benefit (CCB).

"The CCB is simpler, more generous, and better targeted to give more help to people who need it most," Liberal MP Adam Vaughan said of the Scheer policy, dismissing the bill as "a gimmick, stunt, slogan."

However, not to be outdone at election time, the Liberal Party countered the Conservative promise with its own plan for new parents on EI days later.

As opposed to a tax credit, the Liberal Party promised to make those EI benefits entirely tax-free at source, meaning would-be beneficiaries won't have to wait for a refund at tax time.

Tax cuts

On tax cuts, the Liberal Party has also sought to go toe-to-toe with the Tories.

The Liberals do have a recent track record of cutting personal income tax rates for middle-income Canadians. In the last Parliament, the Liberal government cut the the second income bracket rate — on the portion of taxable income between $47,630 and $95,259 — to 20.5 percent from 22 percent.

The priciest commitment of Scheer's campaign to this point is a "universal" tax cut, a $6-billion promise that will give couples tax-relief worth about $850 a year.

To accomplish this, like the Liberals before them, the Conservatives said they would cut the tax rate on taxable income under $47,630 to 13.75 per cent from 15 per cent.

Days after the blackface pictures of Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau surfaced, the Liberals promised to make the first $15,000 of income tax-free for most Canadians.

The party will offer its cuts by raising the basic personal income tax amount by $2,000 by 2023 for people earning under $147,000 a year. This plan will save the average taxpayer roughly $292 a year.

The Conservatives maintain even if there are similarities between the two party platforms, the Tory approach on taxes will better help lower-income Canadians (someone earning under $47,000 would receive $147 more a year in relief under the Conservative tax cut plan.)

'We take absolutely no lessons from the Conservative plan' 

A spokesperson for the campaign provided figures that suggest its maternity benefit will also be more equitable across income brackets, with wealthier Canadians gaining more from the Liberal iteration.

While the Conservative tax credit tops out at $4,200, a person earning $120,000 a year would see more than $7,200 in tax relief with the Liberal proposal.

"One thing is clear in this election, under Justin Trudeau life will only get more unaffordable and he will continue to raise taxes on all Canadians. We are proud to be offering our positive Conservative vision to Canadians with policies that will help you get ahead," Jamie Ellerton, the manager of media relations for the campaign tour, said in a statement.

A Liberal Party spokesperson denied they were borrowing policy ideas from Scheer.

"We take absolutely no lessons from the Conservative plan to take our country backwards," Eleanore Catenaro said.

"Every single policy that Andrew Scheer has announced borrows directly from Stephen Harper's failed policies of the past or benefits the wealthiest few while leaving behind Canadians who truly need it most. We shouldn't be surprised – that's what Conservative politicians do," she said.


John Paul Tasker

Senior reporter

J.P. Tasker is a journalist in CBC's parliamentary bureau who reports for digital, radio and television. He is also a regular panellist on CBC News Network's Power & Politics. He covers the Conservative Party, Canada-U.S. relations, Crown-Indigenous affairs, climate change, health policy and the Senate. You can send story ideas and tips to J.P. at john.tasker@cbc.ca.

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