OPINION: Year-end economic facts Canadians need to know
By Niels Veldhuis and Milagros Palacios
Re-printed without permission.
To hear many Canadian politicians tell it, everything in Canada is rosy. Take for example recent comments by federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau as he delivered his government’s Fall Economic Statement: “Canada’s economy is strong and growing… our plan to grow the economy is working.” While the finance minister is certainly entitled to his own opinion, what about the facts? As we begin 2019, here are 10 year-end facts from 2018 that Canadians should understand and consider.
Investment, which is critical for future prosperity and job-creation, has collapsed and Canadians are increasingly investing in other countries. Specifically, foreign investment in Canada is down 55% over the past five years while Canadian investment abroad has increased by 74%.
The Canadian economy has managed to expand by merely 2.1% in the past year, nearly a full percentage point below the United States (3.0%). The government’s own Parliamentary Budget Officer projects the economy to grow at just 1.8% next year and 1.5% from 2020 to 2023, highlighting “headwinds” produced by the federal carbon tax.
The federal government continues to run significant deficits ($18 billion this year, growing to $20 billion next year) and apparently has no interest in balancing the budget. Indeed, the federal government’s own Department of Finance now projects the government will not balance the budget until 2045.
These perennial deficits are being run during a time of positive, albeit tepid, economic growth. If and when Canada’s economy slows down — or worse, hits a recession — the federal deficit could grow to $120 billion annually, depending on the severity of the recession and the government’s response.
Annual deficits and growing government debt has, and will continue, to create uncertainty for Canadian households and businesses about additional future tax increases.
Speaking of tax increases, while the federal government claimed it “cut taxes for middle-class Canadians everywhere,” in reality, 81% of middle-class families in Canada now pay higher income taxes under the Trudeau government’s personal income tax changes — on average, $840 more a year.
All told, the total tax bill for the average Canadian family will exceed $38,000 in 2018, or 43.2% of their income — more than what the average family spends on housing, food and clothing combined.
And that does not include the impact of the federal carbon tax. Canadians ought to be very critical of the federal government’s carbon tax because it’s not revenue neutral and will be added on top of, rather than replacing, existing regulations. And it may fail to reduce overall greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in part because some firms will relocate their activities to avoid the carbon tax.
While the carbon tax is especially damaging to Canada’s energy-intensive industries, the Trudeau government has doubled down and made approvals of major energy projects more complex and uncertain. That is, the government is radically revising the process of assessing major infrastructure projects (including pipelines) by including a large number of subjective criteria (i.e. “gender” analysis and a reliance on Indigenous knowledge) during project assessment.
And if that were not enough, the federal and many provincial governments have also discouraged thousands of new businesses from starting due to higher income taxes. When governments raise the top personal income tax rate, they discourage entrepreneurs from taking risks and starting new businesses, which are vital for economic growth and prosperity and drive innovation. Ottawa increased the top federal tax rate to 33% from 29%, and Ontario, Alberta, British Columbia and other provinces also increased their top provincial rates. Seven of our 10 provinces now have a top combined federal-provincial rate above 50%.
As we begin 2019, let’s hope we see a refocus on policies that will actually improve the economy and lives of Canadians.
Niels Veldhuis and Milagros Palacios are economists at the Fraser Institute.