With Prime Minister Justin Trudeau officially requesting and receiving a dissolution of Parliament from newly installed Governor General Mary Simon on Sunday morning, the 44th Canadian Federal Election is now officially underway. The main political parties have wasted no time in attempting to differentiate themselves on who would be best to lead the country and direct post-pandemic economic recovery.
Yesterday, Erin O’Toole, Leader of the Conservative Party of Canada, was in the party’s Ottawa studio to unveil Canada’s Recovery Plan, the Conservative campaign platform. Pundits and stakeholder groups alike were surprised with the swiftness of its release.
The current Conservative platform differentiates itself from those released by Andrew Scheer and Stephen Harper in previous elections by emphasizing short-term economic planning and large stimulus programs, driven by the need to spur economic recovery in the post-pandemic era. This approach seems to be aimed at rebuilding the coalition of voters that elevated the Conservatives to a majority victory in 2011 and countering the Liberal charge that a Conservative government would lead to austerity and large-scale program cuts.
At 160 pages, Canada’s Recovery Plan makes numerous spending pledges, including on workforce re-entry programming, large scale-up of affordable housing construction, increased health transfers to the provinces, a national mental health strategy, increased defence spending and military expansion, stockpiling and building out domestic supply of PPE and vaccines, and a continuation of pandemic relief programs with expanded parameters.
While a number of the proposals are revamped from the party’s 2019 campaign platform, there are plenty of new commitments here to show new direction from a party Leader in his first election.
For your consideration, please find an assortment of key highlights from Canada’s Recovery Plan.
Costing, Budget, and Taxation Measures
Though the plan does not have a full costing attached to it, at the release event O’Toole said the party would be releasing an updated version with analysis from the Parliamentary Budget Officer in the coming weeks. Despite having questioned the Liberals during the 43rd Parliament on the size of the deficit and recovery package, the Conservative platform does not dramatically scale back program spending. Instead, it proposes to continue a large stimulus rollout over the next two years. A notable difference in the approaches between the two parties is that a Conservative government is committed to balancing the budget over a 10-year period. Some of the key financial commitments include the following.
- Expansion of the Canada Emergency Business Account (CEBA) offered through the Business Development Bank of Canada into the newly titled Main Street Business Loan and raising the limit from $60,000 to $200,000.
- Creation of the Explore and Support Canada initiative with a 15% tax credit for vacation expenses of up to $1,000 per person for Canadians to vacation domestically in 2022, with the aim of helping restore the tourism economy.
- A one month GST Holiday for purchases made at retailers and a one month period of 50% rebates for food and non-alcoholic drinks purchased for dine-in from Monday to Wednesday during the applicable period.
- A proposal to eliminate the escalator taxon alcohol originally brought in by former Finance Minister Bill Morneau in the 2017 Budget.
Workforce and Infrastructure
- Similar to in 2019, the platform calls for the abolishment of the Canada Infrastructure Bank as a crown corporation, citing the limited project approvals to date as a "failure” and pledging that all outstanding funding of the original $35 Billion will be reinvested in more streamlined projects through different mechanisms.
- The party is proposing to double the Canada Workers Benefit up to a maximum of $2,800 for individuals and $5,000 for families. Instead of a year-end tax refund, the money would roll out in quarterly direct deposits.
- Additionally, the party proposes to double the current Apprentice Job Creation Tax Credit for three years and to invest $250 million over two years to create the Canada Job Training Fund. The Fund will provide grants to organizations including employers, apprenticeship training delivery agents, unions, post-secondary institutions, and community organizations for projects that help address the skilled labour shortage and provide opportunities to laid off workers seeking immediate access to training.
In what is sure to become a hot-button issue on the campaign trail, the Conservatives are seeking to differentiate themselves from the governing Liberals and the NDP by promising to:
- Build one million homes over the next three years. One proposed measure is to conduct a review of the federal government’s real estate portfolio, which the platform pegs at 37,000 buildings, and release 15% to be retrofitted into housing.
- Repurpose Community Land Trusts for affordable housing by creating an incentive for corporations and private landowners to donate property to Land Trusts for the development of affordable housing.
- Implement a ban on foreign investors not living in or moving to Canada from buying homes here for a two-year period after which it will be reviewed. This is in contrast to the NDP approach which seeks a tax on foreign ownership.
