Unveiling how the Liberals plan to act on affordability issues, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is promising to table legislation to implement the first phase of a national dental care plan, a top up to a housing benefit for renters, and a doubling of the federal GST rebate, at the start of the fall sitting of Parliament.
On Tuesday in New Brunswick amid a Liberal caucus retreat, the prime minister released the details of a three-pronged plan aimed at low-to-modest income families, after the announcement was postponed last week due to the death of Queen Elizabeth II.
Following through on these commitments satisfy planks of the government’s confidence-and-supply agreement with the New Democrats that were due by the end of the year, and provides the government — under pressure to respond to Canadians’ affordability concerns — something to point to heading into the fall political season.
Trudeau touted the measures as being targeted at “the middle class and people working hard to join it, while we continue to be responsible with public finances.”
“We are retaining fiscal firepower and at the same time ensuring that those who need support don’t get left behind. The help we’re announcing today will make a big difference for the people who get it in a targeted way that will not stoke inflation,” Trudeau told reporters.
“These will be the very first pieces of legislation that we introduce when the House returns.”
On Tuesday afternoon, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh took credit for the plan, saying that if left to their own devices, the Liberals wouldn’t have acted.
“We fought hard and have been demanding since the spring that the Liberal government step up and give people some respect, the dignity to be able to afford their own groceries. And we have won,” Singh said. “We have forced this government to deliver three things. Each of these items would not have happened but for the fact that we forced the government to deliver on this respect for people… We’re putting money back in people’s pockets.”
Newly-elected Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre also reacted to the announcement on Tuesday, saying that in his view the pre-promised and, in part, pre-budgeted commitments aimed at lower-income Canadians are “more inflationary spending.”
“The problem with spending more money as a solution to inflation is that it simply pours more gasoline on the inflationary fire and that is exactly what Justin Trudeau continues to do,” Poilievre said.
DENTAL CARE TARGETED FOR DEC. 1
Trudeau released further information Tuesday about the promised first phase of a national dental care plan, focused on coverage for kids under the age of 12 with a family income of less than $90,000.
Instead of being ready to roll out a comprehensive national dental care program, the Liberals are moving ahead with what essentially amounts to a stop-gap measure to meet their commitment of ensuring eligible children under 12 receive the dental care they need, before the end of 2022.
For this program—which the government is calling the “Canada Dental Benefit”—Trudeau said the government’s “target” implementation date is Dec. 1, pending legislation passing Parliament and receiving Royal Assent.
The program would cover expenses retroactive to Oct. 1, 2022.
According to the government, this benefit would provide payments up to $650 per child per year, depending on family income.
$650 would be provided per child if the family’s adjusted net income is under $70,000;
$390 would be provided per child if the family’s adjusted net income is between $70,000 and $79,999; and
$260 would be provided per child if the family’s adjusted net income is between $80,000 and $89,999.
The first phase of dental care will provide eligible parents or guardians with “direct, up-front tax-free payments to cover dental expenses.” However, in order to access the benefit, parents or guardians need to apply through the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) and attest that:
Their child does not have access to private dental care coverage;
They will have out of pocket dental care expenses for which they will use the benefit; and
They understand they will need to provide receipts to verify out of pocket expenses occurred if required.
“Health Canada and the CRA are collaborating closely on an application platform that would deliver payments in a timely fashion. Further details on how and when to apply for the Benefit will be communicated in due course,” said the government in a statement.
The Liberals estimate that 500,000 Canadian children would be eligible to have some of their dental care covered under this plan, and are vowing that receiving this benefit will not reduce any pre-existing federal income-tested benefits such as the Canada Child Benefit.
Asked whether he thought the amount per child being offered was sufficient, Singh said yes. He indicated he was involved in the discussions around how much the benefit would offer, saying that calculation was made by looking at the current trends for what dental services children in this demographic need, and what they cost.
“We’re satisfied that that will be a… good amount that will cover the needs for kids 12 and under,” said Singh.
While only those under 12 years old will get first access, the program will expand to under-18 year olds, seniors, and people living with a disability in 2023. By 2025, it would be available to all Canadian families with incomes of less than $90,000 annually, with no co-pays for anyone earning less than $70,000 annually.
The 2022 federal budget earmarked $5.3 billion to Health Canada over the next five years to oversee implementation of the dental care plan.
On Tuesday, Trudeau said that his government remains committed to seeing the full plan through.
HOUSING BENEFIT TOP-UP
The Liberals also plan to top up the $500 one-time rental support program called the Canada Housing Benefit, for renters with adjusted net incomes below $35,000 for families, or $20,000 for individuals, by the end of the year — pending parliamentary approval.
Inked into the NDP-Liberal deal, the top-up was included in the 2022 federal budget, with the government setting aside $475 million for those eligible this year. Now, the Liberals say the proposed funding totals $1.2 billion.
“People who currently receive hundreds of dollars in housing benefits each month through the program we introduced and co-fund with provinces and territories, can also apply to receive this additional support,” Trudeau said Tuesday.
This is another attestation-based program that the CRA will deliver, so long as applicants have filed their 2021 tax return, are paying at least 30 per cent of their adjusted net income on shelter, and are paying rent for their own primary residence in Canada.
Criticizing this plank of the plan specifically, Poilievre said that the money—which if divided over the year would amount to just over $40 a month— won’t go very far for those living in expensive neighbourhoods.
This pledge was just one of several housing affordability-related commitments made as part of the two-party agreement. Approximately 1.8 million low-income renters, including students, would be eligible for this support.
DOUBLING THE GST CREDIT
While not part of the NDP-Liberal deal, Singh has been calling for a GST rebate hike for some time. The coming hike will be temporary, lasting six months.
Adjusted to inflation, the GST/HST credit is a non-taxable payment made four times a year to individuals and families with low and modest incomes, meant to help offset the goods and services tax/harmonized sales tax they pay.
As the program currently stands, single Canadians with a maximum income of just over $49,000 receive $467 a year. Those who are married or common-law receive a maximum of $612 and an additional $161 is provided for each child under 19, depending on income.
Now — should the coming legislation to implement this boost pass — the government is estimating that:
A single mother with one child and $30,000 in net income would receive $1,160 this year;
A single senior with $20,000 in net income would receive $701 this year; and
A couple with two children and $35,000 in net income would receive $1,401 this benefit year.
The government estimates that 11 million individuals and families would receive a boost through this increase, which is set to administer $2.5 billion in additional funding to current recipients as a one-time, lump-sum payment before the year’s end.
“This will provide hundreds of dollars of support to Canadians, including half of all families and more than half of all seniors in the country,” Trudeau said.