Fairness questioned in federal budget

April 22, 2024, 10:37 am
Ryan Kiedrowski, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Dr. Robert Kitchen

Titled “Fairness for Every Generation,” the 2024 federal budget was presented last week to mixed reviews, at best. Souris-Moose Mountain MP Dr. Robert Kitchen summed up the massive document in one word - repetitive.

“It’s almost 420 pages of all sorts of things, but ultimately, this government is spending nearly $40 billion in new inflationary spending, and it’s trying to find ways to hold it can keep doing that,” he said. “What I think people need to understand is that what it’s doing is continually adding to our debt. When you look at our net debt, for 2022-2023, it is $1.282 trillion.”

Projections indicate that in five years, that net debt will amount to $1.513 trillion - a vast stretch from the $600 billion debt the Liberals inherited nine years ago.

“The interest on that debt this year, is $54.1 billion,” Kitchen said. That’s more money than the government sends to the provinces for health care.”

Carbon tax to be rebated to small businesses
One big question weighing on the minds of small business owners was when the estimated $2.5 billion in carbon tax revenues collected since 2019 would finally be distributed as promised.

“I am so proud to announce that our new Canada carbon rebate for small businesses will soon return over $2.5 billion directly to about 600,000 small and medium-sized businesses,” said federal finance minister Chrystia Freeland in presenting the budget. “This real, meaningful support is a testament to our commitment to Canada’s small businesses.”

“The Canada carbon rebate ensures that we fight climate change in the most cost-effective way, delivering hundreds of dollars to Canadians, every three months, including yesterday,” Freeland continued. “Eight out of 10 Canadians get back more than they pay in the provinces where the federal price on pollution applies, and in this budget, we are delivering on our promise to return carbon pricing proceeds to small- and medium-sized businesses.”

Sask Chamber of Commerce welcomes carbon tax rebates
This commitment was welcome news to the provincial Chamber of Commerce, who had been a strong voice in getting those rebate dollars thawed.

“The Saskatchewan Chamber has been relentlessly advocating for the return of carbon tax proceeds to businesses since 2021,” said Prabha Ramaswamy, CEO, Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce. “We are pleased to note that the Federal Government has prioritized this. We welcome the return of more than $300 million to Saskatchewan businesses.”

In some ways, the government has made it easier for business to even claim the rebate, seen as a win by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business.

“Perhaps the most important part of this announcement, is that the federal government has agreed to broaden its eligibility rules to include most small and medium-sized firms rather than just those in “emissions-intensive, trade-exposed sectors,” said Brianna Solberg, CFIB Director, Legislative Affairs, Prairies and Northern Canada. “This something CFIB had been calling for.”

However, an exact date as to when those funds will be distributed was missed, and businesses would need to file their 2023 taxes by July 15 in order to be deemed ‘eligible.’ Solberg says her group is pushing to have the backlog issued within the calendar year.

“Ultimately, details around the size, scope and timing of the carbon tax rebates for SMEs still remain unclear,” she said. “CFIB will continue to call on government to ensure the $2.5 billion is returned in 2024 with meaningful rebates for the smallest businesses and to raise the share of future SME rebates back to nine per cent of carbon tax revenue or more.”

Some aren’t so sure that small business will see those dollars quite so soon.

“They’re going to, in this budget, start returning a portion of the carbon tax to small businesses, but you know, they haven’t done it yet,” said Gage Haubrich, Prairie Director with the Canadian Taxpayers Federation. “So I think all business owners shouldn’t probably hold their breath and don’t expect a cheque in the mail because the evidence has shown the government isn’t going to get this money back, even if they say they want to.”

Kitchen was also pessimistic about the promise to deliver the rebate owed to small business.

“What this prime minister has been continually doing is bragging about giving that money back to small businesses, but he has not done it,” said Kitchen.

Questions about carbon tax rebates
As for those rebates allotted to individuals across the country, the opposition Conservatives also questioned the validity of figures delivered; countering the government’s claim that most Canadians are gaining from the rebates.

“They keep saying 80 per cent of Canadians are getting more back in rebates than they are paying, which is completely false,” remarked Brandon-Souris MP Larry Maguire. “The parliamentary budget officer has indicated that every one of the seven provinces that are still being administered the carbon tax by the federal government will get less.”

One positive point could be noted that Saskatchewan residents will continue to receive the carbon tax rebate - confirmation that weighed in the balance after the provincial government removed carbon tax from home heating bills at the beginning of the year.

“I think that’s the one small win for Saskatchewan taxpayers is that even though we have premier Scott Moe standing up, and removing the carbon tax from home heating and giving us those savings, the federal government has decided to give taxpayers at least some of their money back instead of withholding it as they initially said they were going to do,” Haubrich said. “So it’s good to see that taxpayers aren’t being punished for just trying to save some money.”