Fi­nance min­is­ter grilled

Medicine Hat News - - FRONT PAGE -

OT­TAWA Canada’s fi­nance min­is­ter got a grilling Fri­day from tax­pay­ers who are boil­ing mad about the Lib­eral gov­ern­ment’s pro­posed tax changes for small busi­nesses.

Bill Morneau was in Oakville, Ont., for a town hall meet­ing where a ques­tion-and-an­swer ses­sion boiled over more than once into a shout­ing match. Some were bel­low­ing at Morneau to an­swer their ques­tions, while oth­ers tried to shout them down to let the min­is­ter talk.

All the while, Morneau’s fel­low cab­i­net min­is­ter, Ka­rina Gould, tried to main­tain calm even as time was wrap­ping up with sev­eral peo­ple still lined up at mi­cro­phones, anx­ious to give the fi­nance min­is­ter a piece of their minds.

Morneau sat silently near the end of hour-long ses­sion as per­son af­ter per­son ap­proached the mi­cro­phones in the room to ar­gue against the mea­sures.

“This is not the first room like this that I’ve sat in,” he said at the start of his clos­ing re­marks.

He brought up one ques­tion that stood out to him about what the gov­ern­ment planned to do next, only to be asked by more than one per­son to an­swer it di­rectly, once and for all.

“Just to be clear, I’m try­ing to say what we’re fo­cused on. I’m cer­tainly not go­ing to ad­dress the tax pol­icy is­sues that we may con­sider af­ter that. You can’t do that.

“You wouldn’t ex­pect us to come to pol­icy de­ci­sions on the fly,” he said, at which point the up­roar be­gan anew, and Gould had to ask the au­di­ence to let Morneau fin­ish.

The Lib­er­als have faced heated op­po­si­tion to their plan ever since Morneau un­veiled the pro­posed changes over the sum­mer, with ques­tions from within the Lib­eral cau­cus.

Op­po­nents of the re­forms in­sist the changes would hurt Cana­di­ans at dif­fer­ent in­come lev­els and from many dif­fer­ent sec­tors, in­clud­ing doc­tors, farm­ers and small busi­ness own­ers.

The rhetoric has be­come even more heated in re­cent days as the Op­po­si­tion Con­ser­va­tives have linked the changes to Morneau’s fam­ily com­pany, Morneau She­p­ell, which of­fers in­di­vid­ual pen­sion plans. One ex­pert told the Com­mons fi­nance com­mit­tee those kind of plans could be­come more ap­peal­ing if the tax pro­pos­als are im­ple­mented as-is.

Morneau brushed off the ques­tions about his fam­ily busi­ness, which he helped run be­fore en­ter­ing pol­i­tics.

“I ex­pect that when peo­ple have a strongly held point of view, they’ll use mul­ti­ple tac­tics to try and make that point of view heard. That’s what it means to be a politi­cian.”

Morneau has been wag­ing a pub­lic re­la­tions cam­paign to re­as­sure dif­fer­ent sec­tors of the coun­try con­cerned at how the changes would af­fect them. On Thurs­day, he said tech­ni­cal fixes were in the works to ad­dress farm­ers’ con­cerns that the changes would im­pair their abil­ity to be­queath the fam­ily farm to the next gen­er­a­tion.

Dur­ing the Oakville meet­ing, Morneau told the au­di­ence the changes would only ap­ply “on a go­for­ward ba­sis” and that the Lib­er­als would “pro­tect what’s been done in the past.”

Speak­ing af­ter­wards, Morneau said the gov­ern­ment’s mes­sag­ing on the pro­posed changes has turned into a game of bro­ken tele­phone.

Many peo­ple seem to be fo­cused on changes to things like in­come sprin­kling and pas­sive in­vest­ments — strate­gies that prob­a­bly don’t ap­ply to them be­cause they are used by only a small sub­set of tax fil­ers, he said.

“We’ve just been un­able to get through the mes­sage that we want to keep small busi­ness tax rates low, that peo­ple could be look­ing at only some ad­van­tages that are avail­able to only a very small sub­set of pretty wealthy Cana­dian con­trolled pri­vate cor­po­ra­tions and con­cerned that im­pacts ev­ery­one.”

CP PHOTO ADRIAN WYLD

Fi­nance Min­is­ter Bill Morneau got a grilling Fri­day from tax­pay­ers who are mad about the Lib­eral gov­ern­ment’s pro­posed tax changes for small busi­nesses.

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