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Small-business lobby group sharpens criticism of Liberals’ carbon-tax program

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OTTAWA — An organization of small-business owners that helped spearhead a public campaign against the Trudeau government’s tax-change proposals for private corporations is sharpening its criticism of the Liberals’ forthcoming carbon-tax program.

The carbon tax has generated intense political debate across the country and it’s destined to be a key campaign issue in October’s federal election.

The Canadian Federation of Independent Business released a poll Tuesday that says the majority of its members believe the carbon tax is “deeply unfair.”

Most of its members, the report also said, worry they’ll be unable to pass along the bulk of the extra carbon-tax costs to their customers, leaving smaller businesses in a position where they’ll have to subsidize household rebates under the program.

The survey, however, could be self-reinforcing. More than two-thirds of CFIB members polled didn’t support any kind of carbon pricing to fight climate change.

The online survey was completed by 3,527 CFIB members in the four provinces — Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario and New Brunswick — that will have to follow the Trudeau government’s carbon-pricing system as of April 1 because they don’t have their own regimes. 

The lobby group, made up of more than 110,000 small- and medium-sized businesses, represents a small segment — just under 11 per cent — of Canada’s small- and medium-sized businesses.

Still, the organization has found success in the past as a critic of government proposals.

In late 2017, CFIB helped lead a vocal campaign against Finance Minister Bill Morneau’s package of tax-reform proposals for private corporations. The campaign spent months criticizing his plan, warning it would hurt the very middle class the Trudeau government claimed it was trying to help.

Morneau defended the proposals by insisting they were designed to stop wealthy owners of private corporations from unfairly taking advantage of the tax system.

In the end, the uproar forced him to back away from some elements of his plan.

CFIB has strongly opposed the federal carbon-tax plan out of concern it will pile on too many costs for smaller companies.

The Liberal government believes carbon pricing, which has been in place for years in provinces like British Columbia, Quebec and Alberta, is one of the best ways to lower emissions. The Liberals argue pollution is already getting expensive for Canadians as costs from climate-change-related weather events have climbed to more than $1 billion a year.

The federal climate-change plan also includes efforts to develop clean-fuel standards, create new energy-efficiency building codes and phase out electricity generation from coal.

“Our plan puts a price on what we don’t want — pollution — so that we can get to what we do want: a better future for our kids and our grandkids tomorrow, and money back in the pockets of hard-working Canadians today,” Finance Minister Bill Morneau tweeted Tuesday.

The opposition Conservatives have repeatedly called the Liberal system a “tax grab” that will hurt the bottom lines of small businesses and families, kill jobs and make the country less competitive. Moving forward, the Tories warn carbon-tax bills will only get bigger.

Several provincial leaders have also become vocal opponents of the federal program.

Under the program, Ottawa says 90 per cent of the revenues it collects will be returned via rebates to households in each of the four provinces. Consumers will get by far the largest share because the government expects them to ultimately pay most of the new costs, passed down from businesses.

The CFIB poll, conducted in November, says about 80 per cent of respondents didn’t think it would be easy for them to forward costs on to their customers. It found 55 per cent of those surveyed didn’t expect to pass on any of the additional costs, while 25 per cent said they will be able to pass on less than 25 per cent of the extra costs.

“These findings should be deeply worrisome to public policy makers,” said the report, which also repeats CFIB’s concerns the carbon tax will arrive the same year that businesses’ Canada Pension Plan premiums start to rise.

“It means small firms will be forced to find the resources to pay the tax from the business itself, which means it may come at the expense of wages, jobs or future business growth.”

CFIB is calling on Ottawa to limit the impact on smaller businesses, including reassurance the same proportion of revenue collected from these firms is returned to them.

Ottawa has said 10 per cent of the revenue from the carbon tax will be dedicated to a program to help organizations, such as schools, that are unable to pass on the costs via higher prices. 

Part of this portion — worth about $1.5 billion — will also be used to help small- and medium-sized businesses adapt to carbon pricing over the next five years, the government has said.

“We are still working with small businesses on how revenue from carbon pollution pricing will be returned to support Canadian businesses to reduce their emissions and their costs, and become more energy efficient and competitive,” Sabrina Kim, a spokeswoman for Environment Minister Catherine McKenna, wrote in an email.

— Follow @AndyBlatchford on Twitter

Andy Blatchford, The Canadian Press





National

Ethics commissioner ready to testify to committee today: NDP critic

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Mario Dion

OTTAWA — The NDP’s Charlie Angus says he expects ethics commissioner Mario Dion to be in a position to testify today before a parliamentary committee about his findings on the prime minister’s breach of the Conflict of Interest Act.

