wealth tax

NDP could be positioned to get some wealth-tax revenge on Justin Trudeau

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau holds a press conference in Montreal on July 15, 2021.

ANDREJ IVANOV/AFP/Getty Images

Six years ago, in the election campaign that brought Justin Trudeau to power, the Liberals had a special taunt for the NDP. Mr. Trudeau’s party claimed to be the only one willing to tax the rich.

It worked, too. The Liberals’ proposal to increase income taxes on high earners was popular, and part of the Liberal brand. Then-NDP leader Tom Mulcair, vying for power and worried that voters saw New Democrats as the party that would raise taxes, had pledged not to raise anybody’s taxes. But taxing the rich was more popular with both NDP and Liberal voters.

Now the New Democrats might be ready to get some tax-the-rich revenge.

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NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh proposed a wealth tax in the 2019 campaign, but he can be expected to be back this time with more. The NDP has called for moves to close loopholes, institute a wealth tax on rich individuals, and levy a pandemic profits tax on corporations with ”excessive” profits. In short, they’re going big on taxing the rich.

Those policies would not quite provide the revenue bonanza that NDP rhetoric suggests, but polls indicate they are popular. Enormously popular. Not just with New Democrats, or lefties, but across the political spectrum, including with Conservatives – and especially with Liberals.

So Mr. Trudeau better watch out for the NDP’s tax-the-rich revenge. It’s a threat to his re-election, and his hopes of winning a majority in a couple of months.

The NDP plan to hammer the theme. And they think the pandemic has created a context where people want to see the wealthy pay a “fair” share. “I think it will be a big part of the election campaign,” said New Democrat MP Peter Julian, the party’s finance critic.

Mr. Julian argues such measures would bring “massive” revenues into the public coffers, although it wouldn’t be nearly the scale many folks seem to believe.

On Thursday, Parliamentary Budget Officer Yves Giroux published a revenue estimate for a wealth tax requested by Liberal backbencher Nathaniel Erskine-Smith – although the idea isn’t Liberal government policy – which concluded a relatively stiff one-time tax on wealth would bring in $44-billion to $60-billion.

The NDP has proposed wealth taxes that keep collecting – 1 per cent on wealth every year. During the 2019 election campaign, the Parliamentary Budget Officer estimated that would bring in $8-billion a year by 2025-26. The PBO estimated the “excess profits” tax the NDP proposed last year for corporations that have had big earnings during the pandemic would have brought in $7.9–billion in 2020.

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All those figures sound like masses of dough, and of course they would be – but not on the scale that upends the country’s budget constraints. Mr. Erskine-Smith’s tax might pay for national child care for five years, but then stop. The NDP’s proposals would last longer, but they would still be a relatively small portion of federal spending, which now totals more than $400-billion a year even when there is no pandemic. Personal income taxes will bring in $180-billion this year alone.

There’s another big issue: All the PBO’s revenue estimates come with a caveat that they are uncertain because it is not clear how people would change their behaviour to avoid taxes. Rich folks might leave Canada. There are concerns such taxes could cause capital flight and discourage investment, damaging economic growth.

But wealth taxes are hugely popular. An Abacus data poll last November found 79 per cent of Canadians are in favour. They are popular with supporters of every political party, and most popular with Liberals: 86 per cent of Liberal supporters said they support a 1-per-cent wealth tax. If Mr. Trudeau doesn’t have some tax-the-rich rhetoric of his own, the NDP will be looking to eat his lunch.

A lot can happen in an election campaign, but imagine one that turns out much like what the polls indicate now, with the the Liberals far ahead of the Conservatives, and Mr. Trudeau’s party on the cusp of winning a majority government.

That’s when the NDP, which has risen in polls but isn’t a serious contender for power, can hit its sweet spot. Instead of being squeezed out as voters choose who will take power, Mr. Singh can call on voters to cast their ballots for the NDP to keep the Liberals in minority status, with New Democrats pressing them in Parliament to tax the rich. It could be the NDP’s revenge.

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