Premier Christy Clark listens as Finance Minister Mike de Jong delivers his third budget speech in the B.C. legislature

Why cut taxes for the rich?

Is Premier Christy Clark paying off the "champagne-and-caviar set," or is there more to the income inequality debate?

VICTORIA – The B.C. government’s third straight budget surplus is the main battleground for provincial politicians this spring, with little else on the order paper to argue about.

The main conflict is over the tax cut for the rich that results from removing a two-year surtax on personal income greater than $150,000 a year. It’s an outrage, says the NDP, starving our threadbare government services of more than $200 million over the next three years.

NDP leader John Horgan set the tone in his reply to Finance Minister Mike de Jong’s budget speech:

“I can appreciate that the minister was celebrating with the champagne-and-caviar set, but the rest of British Columbia saw $700 million in increased fees and taxes on their backs.”

Old news, de Jong replied. It was a temporary surtax on high-income earners to help get B.C. out of its post-recession red ink, and it expired as it was legislated to do.

This political theatre doesn’t help people understand what’s actually going on. First, a lot of that red ink was B.C. Liberal blood from dismantling the harmonized sales tax and repaying Ottawa for that failed experiment.

Second, this temporary tax on the rich was a political strategy by de Jong and Premier Christy Clark, limping into an election most expected them to lose. De Jong’s debut budget in February 2013 also accelerated a small increase in corporate income tax, stealing two populist planks from Adrian Dix’s NDP platform.

Ending the surtax not only kept a promise, it kept B.C. competitive with Alberta on personal income taxes. High wage earners and many of their businesses are more mobile every year, which is why this year’s budget also extended tax breaks for high-tech and digital media companies.

Another tweak in de Jong’s budget was to increase the low-income cutoff for personal income tax from $18,000 to $19,000. Those with the lowest incomes are relieved not only of income tax but also medical premiums, which continue to march up by another four per cent, and are mostly paid by employers.

As with the federal election set for this fall, we will hear a lot about the burden on the vaguely defined “middle class.” In B.C. they have to dig deeper for car insurance, hydro, ferry rides and post-secondary tuition, while those top-hatted champagne-sippers party on with their tax holiday?

Well, not exactly. Here’s an assessment from Philip Cross, research co-ordinator at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute and former chief economic analyst at Statistics Canada.

Just after the 2013 B.C. election, Cross noted that Canada, its provinces, Europe and the United States have all been adjusting their tax systems to increase the load on wealthier people and ease it from the poor.

This has closed the wage gap considerably in Canada. By 2010, the top 20 per cent of earners were paying 58.3 per cent of all income taxes. That’s up from 50 per cent in 1976, showing how long Canada’s income taxes have been “progressive.” This is the main reason why “income inequality,” that other great cause of the left, started leveling off in Canada around 1998.

Cross points to measures like the low-income exemption from income tax. By 2013, the bottom 40 per cent of Canadian households were paying just 6.8 per cent of income taxes, and more than a third of income tax filers were paying none at all.

Cross asks and answers the central question: Should the rich pay more? “If it’s a misinformed attempt to compensate for imaginary losses of low-income people, the answer is clearly no.”

Tom Fletcher is legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press. Twitter: @tomfletcherbc

 

Just Posted

New book about Vanderhoof’s past will be on shelves this spring

Nechako Valley Historical Society is finishing up the book that has involved the whole community

B.C. chiefs show solidarity with Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs

Chiefs from around B.C. outside the Coastal GasLink pipeline route in Smithers show support.

Woman killed in head-on crash near Vanderhoof

RCMP say driver crossed the centre line and hit a loaded fuel tanker truck

RCMP to review actions at Wet’suwet’en pipeline protest camps

Senior Mountie says he hopes protests will be peaceful following deal with hereditary chiefs

‘Tripod’ delays access to Unist’ot’en camp

Social media rumours of cultural significance quashed, meaning police “exclusion zones” should end.

B.C. opioid crisis to get same world-renowned treatment approach as HIV/AIDS

A program that focuses on treatment as prevention will roll out Jan. 17

‘Prince of Pot’ Marc Emery accused of sexual assault, harassment

Emery denied the allegations, but a Toronto woman says she is not the only one speaking out

Two images by Vancouver Island photographer picked among National Geographic’s 2018 elite

Rare double honour for Marston from the 36 best Your Shots out of nearly 19,000 photos

Ex-Liberal candidate in Burnaby, B.C., says volunteer wrote controversial post

Karen Wang dropped out following online post singling out NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh’s ethnicity

Asteroids are smacking Earth twice as often as before

The team counted 29 craters that were no older than 290 million years

Canada’s arrest of Huawei exec an act of ‘backstabbing,’ Chinese ambassador says

China has called Canada’s arrest of Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou ‘politically motivated’

Port authority imposes ban on development around Lelu Island

Following Pacific Northwest LNG, there will be no future projects proposed near Flora Bank

In limbo: Leftover embryos challenge clinics, couples

Some are outright abandoned by people who quit paying storage fees and other couples struggle with tough decisions

BREAKING: Jury finds man accused of killing B.C. girl, 12, guilty

Twelve-year-old Monica Jack disappeared in May 1978 while riding her bike along a highway in Merritt, B.C.

Most Read