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Opposition push income splitting motion on Tories

Annie Bergeron-Oliver /

The government’s commitment to a controversial election promise will be tested Tuesday when the Opposition forces a vote on a motion opposing income splitting.

New Democrats are using their last opposition day of the spring sitting to push the proposal that has caused apparent splits within the ranks of the Conservative caucus this year.

Before stepping down as finance minister, the late Jim Flaherty raised questions about income splitting at a post-budget breakfast in February by suggesting the proposal may not be beneficial for everyone.

“It benefits some part of the Canadian population a lot and other parts of the Canadian population not at all,” said Flaherty at the time.

Members of the Conservative caucus have since come out on both sides of the issue. Employment and Social Development Minister Jason Kenney and now Finance Minister Joe Oliver have reiterated the government’s commitment to its campaign promise.

After initially refusing to repeat his promise in question period, the prime minister eventually came out and said that income splitting has been a good policy for seniors and will be a “good policy for Canadian families.”

During the 2011 election campaign, Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced couples would be able to split their incomes for tax purposes once the budget was balanced in 2015. Dubbed the Family Tax Cut by the Conservatives, critics say the policy benefits families in which one parent stays home and those with higher incomes.

In a study published Tuesday, the Broadbent Institute found that the Conservative’s campaign promise only benefit 2 per cent of Canadian families with children under 18 and would result in unequal distribution of benefits across the country. In particular, the report noted, the policy would most benefit families in Alberta and Saskatchewan, Conservative strongholds with strong economies.

The NDP oppose income splitting and are looking to force parties to put a vote on the record over the issue today.

In his motion, NDP Finance critic Nathan Cullen is asking the House to “express its opposition to the Conservative income splitting proposal.”

Increased income inequality under the Liberal and Conservative governments, Cullen’s motion says, has harmed Canadian society.

“Income inequality has risen dramatically under successive Liberal and Conservative governments, and Stephen Harper’s $5 billion income splitting plan will only make it worse,” Cullen said in a statement. “That’s why New Democrats are calling on all MPs to show publicly where they stand on this important issue of fairness.”