Would opposition parties scrap pension income splitting?
NDP, Liberals oppose income splitting for parents - but there's no evidence they'd kill it for pensioners
"This government brought in income splitting for Canadian pensioners. That (Liberal) party voted against it and that party has, in the past, threatened to take it away from our seniors."
— Prime Minister Stephen Harper, April 22.
"We have introduced pension income splitting, which the opposition parties say they would revoke."
— Conservative MP Peter Kent, April 23.
NDP Leader Tom Mulcair and Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau have both vowed to scrap the centrepiece of the Conservatives' family tax benefit package: allowing couples with young children to split their income for tax purposes.
Since the so-called family tax cut was announced last October, Prime Minister Stephen Harper, his ministers and backbench Conservatives have repeatedly asserted that the two opposition parties would also scrap pension income splitting, a measure the Harper government introduced in 2007.
How accurate is that assertion? Does opposing parental income splitting automatically mean opposing it for pensioners? Does the fact that opposition parties voted against pension income splitting mean they'd get rid of it?
Spoiler Alert: The Canadian Press Baloney Meter is a dispassionate examination of political statements culminating in a ranking of accuracy on a scale of "no baloney" to "full of baloney" (complete methodology below).
This one earns a rating of "full of baloney." The assertion is completely inaccurate. Here's why.
Both opposition parties have explicitly said they would not touch pension income splitting, which allows pensioners to allocate up to half their pension income to their spouses, resulting in significant tax savings.
In a speech to seniors last October, Trudeau accused the Conservatives of taking his words out of context when he voiced his opposition to income splitting for couples with young children, which studies have found would benefit just 15 per cent of Canadian households, primarily the wealthiest.
"As much as the Conservatives might wish they had the power to control every piece of policy that comes out of Ottawa, they won't be writing the Liberal party's platform," he said. "We will not end pension income splitting for seniors."
In January, NDP finance critic Nathan Cullen corrected the record after Defence Minister Jason Kenney took to Twitter to assert that "the NDP's pledge to reverse family tax fairness also means they'll take income splitting away from pensioners."
"@kenneyjason got it wrong again," Cullen tweeted. "NDP committed 2 keeping income splitting 4 seniors."
.<a href="https://twitter.com/kenneyjason">@kenneyjason</a> got it wrong again. NDP committed 2 keeping incoming splitting 4 seniors. Cons want it 4 the wealthiest 15% of Cdns 2 <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/cdnpoli?src=hash">#cdnpoli</a>—@nathancullen
The Prime Minister's Office did not respond when asked to identify any statements by opposition MPs that would prove the Conservative contention.
However, in the House of Commons, Harper and other Tories backed up their assertion by repeatedly pointing out that NDP and Liberal MPs voted against pension income splitting in 2007.
But it overlooks the fact that pension income splitting was included in a 156-page omnibus budget implementation bill that included dozens of other measures, most controversially a new formula for calculating equalization payments to have-not provinces that outraged Atlantic provinces, especially Newfoundland and Labrador.
Liberals and New Democrats voted against the omnibus bill. Harper's government, a minority at the time, survived the vote on the bill with the support of the separatist Bloc Québécois.
Notwithstanding their opposition to the budget bill, Jack Layton, NDP leader at the time, advised Canadians who wrote to him on the issue that "New Democrats support the government's proposed change to permit pension splitting."
What the experts say
Parliamentary procedure expert Ned Franks called it "100 per cent baloney" to infer that a vote against an omnibus bill constitutes a vote against every measure in the bill.
"In an omnibus bill, you as a member of Parliament vote once, but you're voting on maybe 50 different pieces of legislation on 50 totally different topics, and you might agree with 10 or 12 of them and strongly disagree with 20 of them and the other ones you might mildly support," Franks said.
"That's the problem. I think the omnibus bills are pernicious."
Harper himself used to agree.
As an opposition MP in 1994, he urged the Speaker of the House of Commons to rule out of order an omnibus budget bill introduced by Jean Chretien's Liberal government.
"I would argue that the subject matter of the bill is so diverse that a single vote on the content would put members in conflict with their own principles," Harper said.
"We can agree with some of the measures but oppose others. How do we express our views and the views of our constituents when the matters are so diverse?"
The Liberal omnibus bill Harper objected to was 20 pages in length. Since becoming prime minister himself in 2006, his government has routinely introduced massive omnibus budget bills, regularly ranging from 300 to almost 900 pages.
There is no truth to the Conservative assertion that the NDP and Liberals would scrap pension income splitting should they form government. Both parties have explicitly said they would keep the measure.
The assertion that both opposition parties voted against pension income splitting is specious, given that the measure was part of an omnibus bill that included a host of other measures, some of which were hugely controversial at the time.
For these reasons, the claim that opposition parties would do away with pension income splitting is "full of baloney."
The Baloney Meter is a project of The Canadian Press that examines the level of accuracy in statements made by politicians. Each claim is researched and assigned a rating based on the following scale:
- No baloney: the statement is completely accurate.
- A little baloney: the statement is mostly accurate but more information is required.
- Some baloney: the statement is partly accurate but important details are missing.
- A lot of baloney: the statement is mostly inaccurate but contains elements of truth.
- Full of baloney: the statement is completely inaccurate.