But whether the House of Commons ethics committee moves ahead with the study of Dion’s report rests in the hands of the Liberal MPs who hold the majority of seats.

Dion released a scathing report last week that concluded Prime Minister Justin Trudeau breached a section of the ethics code by improperly pressuring former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould to end criminal proceedings on corruption charges against a Montreal engineering giant, SNC-Lavalin.

Trudeau has said he disagrees with, but accepts, the report’s findings and was just acting to protect Canadian jobs.

Dion also disclosed that he couldn’t properly get to the all the information he required, as potential witnesses and Trudeau’s office claimed cabinet confidence stopped from them from sharing everything they knew.

Angus, who serves as his party’s ethics critic, said Dion should be allowed to testify because that’s part of his job, adding it would be “extraordinary” for the Liberals to refuse to hear from him.

“This is a very important report, it is a very damning report and it also raises questions about the fundamental powers of the ethics commissioner in terms of the interference and obstruction that was laid in his path by the Prime Minister’s Office and the Privy Council,” he said.

Trudeau has shown a complete disregard for the rule of law, Angus added, noting that’s what got him into trouble.

“His disregard for the findings of guilt are equally troublesome,” he said. “I think he needs to really grow up and assume the role of prime minister here and not just a public figure who thinks he’s impervious to accountability.”

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer reiterated his call for the Liberals to put partisan interests ahead of their own and let the study proceed.

“We will learn today whether or not scandal and corruption is limited to just the Liberal party’s leader in the form of Justin Trudeau, or whether or not this rot has infected the entire Liberal caucus and the entire Liberal party,” Scheer said at an event in Richmond Hill, Ont.

Scheer said that if the study fails to go ahead, he hopes to be able to convince voters to hold Trudeau accountable on voting day this October.

“We cannot have a lawmaker who is a lawbreaker.”

Trudeau has suggested voters want to move on.

A new poll suggests Dion’s report hasn’t so far hurt the Liberals’ chances of re-election this fall, nor has it helped the Conservatives.

Indeed, the Leger poll suggests the two parties were locked in a dead heat, with the support of 33 per cent of voters, as they jockey for position at the starting gate for the Oct. 21 vote.

Liberal support was unchanged from last month, despite Dion’s report, and Conservative support was down three percentage points from last month, despite the party’s best efforts to re-ignite public outrage over the affair.

The online survey of 1,535 eligible voters was conducted Aug. 16-19 for The Canadian Press and weighted to reflect the makeup of Canada’s population; it cannot be assigned a margin of error because internet-based polls are not considered random samples.

Angus said he thinks it is unhelpful to apply the frame of a political horse race to a question of the rule of law.

“I’m less concerned about whether Mr. Trudeau is up one point or down one point,” he said. “My concern is if he interfered with a prosecution and we have to have some manner of accountability, whether it is him or for future prime ministers. Otherwise, we don’t have the rule of law in this country.”

The Canadian Press

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Country music star George Canyon to run for Tories in Nova Scotia

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George Canyon

OTTAWA — One of Nova Scotia’s best-known country music stars is walking on to the political stage.

George Canyon has announced he’s running as a Conservative candidate in the riding of Central Nova in the upcoming federal election.

His name was added to the Tory roster after existing candidate Roger MacKay dropped out this week, for what he said were “personal reasons.”

Canyon has won several Juno and Canadian Country Music Association awards for his work, and currently sings the national anthem at Calgary Flames games.

While his star is sure to add to the Conservative shine for this election, the riding is well acquainted with being a home for political stars.

Brian Mulroney ran from there to get a seat in the House of Commons after becoming leader of the Progressive Conservatives in the 1980s, and for over a decade it was home to Peter MacKay, who served as a cabinet minister in Stephen Harper’s Conservative government.

Green party Leader Elizabeth May also attempted a run for the seat in 2008, but lost to MacKay.

He held the riding until stepping down ahead of the 2015 election, and the seat fell into the hands of Liberals as part of a red sweep of the Atlantic provinces.

But the Tories count Central Nova among the seats they intend to recapture this fall, thanks in part to what they say are candidates with strong ties to the area, including three local members of the Nova Scotia legislature.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer has made multiple stops in the Atlantic provinces already this summer, and for his part, Canyon said he’s eager to get going.

“Over the next nine weeks, I’m going to wear the soles out of my boots as I work hard to show people here the type of representative and advocate I will be for them.”

The federal election takes place on Oct. 21.

Stephanie Levitz, The Canadian Press

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