The federal budget last month announced tariff increases that apply to 72 countries, including major exporting nations such as China, Indonesia, Korea, Malaysia, Mexico and Singapore.
MPs will spend much of Monday debating a motion by New Democrat national revenue critic Murray Rankin that calls on the House to "condemn the tax hikes introduced by the government in Budget 2013 … which break the promise the government made to Canadians during the last election."
The NDP says the budget includes tax increases on:
- Hospital parking.
- Baby strollers.
- Coffee makers.
- Electronics such as iPods.
The tariffs are applied on products imported to Canada, the cost of which retailers are expected to pass on to consumers.
'Tax on everything'
New Democrat finance critic Peggy Nash said the budget in essence raises taxes on "school supplies, shoes, clothes, many consumer products ... to have [a] kind of tax on everything is very difficult for the consumers."
The Conservatives attacked the NDP in 2010 and 2011 for wanting a levy of about $5 on recording devices as part of changes to Canadian copyright law. The Conservatives called the levy an iPod tax.
"That is exactly what this government has introduced," Nash said.
While there's a tariff exemption that importers can apply for on electronics, it's not clear whether it applies to iPods. Getting the exemption would require importers to have end-user certificates with detailed information from consumers.
The exemption is also written to apply to items that are used while connected to a computer, while MP3 players are made to be used away from the computer.
Shelly Glover, the parliamentary secretary to the finance minister, denied the government is raising taxes.
"The NDP has made up all of this fear-mongering dialogue about tax increases ... there are no tax increases in budget 2013," she told the House.
"The general preferential tariff is about tax fairness."
'A tariff is a tax'
Finance Minister Jim Flaherty released a statement accusing the NDP of trying to hide its own agenda and listing the measures the Conservatives have brought in, including cutting the GST by two percentage points.
"In Economic Action Plan 2013, we took steps to modernize the tax system, close tax loopholes to make the system fairer and clamp down on tax evasion," Flaherty said in the statement, referring to this year's federal budget.
"What's the NDP’s economic plan, increasing taxes on businesses and entrepreneurs by $10 [billion] a year and introducing a massive new carbon tax."
In question period, many of the opposition questions were about the tariff changes.
"A tariff is a tax levied by a government on imports. So the prime minister can couch this in any terms he likes. But the facts are, when middle-class Canadians go into a store to buy a tricycle, to buy school supplies, to buy a little red wagon for their kids, they will pay more because of a tax in this government's budget," Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau said.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper said the Liberals have voted against budgets in which the Conservatives reduced taxes.
"What the Liberal Party seems to stand for, Mr. Speaker, is that somehow we should give tax breaks to emerging economies like China," Harper said.
Foreign workers also at issue
NDP Leader Tom Mulcair kicked off question period by calling on the government to explain why temporary foreign workers are being used to fill jobs that don't require skilled workers. The program was set up to bring in skilled workers into the country to temporarily fill shortages.
Mulcair said there are 340,000 temporary foreign workers employed in Canada, which, he claimed, works out to 40 per cent of the jobs created since the recession.
"Under this Conservative government, temporary foreign workers aren't being used to fill a shortage of highly skilled labour. They're replacing clerical workers in Ontario, fish plant workers in Newfoundland and Labrador, food service workers in Alberta and miners in British columbia," Mulcair said.
"There are still 1.4 million unemployed. Can the prime minister tell them what specific skills are required to work at a Tim Hortons counter that he thinks Canadian workers don't have?"
Harper said the program isn't meant for that, and pointed out the government said in the budget that they will reform the program so employers have to try harder to fill the jobs with Canadian workers.
"But I would point out, Mr. Speaker, that I have in my hand letters from not fewer than eight NDP members of Parliament asking the government to approve additional temporary foreign workers for their ridings," Harper said.