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

 

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

BC Parks acquires private land in Cape Scott Provincial Park

Land previously held by B.C. land and cattle mogul Rudy Nielsen

Family Literacy Society surveying essential skills among displaced workers

Survey results will help get training opportunities to fufill real needs on the north Island

A thousand items donated to the Port Hardy RCMP’s summer toy drive

‘Building strong relationships with the people of our communities is fundamental to our success here’

VIDEO: Rescued eagle released back into the wild

The three-year-old female had been mired in grease at the landfill, but recovered with gusto

U’mista Cultural Centre will host a native art contest to raise funds for artists

All artists of Kwakwa̱ka̱’wakw descent are being called to participate in the contest to be held on August 28

B.C. records 30-50 new COVID-19 cases a day over weekend, no new deaths

Many of those testing positive were identified by contact tracing for being linked to other confirmed infections

Five B.C. First Nations call out Canada for ‘discriminatory’ food fish practices

West Coast nations say government ignoring court-won right to chinook and coho

Rent-relief program becomes new front in fight between Liberals, opposition

Opposition trying to draw parallels between decision to have Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. run program and the WE controversy

Ottawa sets minimum unemployment rate at 13.1% for EI calculation

Statistics Canada says the unemployment rate was 10.9 per cent in July

Cougar euthanized after attacking little dog in Qualicum area

Owner freed pet by whacking big cat, but dog didn’t survive the attack

$45K in donations received after couple’s sudden death in Tulameen

Sarah MacDermid, 31, and Casey Bussiere, 37, died August long weekend

Famous Yukon-based bhangra dancer brings movements of joy to Long Beach

Internet-famous dancer is exploring Vancouver Island, visiting the B.C. Legislature and more

Battle of Fairy Creek: blockade launched to save Vancouver Island old-growth

‘Forest Defenders’ occupy road to prevent logging company from reaching Port Renfrew-area watershed

Most Read