Andrew Scheer tried to position himself on Monday as the compassionate choice for voters with his latest election promise, telling Canadians a Conservative government would make it easier for thousands of people to get a federal disability tax credit.
The Conservative leader continued applying his campaign strategy of offering tax breaks to specific groups of Canadians. And he warned voters that although the Liberals might seem generous with their spending promises, that largesse will lead to tough choices down the road.
Calling Monday’s proposal a “very compassionate policy,” Scheer said 35,000 more people living with a disability such as Type 1 diabetes would qualify for the tax credit.
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“If a loved one lives with a disability, a chronic illness or a life-limiting condition, it takes a toll on the entire family, both emotionally and financially,” he said during an event at a support centre for disabled Canadians in an eastern suburb of Toronto.
The pledge follows the Conservative leader’s earlier election-campaign commitments to re-introduce tax credits for transit users and families with kids in sports and arts programs, among others.
Scheer said a Conservative government would reduce the number of hours per week that must be spent managing a disability to qualify for the tax credit. Canadians must now spend 14 hours a week on “life-sustaining therapy” to qualify for the credit and pay less income tax, and Scheer said the Tories would reduce that to 10 hours per week.
The Conservative leader is also promising to expand the types of activities that count towards those hours, including the addition of exercise and time spent on medically necessary dietary calculations.
Scheer took aim at the Liberals, whose costed platform released over the weekend promised a $27.4-billion deficit next fiscal year.
“I am convinced that voters know that with big deficits and tax increases — that threatens the health care system … there is nothing compassionate when the Liberal government (will) cut services because of big deficits and interest on the debt.”
Scheer’s promise to increase access to the disability tax credit comes two years after health groups joined the Tories in accusing the Liberal government of trying to raise tax revenue on the backs of diabetics.
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The accusation stemmed from a change at the Canada Revenue Agency that saw Type 1 diabetics being rejected for the tax credit even though they had previously qualified, prompting anger and concern from Diabetes Canada, the Canadian Medical Association and others.
The Canada Revenue Agency later said it would reverse course and process applications under the previous regime.
Scheer nonetheless accused the Liberals Monday of taking money away from disabled people.
“In 2017, Justin Trudeau callously changed the rules to qualify for the disability tax credit … Imagine being told you’re insufficiently disabled to keep more of your own money to manage your own health.”
Kim Hanson, the executive director of federal affairs for Diabetes Canada, said Monday the revenue agency followed through on its commitment to reverse the changes.
But, Hanson said in an email, “Canadians with diabetes still face significant challenges accessing the (tax credit) given unclear and inconsistently applied eligibility criteria.”
The Tories predict their changes would result in about 35,000 more Canadians being eligible for the tax credit, with average savings of $2,100 per year. The parliamentary budget office says it would cost the government $40 million starting in 2020-21 and $71 million by 2028-29.
Scheer was also asked by reporters if he would match the Liberals’ promise to end the delay imposed on men who have had sex with men before they can donate blood. That rule began as a lifetime ban on donating, over fears of transmitting HIV through the blood supply. The restriction has been reduced but not eliminated.
The Conservative leader said he is “in favour of treating homosexual blood donors at the same level as heterosexual blood donors.”
But, Scheer said, he wants to listen to health experts on the issue.
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The Liberals have also committed to criminalizing the practice known as conversion therapy, whose proponents claim it can change someone’s sexual orientation, or turn a LGBTQ person into a heterosexual.
While Scheer said he would “propose laws that protect the rights of LGBTQ Canadians,” he stopped short of explicitly promising to introduce a bill that would make the controversial practice illegal.
Scheer made Monday’s announcement in the riding once held by the late Jim Flaherty, who was federal finance minister under Stephen Harper. Flaherty was a passionate advocate along with his wife, current Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott, for the disability community.
Flaherty and Elliott were instrumental in helping build the Abilities Centre, where Scheer made Monday’s announcement.
Scheer spent Monday in Liberal-held ridings across the Toronto area.