NEWS
02/05/2018 12:54 EST | Updated 02/08/2018 11:25 EST

Tories pitch change to benefits clawback for disabled people who want to work

OTTAWA — The Conservatives are proposing legislation aimed at ensuring disabled Canadians don't wind up losing their disability benefits when they get a job, earn a raise or work longer hours.

As it stands now, said Conservative finance critic Pierre Poilievre, both federal and provincial governments claw back benefits, including income, housing and medication support, when a disabled person takes a job. Combined with income taxes, the marginal effective tax rates can exceed 100 per cent, he said.

"Imagine, the harder you work, the poorer you become," said Poilievre, blaming successive federal and provincial governments for instituting tax and benefits policies with little idea how they'd impact the ability of disabled Canadians to work.

"The result is a welfare wall that keeps people jobless and in poverty."

Poilievre introduced a private member's bill Monday designed to knock down that wall.

Under his bill, the federal government would be required to calculate how much people with disabilities in each province lose in taxes and benefit clawbacks for every additional $1,000 they earn, up to $30,000.

In any case where a person loses more than they gain, the federal government would have to adjust its disability benefits to resolve the problem.

As a condition for receiving federal transfer payments, provinces would also have to adjust their taxes and benefits to ensure disabled people are not penalized for getting a job or earning more money.

Poilievre's bill was introduced in tandem with one from Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer, who last week proposed putting an end to taxation of employment insurance benefits for Canadians on parental leave.

Poilievre characterized his bill as a non-partisan effort to improve the lives of disabled Canadians and said members of other parties have responded favourably to the idea.

Still, both bills are part of a Conservative effort to start presenting proposals they say will go further than the Liberal government's approach to helping the middle class.

The Tories argue the government's policies hurt more than they help, and they are offering up new tax changes as a way to undo that damage.

The new policies also, however, harken back to the Harper Conservatives' strategy of offering niche tax breaks as incentives to targeted pools of voters - a strategy the Liberals have argued voters rejected in the 2015 election.

The policy ideas and political plays come as the Conservatives struggle with the fact that two former MPs have been accused of sexual misconduct dating back to their time on Parliament Hill.

Both former prime minister Stephen Harper and his former chief of staff Ray Novak have now publicly admitted they were aware of allegations against one MP, Rick Dykstra. Both have said they allowed Dykstra to remain a candidate in the 2015 election because no criminal charges had been laid.

Dykstra has denied the allegations.

Another former Tory MP, Patrick Brown, is also facing accusations he denied, but which forced him to step down as leader of the Ontario Progressive Conservatives.

— Follow @StephanieLevitz on Twitter