Premiers to talk tax changes

The Canadian Press
Joanna Smith

OTTAWA–The Liberal government has been fielding a lot of complaints about controversial proposed tax reforms–and now the premiers are poised for their turn as they gather in Ottawa to meet Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
The provincial and territorial leaders will get a chance today to hear Finance minister Bill Morneau discuss his proposals to eliminate small business tax provisions the Liberals believe allow some wealthier Canadians to avoid paying their fair share.
The suggested changes have led to an outcry from doctors, farmers, small business owners, and even some premiers who fear the effect they would have on their provincial economies.
One of them is Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister, who said yesterday he wants the Liberal government to abandon the plan.
“We need to be very, very careful with our engine of growth, not to take out the spark plugs,” Pallister said in an interview.
“We need to be respectful and we need to have these proposals withdrawn, and get back to working together and not dividing employer against employee.”
Morneau repeatedly has said he was listening throughout the consultation period that wrapped up yesterday and is open to changes, but Pallister said he thinks it is too late.
“I’ll use the phrase poisoned water,” he remarked. “The nature of the dialogue has offended so many people.”
The premiers also will meet MP Bill Blair, parliamentary secretary to the minister of justice, to discuss the role they will play in regulating the coming legalization of marijuana for recreational use.
Some provinces have been expressing concerns about the tight timeline for legalizing pot.
Once again, Manitoba is one of them, although it has introduced some legislation to prepare for the new reality.
“I think it’s a rush job and a dangerous one at that,” said Pallister.
“We have one chance to get this right,” he stressed.
“I understand the prime minister wants to keep his promise, but he could also keep his promise one year later.”
Ontario already has announced its framework for legalizing recreational marijuana, with legislation to be introduced this fall.
But the province still is looking for support from the federal government, such as adequate taxation levels for enforcement at the provincial and municipal levels.
Asked about cannabis yesterday, Quebec Health minister Gaetan Barrette could not avoid slamming the federal government over its handling of the issue.
“We know that the federal government sent us the problem and we have to handle the risks that go with it,” he noted in Montreal.
Trudeau and the premiers began their day-long meeting by gathering with indigenous leaders from the Assembly of First Nations, the Métis National Council, and Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami.
AFN national chief Perry Bellegarde said he will press the premiers to invest in education and training, by measures such as increased funding for colleges and universities that have a strategy to help indigenous youth develop the skills they need to join the workforce.
“Tap into that untapped potential,” Bellegarde said.
Bellegarde added he also will ask the premiers to support adding an indigenous chapter to the new North American Free Trade Agreement, among other economy-related proposals.
But he also will be pushing for a separate meeting devoted entirely to indigenous issues.
Foreign Affairs minister Chrystia Freeland and David MacNaughton, Canada’s ambassador in Washington, will give the premiers an update on the relationship with the U.S. following the third round of negotiations for the new NAFTA.
Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne will be listening keenly for NAFTA negotiation updates, as her government has been on a strong push to promote Ontario trade on a subnational level.
Wynne has met with more than two dozen U.S. governors in an attempt to fight against a tide of U.S. protectionism, and she is expected to update fellow premiers on her recent meeting with U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross.
The premiers also will hear from Anil Arora, the head of Statistics Canada, and Stephen Poloz, the governor of the Bank of Canada.