OTTAWA — Andrew Scheer made a pre-campaign play for parental votes Tuesday as he promised that a Conservative government would introduce a tax credit for new mothers and fathers receiving special employment insurance benefits so they can stay home with a new child.
The government taxes employment insurance benefits for new parents, along with any employer top-up, while on maternity or parental leave, although parents can be in for a surprise at tax time if not enough money was deducted off each payment.
What the Conservative leader proposed Tuesday — during an event at a Toronto daycare, surrounded by new and soon-to-be-mothers — is a non-refundable tax credit on 15 per cent of whatever a new parent earns while they are on leave to reduce their taxes at the end of the year.
It’s an idea he first unveiled through a private member’s bill in early 2018, part of an early gambit to encourage families to support the Conservatives in the Oct. 21 vote. He also vowed to keep the Canada Child Benefit.
The parliamentary budget officer calculated in May 2018 that Scheer’s plan would cost the federal treasury about $600 million in its first year, and $261 million in future years, since the plan would let families carry over any unused credits.
Scheer argued that the proposal would be a “significant tangible benefit” directly to parents to help ease the cost of caring for children in that first year — part of a larger theme of cost of living that he said will permeate the Conservative election platform.
“It is a Conservative principle to provide support directly to parents, that’s something that Liberals fought against for decades,” he said.
“Of course we’re going to continue to support that program (Canada Child Benefit) and any program that provides those child care dollars or support for raising children directly to parents.”
Polling data suggest Conservatives fare poorly with younger female voters — particularly ones who claimed the majority of the almost $4 billion in maternity and parental benefits the federal government doled out in 2017-18.
Offering those voters some additional financial help could help the party while also making it difficult for their opponents to attack the measure, said Christian Bourque, vice-president of Montreal polling firm Leger.
“What they’re announcing … actually targets the least likely voter for the Conservatives,” Bourque said. “They’re doing well among women 55-plus, so no need to throw money at them — that’s the other way of seeing it.”
EI covers 55 per cent of earnings, up to a maximum amount, over 12 months for those who have enough qualifying work hours to be eligible for benefits.
The Conservative proposal wouldn’t apply to any other benefits that new parents might mix in, such as caregiver benefits if a newborn falls ill, or sickness benefits for the parents themselves — those would remain taxed at the same rates.
Nor would there be any changes to an exemption that allows new parents to keep a portion of any extra cash they earn without losing too much of their benefits.
Scheer said that the value of the credit would put about $4,125 into the pockets of a parent earning on average $50,000. The figure is based on a 15 per cent credit on the 27,500 from EI — or 55 per cent of $50,000 income.
The parliamentary budget office previously said that the proposal, if implemented, would likely help those at higher income levels the most by reducing the amounts they owe. Those at lower income levels already pay little, if any, taxes.
Experts, labour and business groups have called for other changes to the parental leave system to allow more parents to qualify and boost the value of benefits paid out. As is, about one-quarter of mothers outside Quebec aren’t eligible for benefits because they don’t have enough qualifying hours.
Jennifer Robson, an associate professor of political management at Carleton University in Ottawa, questioned how much the Tory proposal would actually save at the end of the year. She also questioned how much it would help low-income parents, having spent years studying the EI maternity and parental benefits system.
“If you have a higher income before starting leave as a parent, you’re already more likely to qualify for EI. But 30 per cent of new moms don’t get $1 out of EI, even if they paid into it. Maybe there are better ways to help more families with infants?”
Jordan Press, The Canadian Press
151st Cowichan Exhibition includes new category: best home-grown pot
VICTORIA — One of Canada’s oldest fall fairs is putting a new twist on its annual showcase of local livestock, produce and fruit by adding a new category for best home-grown marijuana.
The Cowichan Exhibition in Duncan, B.C., which dates back to 1868, has created a best cannabis category to embrace legalization and celebrate local pot growers, said exhibition vice-president Bud James.
The fair starts Friday and the cannabis entries will be on display in the main hall at the Cowichan Exhibition Grounds along with the region’s top vegetables, fruits and baked goods. First prize is $5, second is $3 and third place gets a ribbon.
“We just decided this year, because it’s an agricultural product, and it’s been grown in the valley for years, and now that it’s finally legally grown, we would allow people to win a ribbon for the best,” said James.
