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MacKay, O’Toole lay out their post-pandemic economic plans. And neither is rushing to balance the books

MacKay, O’Toole lay out their post-pandemic economic plans. And neither is rushing to balance the books
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OTTAWA—If you’re a Conservative voter who believes in balancing the budget above all else, you might want to avert your eyes for the next few years.

Leadership front-runners Peter MacKay and Erin O’Toole both released their ideas for Canada’s post-pandemic economic recovery this week. And while both candidates stressed the need to stabilize federal finances, neither would rush to balance the budget any time soon.

In fact, none of the four candidates for the Conservative leadership have given themselves a deadline to balance the books — a tried-and-true party promise dating back to the Harper years.

Instead, the two candidates seen as the mostly likely to lead the party are proposing tax cuts to spur business and consumer confidence, industrial policies aimed at manufacturing essential goods in Canada, and extending some of the multi-billion-dollar relief programs brought in by the Liberal government.

“Our country is currently facing its most serious economic challenges since the Great Depression and the greatest risks to national unity and Canadian prosperity in our history,” O’Toole wrote in unveiling his ideas Thursday.

“With our economy in tatters, we first need to shock the system back to life,” said MacKay in his own mini-platform release on Wednesday.

Despite their leadership rivalry, MacKay and O’Toole hit many of the same notes in their respective plans — reviewing and simplifying Canada’s tax code, extending or expanding emergency business loans brought in during the pandemic, and putting the country on a “path” to balanced budgets.

Both put Canada’s oil and gas industry front-and-centre, repeating Conservative promises to build more pipelines and repeal Liberal environmental legislation, including the carbon levy.

MacKay’s economic pitch includes narrowly-targeted policies for businesses in advanced manufacturing, technology and natural resource sectors. MacKay would also contemplate temporarily reducing or even eliminating federal sales taxes on hard-hit sectors like service, hospitality and tourism. Canadians would be allowed to draw up to $10,000 from their RRSPs tax-free.

O’Toole’s plans extend beyond the economic recovery to include a royal commission investigating the federal government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, and give Ottawa a lead role in testing and contact tracing to manage future outbreaks.

The child benefit boost brought in by the Liberals in the pandemic would be extended by O’Toole until the end of 2021, transferring an additional $12 billion from the federal government to families. The former cabinet minister would also double tax breaks for child care through a refundable credit of up to $16,000 for children under the age of seven.

In a statement, Sloan said his eventual plan will promote Canadian manufacturing, take “China to task,” and boost the oil and gas sector, among other measures.

According to a recent Mainstreet Research poll of almost 8,000 Conservative members, MacKay leads the race with the support of 44.9 per cent of decided respondents, with O’Toole next with 36.2 per cent. Lewis had the backing of 11.5 per cent of respondents, with Sloan drawing 7.4 per cent.

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But in the Conservatives’ ranked ballot leadership system, Lewis’ and Sloan’s supporters could end up being decisive if they coalesce behind one of the two front-runners. Mainstreet found that O’Toole has a slight lead as voters “second choice” option.

The poll was conducted between May 20 and 21, and has a margin of error of plus or minus 1.1 percentage points. The Conservatives are expected to select their next leader on Aug. 21.
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