Must-see QP: Brent Rathgeber wants a simpler tax code

Your daily dose of political theatre

Adrian Wyld/CP

Adrian Wyld/CP

Maclean’s is your home for the daily political theatre that is question period. If you’ve never watched, check out our primer. Today, QP runs from 2:15 p.m. until just past 3. We livestream and liveblog all the action.

The must-see moment

When a Canadian pays less tax, usually that means some government has just made a tax code somewhere more complex. Brent Rathgeber, an independent MP from Edmonton who used to be a Conservative, lamented for simpler times in question period. Rathgeber’s first mistake: attempting to introduce nuance into a question about taxes. To wit:

“Mr. Speaker, unlike other members of the opposition, I actually support the government’s intention to introduce income splitting because I support tax relief, generally. However, I do agree with the opposition that income splitting will benefit far fewer Canadians than would generalized, broad-based tax relief,” he said. “So why does the government prefer boutique tax credits and a complicated tax code, rather than just simply lowering the income tax rates for all Canadians?”

Boutique taxes leave bad tastes in the mouths of economists and accountants everywhere.

One of those links leads to Anthony Ariganello, the president and CEO of the Certified General Accountants Association of Canada, who argued in favour of less complexity at in 2012. “The benefits of tax simplification are crystal-clear: lower compliance costs for taxpayers, less paperwork for businesses and lower administrative costs for government. A simplified tax system also reduces the likelihood of aggressive tax planning, which translates into higher compliance rates,” he wrote. “This means a stronger system with a more secure tax base and predictable revenue.” Another of those links leads to Stephen Gordon, a Laval University economist and Maclean’s contributor who applied similar critical thought to the government’s small business EI tax credit, announced earlier this year.

Those critiques inform the thrust of Rathgeber’s question. The wrinkle is that Rathgeber ran and won on the government’s income-splitting proposal during the last election. He’ll be familiar with the Conservative platform from 2011, which pledged what the Tories call income sharing as soon as they balanced the budget. Therein lies the nuance: Rathgeber still supports income splitting, because it lowers someone’s taxes, but he’d prefer something that lowered everyone’s taxes.

In any case, Employment Minister Jason Kenney stood and mocked Rathgeber’s call for tax cuts across the board.

“Mr. Speaker, I think the question was criticizing the platform that he was elected on last election,” said Kenney. “The electors of St. Albert sent him here to fight for income splitting, not to argue against it. And in terms of broad-based tax relief, that’s exactly what this government has done—over $200 billion of tax relief, saving the average family $3,400 a year. That’s before this most recent tax cut, bringing the total federal tax burden down to its lowest level as a share of our economy since the 1950s. We are expanding the horizons of human freedom by reducing taxes.”

Stand with the Tories or damage the cause of human freedom. Your move, Rathgeber.

The recap

The context

The bosses took a week away from a Parliament Hill in a bad state. The people who work and play on the Hill are still coping with the aftermath of a shooting and a difficult, open conversation about sexual harassment that’s pervasive behind closed doors. Paul Wells sketches a tough stretch in Ottawa. A constituency week, never a holiday, at least gave most parliamentarians a few days to sleep at (their other) home.

Meantime, the issues piled up, as they do. The briefly headline-deprived Keystone XL pipeline is back: it’s not yet approved in the U.S., but is firmly back on the agenda on both sides of the border after midterm elections favourable to Republicans and a successful vote in the House of Representatives. The U.S. also inked a climate pact with China that pressures Canada to ante up and make more ambitious its emissions-curbing goals. And we can’t forget Joe Oliver. The pro-family, pro-parents, pro-freedom, pro-liberty—but definitely anti-tax—finance minister released his fall economic update in front of a Toronto crowd of mostly non-parliamentatians. Opposition parliamentarians were none too pleased about that.

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