He said fair officials believe the Cowichan cannabis category is the first of its kind in Canada.
An official at the Canadian Association of Fairs and Exhibitions, a non-profit organization representing rural and urban fairs, said she had not heard of any other cannabis judging contests prior to the Cowichan Exhibition, but couldn’t confirm it was the first.
A fall fair in Grand Forks, B.C., is also judging local cannabis, but the event starts Saturday, one day after Cowichan’s fair. Those who enter the competition in Grand Forks can compete for best indoor- and outdoor-grown cannabis.
James said fair organizers contacted the local council and RCMP prior to adding the cannabis category. The mayor and council did not oppose the contest and the RCMP referred organizers to B.C.’s Liquor and Cannabis Regulation Branch, the agency monitoring retail sales of non-medical cannabis, he said.
Organizers decided to go ahead with the event after its plans were not rejected, James said.
“Our interpretation of the rules are you can’t make it attractive to people under 19 years and we are not making it attractive,” he said.
James said the cannabis entries will be placed in a glass display case and the individual entries will be sealed in clear zip lock plastic bags.
“It’s being judged to the same standard of judging garden and field produce,” he said. “It’s done by uniformity. You want all three buds to be the same size, same shape, same colour. It’s also the dryness, texture and smell. It’s exactly the same way you would judge apples or carrots or hay bales. It’s all done the same way.”
James said the contest doesn’t involve sampling the product.
Bree Tweet, the manager of a medical cannabis dispensary in nearby Ladysmith, will judge the marijuana entries, said James.
The exhibition received 18 cannabis entries and James said the contest created a buzz at the fair.
“The enthusiasm of the entrants, the people bringing their entry forms, they are so enthusiastic it’s unbelievable,” he said. “They are so thrilled that it’s happening, that we’re doing it because they’ve been waiting for years for legalization and now, they finally got it and now they have a chance to show what they can do.”
James, who has entered his prized Dahlia flowers at past fairs, said the addition of the cannabis category has exceeded expectations with the 18 entries.
Dirk Meissner, The Canadian Press
School board defends book pictured on principal’s desk after online uproar
A Toronto-area Catholic school board says an online firestorm that erupted after a book on how to teach black students was photographed on a principal’s desk stems from a misunderstanding over the book’s contents.
The Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board says the book, titled “The Guide for White Women Who Teach Black Boys,” has a provocative title but is actually a helpful resource on tackling racial and cultural oppression in education.
Michelle Coutinho, the board’s principal of equity and inclusive education, says such materials are a particularly useful reference given how diverse the student population is in the district and at that specific school.
The controversy emerged this week after a Brampton, Ont., high school, Cardinal Ambrozic Catholic Secondary School, posted a photo of its new principal on Twitter.
The photo, which shows the book on her desk, set off heated debate, with some suggesting it was a sign of racism or incompetence, or a prop meant to bolster the school’s image.
The image was also shared on instagram by 6ixBuzzTV, a popular account with roughly 1.2 million followers.
“LOOOOL. No principal should make it this far while subsequently needing a book like this,” one person wrote on Twitter. “She a bad principal,” wrote another.
Some defended the book, however, and the principal’s efforts to educate herself. “She’s making an effort to connect with her students, it’s more than most principals do,” another tweet read.
The board said it was surprised by the uproar and hoped people would look up the book before jumping to conclusions based on its title.
The principal intends to address the photo in a public announcement and invite any students with lingering questions to see her, said Bruce Campbell, the board’s spokesman.
The book, written by three researchers and published in 2017, aims to improve outcomes for black students by helping teachers create learning environments in which they feel nurtured and engaged. The title references the fact that white women make up the bulk of the teaching force in the U.S.
Coutinho said the book asks educators to challenge the biases they may bring into the classroom.
“We know that we’re steeped in a colonized kind of world view and how do we break out of that in our everyday practices?” she said, noting it has been used in the board’s anti-oppression training in the past.
Cardinal Ambrozic’s new principal was involved in a book study at several schools that delved deeply into the text last year, Coutinho said.
“If we’re going to make any changes to the education system, we have to start talking about these things and talking about them openly and honestly without shame or blame.”
Paola Loriggio, The Canadian Press
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