The results of this week’s federal election may have mirrored those from 2019, prompting a sense of déjà vu, yet advisors say clients are concerned about broader issues following this pandemic vote.
One issue that’s top of mind is who will ultimately foot the bill for Covid-19-related spending. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who once again secured a minority government, aims to start a Covid-19 research fund, boost health care and support a proof of vaccination system — all part of the plan to finally end the pandemic.
The Liberal platform included about $78 billion in new spending over the next five years and around $25.5 billion in new revenue. Using the Parliamentary Budget Office’s August projections, the Liberals forecast the $156.9-billion deficit in 2021–22 falling to just over $32 billion in 2025–26, with the debt-to-GDP ratio declining from 48.5% to 46.5% over the same period.
“The amount of fiscal spending that is being proposed is leading to individuals asking, ‘How are we going to pay for that?” said Robert Luft, a portfolio manager with Luft Financial, iA Private Wealth, in Vancouver.
One answer is through wealthy corporations — including financial institutions — and high-earning individuals, given both the Liberal and NDP platforms included tax measures aimed at these groups, said Luft.
“Any party can theoretically support the Liberals, but the NDP is the likely first choice,” he added.
Chris Dewdney, CFP and principal at Dewdney&Co. in Toronto, is also fielding concerns about fiscal spending. Yet, he reminds people that at the start of this global emergency, “Everyone was reaching out to the government, from business owners to individuals alike, saying, ‘Help us’ and ‘We need more.'”
In such an unprecedented time, he added, “You can’t have it both ways; you can’t be saying that the government needs to do more and then, [in the end], say you don’t want to be affected.”
Yet, he questions the Liberal policy targeting Canada’s largest banks and insurance companies with higher corporate taxes. While those companies have profited during the pandemic, Dewdney said, so too have technology and e-commerce companies.
The move could impact investors who receive dividends from those institutions, “and the shareholders aren’t just the wealthiest people,” he said. “They’re everyday people invested through mutual funds and pension funds. Whether that [impact] would be material is yet to be seen.”
Emily Rae, a senior financial planning advisor with Assante Capital Management Ltd. in Halifax, said advisors must be sensitive to how much clients’ priorities have shifted since the last election, and tailor their approaches accordingly.
“[In 2019], we spoke about corporate taxation and other [tax] concerns, but the whole focus has changed,” she said. “People are now talking about homelessness and the vaccine rollout, […] and social issues like living wages. The tone of this election was different.”
Some clients are unsure about what to do with “unexpected savings” while others might be worried about their jobs, she said.
For clients looking to enter the housing market, Liberal promises like the new First Home Savings Account and an increase in the First-Time Home Buyers’ Tax Credit “have been top of mind” and may warrant fresh planning conversations, she said.
Luft is intrigued by the Liberals’ “anti-flipping tax” on the speculation of residential homes that would require home sellers to have held a property for at least 12 months — with some life-circumstance exemptions.
For advisors and clients digesting the election results, Luft said, “The difficulty is not knowing what will come to pass and won’t under a minority government.”
For example, advisors have been speculating for months about the Liberals raising the capital gains inclusion rate — a policy that wasn’t part of the party’s platform. However, the NDP campaigned to raise the inclusion rate to 75%.
Luft said he would hope changes to capital gains would be signalled in advance to allow investors to plan. But that also could lead to the unwanted consequence of people selling assets earlier than intended to capture inflated prices and lower taxation while they can — “letting the tax tail wag the dog,” Luft said.
One proposal that Luft isn’t worried about is the Liberals’ proposed minimum taxation of high-income earners. The Liberals said the highest earners would have to pay at least 15% income tax each year, regardless of credits and deductions. “But at $216,000 and over, the average high-income earner is paying 33% tax federally, not including provincial tax. So that [proposal] is just window dressing,” Luft said.
Luft is encouraging clients to consider how they receive income. Planners should still consider tax-efficient income strategies such as the use of dividends, he said, where he doesn’t expect the government to change its approach.