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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






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    Construction

    Three instances when SNC-case was discussed with Wilson-Raybould, clerk says

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  • OTTAWA — Michael Wernick, clerk of the Privy Council, appeared at the House of Commons justice committee Thursday, to answer questions about his knowledge on the SNC-Lavalin affair and whether former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould was pressured not to prosecute the company.

    Wernick predicted Wilson-Raybould will express concerns about three meetings when she appears at the committee next week, two of which he attended and all of which he maintained did not cross the line into improper pressure on Wilson-Raybould.

    Here is Wernick’s version of those events:

    Sept. 17, 2018

    A meeting involving Wilson-Raybould, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Wernick, two weeks after the director of public prosecutions decided not to negotiate a remediation agreement with SNC-Lavalin. 

    Wernick said Trudeau called the meeting to discuss the Indigenous rights recognition framework which had bogged down due to “a very serious policy difference” between Wilson-Raybould and Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett, and other colleagues, about how to proceed on the framework.

    Almost the entire meeting was devoted to that subject, he said, but Trudeau did also reassure Wilson-Raybould that any decision on whether to instruct the public prosecutor to drop the SNC-Lavalin prosecution was hers alone.

    Dec. 18, 2018

    A meeting between the prime minister’s staff and Wilson-Raybould’s chief of staff. Wernick, who wasn’t involved, did not provide any details.

    Dec. 19, 2018

    A conversation between Wilson-Raybould and Wernick.

    Wernick said he was trying to get a handle on the issues that might confront the government when Parliament resumed sitting in January. He wanted to know, among other things, whether a remediation agreement with SNC-Lavalin was still an option and said he “conveyed to her that a lot of her colleagues and the prime minister were quite anxious about what they were hearing and reading in the business press … about the company moving or closing” if the prosecution continued. There were fears it would have consequences for innocent employees, shareholders, pensioners, third-party suppliers and affected communities.

    Wernick said he’s confident the conversation was “within the boundaries of what’s lawful and appropriate. I was informing the minister of context. She may have another view of the conversation but that’s something that the ethics commissioner could sort out.”

    The Canadian Press


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    National

    Canadian shares story of abuse with church officials ahead of Vatican summit

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  • One by one, a dozen survivors shared their shattering tales of sexual abuse at the hands of Catholic clergy with high-ranking church officials gathered to listen to the stories they’d declined to hear for years.

    Leona Huggins, the only Canadian in the gathering that took place ahead of a historic summit at the Vatican this week, said the energy built “like a tsunami” as victims hailing from Spain to Jamaica urged clergy to take concrete action to begin a new chapter for the church.

    But she said the tide ebbed quickly as soon as the harrowing accounts were presented.

    Huggins said one archbishop reacted by saying “I guess we’ll have to get to work,” prompting her to ask why such work had not already begun. That question was answered with a demand to be respectful, she said, eroding hope that this week’s summit meant to tackle sexual abuse in clerical ranks would result in true change.

    “We were truth-tellers in that room,” the Vancouver-based school teacher said in a telephone interview from Rome. “It’s really hard for me to think how anyone could hear those stories and not take courageous action.”

    Huggins, 56, had limited hopes for the international meeting, called by Pope Francis in a bid to quell a scandal that has dogged his tenure as head of the Catholic Church.

    The pontiff himself was not at the gathering of survivors held a day before the official summit got underway Thursday, a point that did not sit well with those who shared their stories.

    Huggins, who has gone public with her story of abuse, said her experience played out like so many others. She said she was groomed and ultimately abused by a Catholic priest who worked in her British Columbia parish in the early 1970s.

    He was ultimately convicted in 1991 of sexual offences against two women, including Huggins, but continued working as a priest in communities ranging from Lethbridge, Alta., to Ottawa until his death in 2018.

    Huggins, who used some of her time at the closed-door gathering to call for recognition of Canadian Indigenous victims of abuse, said the Pope’s presence would have been an important sign that the church was serious about addressing past wrongs and preventing new ones from unfolding.

    Pope Francis expressed many high-minded intentions at the summit’s official opening on Thursday, acknowledging the need for concrete action and significant, internal change.

    “Listen to the cry of the young, who want justice,” he told the gathering. “The holy people of God are watching and expect not just simple and obvious condemnations, but efficient and concrete measures to be established.”

    People from five continents shared their stories of abuse, including an unnamed woman from Africa who told the gathering of the three abortions her former priest forced her to have during the decades in which he raped her.

    The Pope, for his part, handed out a list of 21 proposals for the church to consider, including specific protocols to handle accusations against bishops.

    One idea called for raising the minimum age for marriage to 16 while another suggested a basic handbook showing bishops how to investigate cases.

    But for Huggins, the specifics of the 21 points did even more than Wednesday’s gathering to chip away at what little optimism remains, lamenting the newly raised minimum age is still wildly out of step with societal norms and criticizing the church for not having a handbook in circulation long ago.

    Huggins said she feels she still has to “hold out hope” that leaders will make good on their promises of reform. If they don’t, she said, she fears an entirely new generation would be at risk.

    “I don’t see how anyone can continue to bring their child to a church that will not promise their child’s safety,” she said.

    — with Files from the Associated Press.

    Michelle McQuigge, The Canadian Press


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