09/15/2019 18:57 EDT | Updated 09/16/2019 13:44 EDT

Conservatives Pledge 'Universal Tax Cut' For Lowest Income Bracket

Andrew Scheer also promised to revive the transit tax credit.

SURREY, B.C. — Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer unveiled a $6-billion tax cut Sunday in his first campaign swing through British Columbia.

Scheer visited the home of a couple in the Vancouver suburb of Surrey to promise he will cut the tax rate on the lowest federal income bracket — the one charged on income up to $47,630 — from 15 per cent to 13.75 per cent over the next four years.

“I wish I could say life has gotten easier for Canada’s middle class but it has not,” Scheer said. “People are working harder than ever but many are barely getting by or even falling further behind. They’re definitely not getting ahead.”

Scheer delivered the promise in a carefully crafted scene in Gretchen and Reed’s living room — the couple didn’t want their last name used — with perfectly placed cups of coffee, a plate of oatmeal cookies and a printout of a tax form on the coffee table in front of them.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer during a news conference in Toronto on Aug. 29, 2019.

Scheer has been critical of Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau for cutting tax credits the former Conservative government introduced to offset the costs of putting children in sports or arts classes, buying textbooks and using transit passes.

The Liberals eliminated those credits when they created the Canada Child Benefit in the 2016 budget, which rolled together a litany of previous benefits to help families with the costs of raising their children, and increased the total payout most people receive. Scheer has said he intends to keep that benefit in place as well.

Last Friday, Scheer promised to revive the transit tax credit, worth 15 per cent of the cost of monthly or annual transit passes.

Sunday’s income-tax promise, which the Tories are calling a “universal tax cut,” would reduce the tax rate on the first chunk of earned income from 15 per cent to 14.5 in 2021, 14 per cent in 2022, and finally 13.75 per cent in 2023.

Watch: Party Leaders trade blows on Canada’s CO2 emission targets during first national debate. Story continues below.

The parliamentary budget office estimates the cut will cost the treasury $6 billion a year if fully implemented, though Scheer said forgoing that revenue would still allow him to balance the federal budget in five years.

“We are absolutely committed to balancing the budget over a responsible period of time,” he said.

Scheer said his platform will be fully costed and will include a commitment to increase funding for health care and education by at least three per cent a year.

“It’s important to remember that massive deficits threaten those social programs,” said Scheer.

Trudeau ran in 2015 on a promise to run budget deficits to invest in Canadians’ needs but to get back to balance by 2019. However the most recent budget projected the 2019-20 year will have a $19.8-billion deficit.

Scheer said a two-income couple earning average salaries would save about $850 a year from his tax cut.

Scheer is also still facing criticism about his decision to stick by candidates who have posted discriminatory things on social media. He said earlier Sunday that as long as candidates apologize and commit to treating everyone equally, he will not forbid them to run as Conservatives.

The comments are being unearthed by the Liberals, often released to coincide with appearances Scheer makes with them. Scheer said the dirt is flying because the Liberals are trying to distract from their own record.

Trading attacks with the Liberals

However the Conservatives issued some of their own candidate research Sunday, pointing to a Liberal expected to be nominated in Quebec whom they say is a “radical activist” who targeted Jewish groups when he was a student politician at Montreal’s Concordia University and posted conspiracy theories about the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the United States.

The Conservatives want the candidate, Sameer Zuberi in Pierrefonds-Dollard, to be fired. Scheer was asked why an apology was not good enough in that instance; he deflected by saying that Justin Trudeau’s ethical violations and actions in the SNC-Lavalin scandal would have disqualified him from being greenlit as a Conservative candidate.

Scheer will continue to campaign in British Columbia later Sunday, heading to Vancouver Island to target some NDP-held seats.