03/02/2018 14:30 EST | Updated 03/02/2018 14:55 EST

Bill Morneau Unaware Renaming Tory Tax Credit Erased Part Of Jim Flaherty’s Legacy

One Tory MP called it "petty."

Justin Tang/Fred Chartrand/The Canadian Press
Finance Minister Bill Morneau says he was not aware that the Working Income Tax Benefit was a nod to the riding of the late Jim Flaherty.

OTTAWA — The finance minister says he had no idea a tax credit the government renamed in its budget this week essentially erased a piece of Jim Flaherty's legacy.

In an interview with HuffPost Canada, Bill Morneau said the decision to rename the Working Income Tax Benefit (WITB) to the Canada Workers Benefit (CWB) was "absolutely not" a snub at Conservatives who introduced the benefit 11 years ago.

Chris Wattie / Reuters
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Finance Minister Bill Morneau walk from Trudeau's office to the House of Commons to deliver the budget on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Feb. 27, 2018.

WITB sounds like "Whitby" — a nod to the Ontario riding that Flaherty, the late Tory finance minister, represented in the House of Commons.

Morneau said Liberals were merely trying to clarify what the benefit is about.

"Canada Workers Benefit is calling it what it is," said Morneau. "The reason is because I don't think the average Canadian understands what WITB means."

They could have pursued those same measures without having to erase from public memory the man who first created this tax credit.Pierre Poilievre

Tory finance critic Pierre Poilievre called the decision to rename the benefit "petty." He said the original name, Working Income Tax Benefit, isn't that complicated.

"They could have pursued those same measures without having to erase from public memory the man who first created this tax credit."

Flaherty died at age 64 after suffering a heart attack in his Ottawa home in April 2014. He had resigned as finance minister a month earlier.

Poilievre said the refundable credit was reflective of Flaherty's work advocating on behalf of the disability community, who are particularly affected by clawbacks and taxes.

"The Working Income Tax Benefit was meant to supercharge the income of the working poor," he said.

Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre asks a question during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Feb. 14, 2018.

WITB was first proposed by former Liberal finance minister Ralph Goodale in 2005, but was never implemented after a no confidence motion triggered an election.

The idea behind it was to help increase the incomes of low-wage earners by introducing an incentive — the refundable tax credit — to help people feel supported as they made the transition from social assistance to work.

With Flaherty at the helm of the country's finances at the time, Tories introduced the WITB in the 2007 federal budget.

More money for low-wage earners

In its 2018 budget released Tuesday, the Liberal government called the new CWB a "strengthened version" of the WITB.

Changes made include raising the income level for when recipients are no longer eligible. So for low-income workers, that means someone earning $15,000 could get up to $500 more than they did last year.

Poilievre said the optics of the name change are bad, adding it's more productive to put partisanship aside on this specific issue.

"I think we should all agree that work should always pay more than welfare and that the system should never punish someone for getting a job or earning a raise," he said.

With files from Althia Raj

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