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NDP Steps Up Push For New Tax On Wealthy, Companies ‘Profiteering’ From Pandemic

Jagmeet Singh is taking his pitch for a super-wealth tax into the House of Commons.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh speaks during a news conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Nov. 4, 2020.
Adrian Wyld/CP
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh speaks during a news conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Nov. 4, 2020.

Federal New Democrats are renewing a push for Canada’s wealthiest people and the corporations thriving amid the COVID-19 pandemic to pay more to ease the country’s crisis recovery.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh announced Wednesday his party will introduce a motion in the House of Commons calling for a so-called super-wealth tax and an excess-profits tax on “big corporations profiteering from the pandemic.” The party says the estimated billions of dollars in new revenue raised by such moves should then be spent on health care and social programs.

UPDATE - Nov. 16, 2020: The NDP motion was defeated by a vote of 292-27.

Watch: Singh says Trump’s turnout speaks to Americans’ anger

Though non-binding on the government, the motion, set to be introduced Thursday, could put pressure on the Liberals, whose emergency spending during the crisis has resulted in a massive deficit. The Parliamentary Budget Office (PBO) said in September that Canada is on track for a $330-billion deficit this fiscal year.

At an Ottawa press conference, Singh said ordinary Canadians are becoming “more and more worried” about shouldering the burden of slaying the deficit, warning it could mean eventual government cuts to health care and social programs.

“To pay for the programs, the help that people need, it should not be you that has to pay for it,” Singh said. “It should not be families and people and workers and small businesses who have struggled. It should be those who have profited off the pandemic, it should be the ultra-wealthy that contribute their fair share.”

The motion notes that since the pandemic’s start in March, Canadian billionaires are $37 billion richer, a figure that comes from a recent study by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. It asks the House to call on the government to legislate a “one per cent tax on wealth over $20 million,” an NDP platform pledge in the last federal election.

The proposal for an excess-profits tax is also something Singh has raised before. He said last month that large companies benefiting during the pandemic, such as grocery chains and Inc., should see profits that are higher than averages before the crisis taxed at double the corporate rate, The Globe and Mail reported.

According to New Democrats, the money raised by both moves should be redirected to:

  • Ensure all Canadian residents can have a guaranteed livable basic income;
  • “Expand health care” with a national dental care program and a “universal, single-payer, public pharmacare program”;
  • Implement a right to housing and fund a “For Indigenous, By Indigenous” housing strategy to be delivered by Indigenous housing providers.

The PBO reported in July the NDP’s proposed super-wealth tax could net $5.6 billion in the current fiscal year and estimated it would apply to 13,800 Canadian families. However, the office warned “the magnitude of this response is highly uncertain and dependent on the level of enforcement and the asset valuation techniques prescribed by the legislation.”

Asked how far a wealth tax would really go to paying for new programs, Singh said it would generate “massive new revenue that we could get from people who could afford to do so.”

The excess-profit tax also “has the potential to have massive revenue implications, which is also not something to be ignored,” he said, adding the NDP will likewise keep pushing the government to target the use of tax havens by corporations.

The NDP leader, who on Tuesday called for the defeat of U.S. President Donald Trump, said the tight election results in that country reflect that many ordinary people are feeling let down, frustrated, and angry.

The resiliency of Trump’s vote, despite his many controversies and what the NDP leader has called a failure to manage the pandemic, “just makes me want to work harder,” Singh said.

The government’s September throne speech, which passed with NDP support, identified pharmacare as a priority, but did not pledge to bring in a guaranteed basic income. It also stated the government would “identify additional ways to tax extreme wealth inequality.”

‘No blank cheques,’ Freeland says

In a virtual speech to the Toronto Global Forum last week, Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland made the case for more deficit spending amid the ongoing health emergency.

“It is just not practically possible, never mind fair, to ask workers to stay home, or businesses to shut their doors, without providing the financial support they need to compensate for lost income,” she said.

Yet she also said she is not among those who believe deficits “don’t matter” to governments and signalled federal aid programs can’t go on forever.

“Whether on Bay Street or Main Street, there are no blank cheques, and there are no free lunches,” she said. “Our fiscally expansive approach to fighting the coronavirus cannot and will not be infinite.”

With a file from The Canadian Press

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