Winnipeg Free Press Newspaper Archives Apr 18 2015, Page 6

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Winnipeg Free Press (Newspaper) - April 18, 2015, Winnipeg, Manitoba C M Y K PAGE A6 A 6 WINNIPEG FREE PRESS, SATURDAY, APRIL 18, 2015 SATURDAY SPECIAL winnipegfreepress. com O TTAWA — Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative party says it — and it alone — will “ stand up for the middle class.” No, says NDP Leader Tom Mulcair. The NDP will form the government that “ stands up for middle- class families and the cities in which they live.” Mais non, cries out Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau. “ The Liberal Party of Canada’s purpose will be to enhance the prospects of middle- class Canadians.” Three parties. Three leaders. Three different plans for Canada. All of them targeting the vaunted “ ordinary Canadian” with a middleclass income. Just who are they talking about? In reality, it’s almost everyone. “ When you ask people to self- identify, the middle class is pretty large,” said Wayne Simpson, a professor of economics at the University of Manitoba. In 2012, an Environics Focus survey found 93 per cent of Canadians identified themselves as belonging to the lower- middle, middle or uppermiddle class. Only five per cent said they felt they belonged to the lower class and only one per cent believed they were upper- class. Simpson says the middle class isn’t really an actual economic term, so how it is defined is different depending on who you ask. From a technical perspective, the middle class would be those who earn in the middle of all incomes. In 2011, according to Statistics Canada, that was an aftertax average household income between $ 33,400 on the low end and $ 75,900 on the high end. Simpson said most of the swing seats in Canada are not in rural or urban Canada, but in the suburbs, such areas around Toronto that have the 905 area code. In Winnipeg, the biggest fights are expected in Winnipeg South- Centre, Winnipeg South, Saint Boniface and Elmwood- Transcona, all of which encompass some suburban voters, and at least two of which are almost exclusively in the suburbs. In those areas, the vast majority of voters will fall into the middle class. “ Political parties are going after swing votes, and the assumption is that’s where they are,” said Simpson. What policies will gain traction with middle- class voters? “ The government is racking its brain to figure out what those are,” Simpson said. For the Conservatives, the middle- class voter scheme is largely what they refer to as their “ family tax cut,” a combination of increasing the universal child care benefit by $ 60 a month for all children under 18, and introducing income splitting for families with kids under 18. The latter will allow families to share up to $ 50,000 in income between spouses so it is taxed at a lower rate, resulting in a maximum savings of $ 2,000 a year. “ This is a policy that anyone who claims to care about the middle class should support,” Finance Minister Joe Oliver said last fall, when promoting the new family tax cut. According to Oliver, two- thirds of the benefits of income splitting will go to low- and middle- income Canadians. By his account, the government considers the middle class to encompass families with incomes as high as $ 120,000. Regardless of the statistical meaning of middle- class, families earning $ 120,000 a year generally consider themselves to be middle- class. A Finance Canada analysis suggests 85 per cent of families with household incomes between $ 60,000 and $ 120,000 will get some benefit from splitting their income, with the average benefit being $ 1,219 a year. Opposition parties scoff at that, and argue it generally benefits wealthier people, and fully 85 per cent of Canadian households won’t benefit at all. Oliver, however, says opposition party promises to scrap income splitting will hurt. “ Taking money out of the pockets of middle- class and lower- income Canadians does not sound like a winning platform to me,” he said last November. NDP finance critic Nathan Cullen said it does seem politicians are pointing more and more toward the middle class. “ There does seem to be a scramble towards the middle,” he told the Free Press . “ I’m not sure why that is. But we think about who we believe needs help now.” He said the NDP accepts the Statistics Canada definition that the middle class includes the middle 60 per cent of income earners. Beyond that, Cullen said, the focus is on policies. And he said the party believes universal policies, such as a national affordable daycare program, benefit everybody, even if they would be most attractive to those struggling at the bottom end of the spectrum. “ Those making north of $ 150,000 aren’t in a desperate state looking for affordable child care,” Cullen said. The NDP, he said, is also looking at job creation, particularly in the manufacturing sector. In January, Mulcair outlined an economic plan in a speech that mentioned the middle class no fewer than 15 times. “ I believe that the best measure of a well- functioning, diversified economy is the strength of the middle class,” he said. “ But the reality is in 2015, middle- class families are working harder, while falling further and further behind.” The NDP plan includes tax cuts for small business, investments in research as well as incentives for business innovation. Mulcair is trying to convince middle- class voters he is one of them — something Trudeau and Harper cannot do. “ Let me conclude by saying that my focus on the middle class stems from my upbringing. It is a fundamental part of who I am,” he said in January. Liberal finance critic Scott Brison delivered a speech on the economy in Toronto Friday, in which he admitted he referenced the middle class “ a few times.” He said the Liberals hear from people across the country that they need help. “ There’s a growing sense in this country that families are really struggling,” he said. “ Middle- class Canadians haven’t had a raise in a long time.” How the Liberals will address that is vague compared with the NDP and Conservatives, who have laid out specific plans. The Liberals promise to invest in infrastructure, which Brison says will provide immediate jobs and help the economy grow; skills training; and in useful research and scientific data to help business and governments understand better what is really going on. That means, Brison says, returning to the long- form census that the Conservatives scrapped in favour of a household survey, which provides less reliable data. Brison said the Liberals believe in helping the middle class stop feeling squeezed. “ It used to be a middle- class income gave the ability to provide decent housing and a good quality of life for their families,” Brison said. mia. rabson@ freepress. mb. ca By Mia Rabson Staking out THE MIDDLE GROUND Every federal leader claims his party speaks for the middle class Who speaks for the middle class? Everyone “ Because my priority is the Canadians who built this country: the middle class, not the political class.” — Justin Trudeau, 2013 political ad “ This is a policy that anyone who claims to care about the middle class should support,” — Finance Minister Joe Oliver, November 2014 “ What I want to address today is the most important economic asset any country has in the modern global economy, the engine of our prosperity for the past 70 years, and if we make the right choices today, a guarantee of our prosperity for generations to come. What I am talking about, of course, is the economic well- being of Canada’s middle class.” — NDP Leader Tom Mulcair, March 2015 “ Only Canada’s Conservatives will stand up for the middle class.” — Jason Kenney, April 2014 Stephen Harper Tom Mulcair Justin Trudeau DRAWINGBYOLIVE FEHR A_ 06_ Apr- 18- 15_ FP_ 01. indd A6 4/ 17/ 15 7: 33: 51 PM

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