Energy and Environment
Not much new was included that differed from what was introduced in the party’s April release of its Secure the Environment plan. The party reiterated its focus on conserving 17 per cent of Canada’s land and water, with a goal to raise the target to 25 per cent overtime, end sewage dumping, and ban the export of plastic waste unless the exporter can prove it will be recycled. Other measures include:
- The requirement of 30 per cent of “light duty” vehicles sold to be zero emissions by 2030.
- The repeal of Bill C-69, the Trudeau Government’s legislation on the Environmental Assessment Act that created a broader criterion for project approvals and the independent Impact Assessment Agency in 2019. The Conservatives would also repeal the ban on tanker traffic on British Columbia’s northern coast that was passed in Bill C-48.
- A promise to restart and build the Keystone XL Pipeline despite its recent shuttering for the second time by U.S.President Joe Biden.
- Passage of a Critical Infrastructure Protection Act aimed at preventing rail blockades similar to those that occurred in January 2020 just prior to the outbreak of the pandemic.
- The development of a national LNG Export Strategy.
The signature pieces of the CPC 2021 platform on healthcare are similar to those of the NDP platform introduced last week and including a number of new programs created in direct response to the COVID-19 pandemic and fostering capacity for future mitigation, including:
- One of the more prominent and distinguishing features of the platform is an outlining of a National Mental Health Strategy for which it would implement a national 3-digit suicide prevention hotline, $150 million in grants to non profits for the delivery of mental health and wellness plans and an attempt to incentivize employers to add mental health coverage to their employee benefit plans by offering a tax credit for 25% of the cost of additional mental health coverage for the first three years.
- A proposed public review of Canada’s entire handling of the COVID-19 pandemic to identify areas of improvement.
- Creation of a Canada EmergencyPreparedness Plan that would be updated annually with the goal of shoring up domestic vaccine protection and ensuring ample stockpiles of PPE.
- In an area that has become politically sensitive, the platform does not commit to mandatory vaccinations in certain sectors but places heavy emphasis on further development of domestic vaccine capacity and the need for widespread and mandatory rapid testing at ports of entry.
- Increasing the annual Canada HealthTransfer payments to the provinces to 6% from 3%, a move to shore up gaps highlighted by the pandemic and that would inject an additional $60 billion dollars into the health care system over a 10-year period.
- The creation of a National Isotope Strategy to work with nuclear and medical providers on ensuring Canada’s continued provision and supply of medical isotopes.
- In departure from previous Conservative party policy and seeking to address the opioid crisis the platform announces an intention to invest $325 million over the next three years to create 1,000residential drug treatment beds and build 50 recovery community centres across the country.
- On Medical Assistance in Dying (MAID), the party pledges to repeal the provision of C-7 that allows for those with a history of mental illness to seek end of life assistance while reinstating a 10 day waiting period to ensure certainty in the decision and as well as the need for two independent witnesses to safeguard against coercion.
Defence and National Security
The Conservative platform also sets out to address foreign interference in the elections/democratic process which has gained further prominence following the 2016 and 2020 American presidential contests. The plan proposes to:
- Mandate a specific minister for cyber-security and public safety (it doesn’t specify if this would be added to the current Minister of Public Safety or a separate portfolio) to safeguard against foreign interference and data leaks.
- Pass a Foreign Agents Registry Act requiring individuals and companies acting as agents of designated foreign principals (country, corporation, entity or individual) in a political or quasi-political capacity including lobbying, policy development, advertising, and grassroots mobilization to register. Requirements for disclosure would include the amount of payment, the nature of the relationship, and the activities performed.
- A pledge to increase defence spending closer to the NATO commitment of 2% of GDP per annum.
- Creation of a NATO Arctic Centre of Excellence at the Resolute Bay CAF Training Centre.
- Specific to the CAF and DND, the platform promises a full public inquiry into the issue of sexual harassment in the military and to make both the CAF and DND Ombudsman officially an officer of parliament.
- Increasing the participation of women, Indigenous Canadians and visible minorities through targeted recruitment at the community level.
- There is a pledge to increase naval capability by completing the base on Baffin Island and the construction of anew facility in Churchill, Manitoba.
