In Maclean’s, Paul Wells updates us on the multi-year diet Stephen Harper has been running on the government’s “revenue generating” tools:
If I were the Conservative Party, I’d be using the latest report [PDF] from the office of Parliamentary Budget Officer Jean-Denis Fréchette to fundraise too. By the standards that motivate Conservative donors, this report is highly motivating.
The report, by PBO analyst Trevor Shaw, examines the reduction in federal revenues resulting from all the major changes to personal income tax and the GST since 2005. It’s an odd choice of starting point — 2005 was the second of Paul Martin’s two calendar years as prime minister — but only a small part of the reduction Shaw measures is attributable to that second Martin budget. Most has happened since.
And the net effect is striking:
“In total, cumulative changes have reduced federal tax revenue by $30 billion, or 12 per cent. These changes have been progressive, overall. Low and middle income earners have benefited more, in relative terms, than higher income earners.”
Shaw attributes $17.1 billion of the reduction to changes to personal income tax level and structure, and $13.3 billion to changes in GST/HST rates. He doesn’t count revenue reductions from changes to corporate income tax. We’ll get back to that. But on the personal income-tax and GST side, the final number is probably actually a little bigger than $30 billion: Shaw writes that he couldn’t get enough data to make his own estimate of revenue reductions due to Tax Free Savings Accounts, but passes along a Finance Canada estimate that it’s good for $410 million in revenue reductions. So, figure $30 billion and change in the current tax year that Ottawa would have raised if it hadn’t been for the past decade’s worth of tax changes.
NDP leader Thomas Mulcair is apparently hoping to make up the “shortfall” (from the point of view where any reduction in government spending is bad) by jacking up corporate taxes. This may not work as well as he hopes:
First, Mulcair is fooling himself if he thinks corporate taxes can be increased to make up for the shortfall in personal-tax income Harper has engineered. As the PBO points out, “Personal income tax and the federal portion of the GST/HST account for 75 per cent of federal tax revenues.” There’s way less room to make money off rich fat cats than Mulcair pretends. I mean, he’s welcome to keep pretending, but if he keeps his word an NDP government will remain short of cash. And a Liberal government, more so.
Second, this is why Stephen Harper is in politics. I wrote a book about that. He may one day stop being prime minister, at which point the real fun begins, because his opponents are promising to run a Pierre Trudeau government or a Jack Layton government at John Diefenbaker prices. It can’t be done. Their inability to do it will be Harper’s legacy.