A boost to the TFSA may have to wait.
Falling oil prices and Ottawa’s recent tax cuts for families and small businesses will result in a $1.9-billion surplus next year — not the $6.4-billion surplus projected in this year’s federal budget.
And, the Conservatives have yet to unveil two additional measures from their 2011 election commitments before Canadians head to the polls in the next federal vote set for Oct. 19, 2015, says a TD Economics briefing note released following yesterday’s Fall Economic Update.
The annual contribution limit for tax TFSAs is supposed to nearly double from $5,500 to $10,000, and the federal government is to introduce a $500 adult fitness tax credit. That’s in addition to the doubling of the children’s fitness tax credit to $1,000 announced in October that comes into effect next year.
The TFSA and fitness initiatives combined would cost $3.3 billion from 2015-16 to 2019-20, reducing the cumulative surplus over the next six years to $25 billion, say TD economists Derek Burleton and Randall Bartlett.
“As the government heads into an election, pressure to provide additional tax cuts and increase spending will intensify,” they write. “However, given the modest amount of room available, tough choices will be required.”
Kevin Page, Canada’s former parliamentary budget officer, told Advisor.ca the federal government is using extra funds in its employment insurance account to finance tax cuts and spending increases, despite pledging not to do so.
As Wednesday’s update revealed, the EI account has a $3.8-billion surplus, which will increase to $3.9 billion in 2015-2016 and $4.5 billion in 2016-17, which would result in a cumulative balance of $7 billion.
The EI rate is frozen at $1.88 per $100 of insurable earnings until 2017 when it’s scheduled to drop to $1.45. That’s when a seven-year break-even, rate-setting mechanism takes effect.
“The government is using EI to boost its overall surplus when it should be lowering premiums to give employers and employees a break,” explains Page, now the Jean-Luc Pepin Research Chair at the University of Ottawa.
But most of next year’s diminished surplus was due to $3.1 billion allocated this year to provide families with children income-splitting tax breaks and an enhanced universal child care benefit. (The government also announced a $550-million small business job credit over two years in September.)
Election, GDP implications
With the next scheduled federal election less than a year away, Finance Minister Joe Oliver is trying to court middle-class voters as his budgetary numbers fell below the government’s own expectations.
The Finance Department lowered the budgetary balance by $500 million this year and $2.5 billion per year between 2015 and 2019 in light of reduced government revenues arising from a recent decline in crude oil prices, which saw North American crude fall from US$98 per barrel in September to below US$80 per barrel this month.
As a result, the government reduced its forecast for nominal GDP by $3 billion in 2014, and by $16 billion annually from 2015 to 2019.
The federal debt-to-GDP ratio is expected to fall to below its pre-recession level by 2017, and Ottawa is on track to meet its target of reducing the federal debt to 25% of GDP by 2021, says the Finance Department.
However, the economic update “isn’t very transparent” in addressing the uncertainty related to the recent declines in oil prices either by projecting them or discussing how lower interest and exchanges rates could be used to offset such declines, says Kevin Page.
Minister Oliver, in his speech to the Canadian Club in Toronto Wednesday, said, “anyone who claims to care about the middle class should support” the government’s fiscal policy, and noted that 25% of families earning less than $30,000 a year would benefit from the Conservatives’ income splitting and universal child care benefit initiatives.
The opposition had different numbers.
NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair told reporters that his party opposes income splitting he characterized as a “reverse Robin Hood” tax initiative that takes “from the poor to give to the rich,” only helps the “richest 14% of the population” and “makes no social or economic sense whatsoever.”
Meanwhile, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau said that income splitting would only benefit “15% of wealthiest families, including mine and Mr. Harper’s,” and reveals that Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservatives are “more preoccupied with getting re-elected than they are with actually governing in a way that is going to contribute to growth and jobs for Canadians.”