- Harmonizing trade training in the ArmedForces with Red Seal Certification to ease civilian transition in the workforce.
Indigenous Issues and Reconciliation
- The Party pledges to work with First Nations and other Indigenous groups to ensure they are partners in the development of natural resource projects by creating a Canadian Indigenous Enterprise Corporation similar to the Alberta model and initially funding it with$5 Billion.
- Development of a specific indigenous housing plan within the larger one million house target mentioned above.
- Create through Innovation, Science and Economic Development (ISED) a specific program to increase Indigenous presence in the defence and security industries.
- Seeking to implement UNDRIP Section 18 that allows for communities to designate someone other than an elected chief as a representative in negotiations.
- Committing $25 million to a national police support and community training program to reduce the incarceration rates of Canada’s Indigenous communities.
- Prioritize Indigenous communities in the expansion of rural broadband funding.
Other Programs of Note
- Perhaps the starkest policy contrast and one that will likely factor onto the campaign trail and in the upcoming debates (to be held on September 8th and 9th) is the pledge to scrap the $30 billion Child-Care program currently underway by the Liberals and convert the Child Care Expense deduction into a refundable tax credit covering up to 75% of the cost of child care for lower income families. O’Toole pledged that savings would be greater for families and be implemented immediately in contrast to the 5 years forecasted in the Liberal plan to get fees down to the $10 dollar a day target.
- Similar to the federal accountability act Stephen Harper campaigned on when seeking to take down a minority government in 2006, the platform proposes a “Anti-Corruption Act” that would increase penalties of violation of the Conflict of Interest Act from $500 to $50,000 as well as amend the Canada Evidence Act of when Cabinet Confidentiality can be invoked if subject to an investigation. It would also aim to introduce legislation strengthening whistle-blower protections and expanding the powers of the Access To Information Commissioner.
- With regards to Canadian Broadcasting Corporation which has long been a focus of Conservative policy and communications for perception of bias, the platform pledges to protect CBC Radio and CBC North while reviewing the mandate of CBC English Television, News Network and CBCEnglish online news to assess the viability of refocusing the service on a public interest model like that of PBS in the United States, ensuring that it no longer competes with private Canadian broadcasters and digital providers.
- Despite the heated and fractious debate on conversion therapy at the end of the Parliamentary session that saw the Conservative caucus divided on the issue, the platform commits to implementing the ban contained in Bill C-6 (though that legislation has now died as a result of the election call and will need to be brought back) as well as to end the ‘gay blood ban’, a pledge the Liberals ran on in 2015 but have failed to fully implement over the course of their mandate.
While many policies have been refurbished from 2019, the document signals that O’Toole seeks to distinguish himself as more progressive than his predecessors. The platform makes commitments that amass to large-scale spending. It also pledges a climate plan based on a carbon tax, reducing emissions from vehicles, and supporting renewable energy sources. Such an approach is a gamble for O’Toole, as shifting the party’s policy approach further to the left widens its appeal to traditionally centre-left voters but it could also weaken their support from traditional conservative voters.
With a plan now in place, O’Toole has begun his Leader’s tour in earnest, spending today in Toronto. With lower approval numbers than the Liberal and NDP leaders and current polls showing large regional gaps, he is under pressure to begin to criss-cross the country introducing himself and his policies to Canadians. His focus will be on the handful of seats the Conservatives narrowly won or held against the Liberals in BC, Manitoba, Ontario and Atlantic Canada in the last election.
With two of the five major parties having already released their platforms less than two days into the writ period there maybe an increase of pressure on the Liberals, Bloc Quebecois and Greens to expedite the release of their own plans to create distinctions. This also may prove beneficial to the voting population writ large with a longer period to evaluate and contrast the various plans for Canada in the post-pandemic recovery period.
Here to help
The Sussex Federal Government Relations Team will be analyzing and monitoring the rollout of all campaign platforms for the parties currently recognized by the House of Commons as well as daily developments on the campaign trail. If you have any questions on the CPC platform or any other aspect of the federal election please reach out to your Sussex point of contact.
Chris Benedetti, Managing Partner
Devin McCarthy, Senior Vice President & Federal Practice Lead
Liam Daly, Senior Associate
Roberto Chavez, Associate
Brett James, Senior Counsel
Paul Pellegrini, Executive Chairman