The so-called “middle class” tax cut promised by the newly elected Liberal government in the name of promoting greater fairness seems set to be quickly implemented for the 2016 tax year. Yet the distributional and revenue consequences of this measure are often misunderstood, and the proposed change merits reconsideration.
Currently there are four federal tax brackets: 15% on taxable incomes of less than $44,701; 22% on further income up to $89,401; 26% on further income up to $138,586; and 29% on income above that amount.
Bill Scarth is a highly respected mainstream Canadian economist at McMaster University. In a piece just published by the C.D. Howe Institute, a generally conservative think-tank, he argues that the pace of federal deficit reduction should be slowed in order to lower unemployment.
His key point is that the economy still has a lot of slack which will not be quickly closed just by maintaining interest rates at their currently very low levels.
The issue of income-splitting — a tax policy whereby income is reattributed within a household from a higher-earning spouse to a lower-earning spouse — has been front of mind among tax experts, federal Conservative ministers and, most recently, the left-leaning Broadbent Institute. The practice advantages households in which income is predominantly earned by one spouse, since it allows a taxpayer in a high tax bracket to attribute income to a partner who pays at a lower marginal rate (or who earns nothing at all).
The OECD Economic Survey of Canada released today calls for tax reforms which would increase government revenues while also reducing inequality, specifically calling for changes to preferential treatment of stock options.
Noting that income inequality in Canada is above the OECD average and has been rapidly rising in recent years, the organization states that "there is also scope for the federal government to increase efficiency and reduce income inequality by further reducing tax expenditures that benefit relatively higher income households, such as... preferential treatment of stock options” (p. 38).
If Stephen Harper’s goal was to design a tax policy to make income inequality in this country even worse, he can pat himself on the back. That’s exactly what the Conservatives’ family income-splitting tax scheme will do.
Research from various organizations across the political spectrum has demonstrated already that this tax policy, projected to cost the federal treasury $3 billion in 2015, would be an expensive and inequitable tax giveaway.