POLITICS
09/06/2019 14:28 EDT | Updated 09/06/2019 14:42 EDT

Liberals Allege Andrew Scheer Will Still Pursue Private School Tax Credit If Tories Form Government

The Conservative leader has said the party won’t pursue the policy “at this time.”

Chris Young/CP
Federal Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer addresses journalists during a news conference in Toronto on Aug. 29, 2019.

Federal Liberals are accusing Andrew Scheer of planning to give a tax break to parents who send children to private schools, even though the Conservative leader has said the policy won’t be in his election platform.

During the 2017 Conservative leadership race, Scheer proposed a tax deduction of up to $4,000 per child for parents who send their kids to independent schools, and a $1,000 credit for those who homeschool their children.

However, Scheer’s office told iPolitics this summer that Tories won’t pursue the policy “at this time,” putting the blame on Liberal deficits.

And it’s those three words — “at this time” — that Liberals have seized on to launch the broadside, playing out against the backdrop of a possible teachers’ strike in battleground Ontario.

Those three words were also used by Scheer in a Toronto Star editorial board meeting this week when he was questioned about the abandoned proposal.

Scheer: Not ‘part of legislative agenda at this time’

Asked to explain his thinking around the idea, Scheer noted that parents who send their children to independent schools still pay taxes to the public system, something he described as a “financial hardship.” He said public schools benefit by still getting revenue with “fewer students to spend it on.” 

Scheer also said parents who make “huge sacrifices” to put their kids in private institutions are “in some ways” making the public system stronger. Yet the Tory leader said his party is focused on tax relief for Canadians that will be as “broad-based” as possible.

“Given the financial situation that we’re going to inherit, the fiscal mess that we’re going to take over from, we’ve decided not to pursue it at this time because there are some other tax-relief measures that we believe will impact a larger number of parents, a larger number of young families, be more universal in their application and help them with… other aspects of the costs of raising kids,” he said.

Asked if he would consider bringing the policy back into play later, Scheer said: “It won’t be part of our legislative agenda at this time and anything in the future… I’d be speculating to say right now.”

The exchange can be seen in the Toronto Star video below:

 

Employment Minister Patty Hajdu, who represents a Thunder Bay riding, accused Scheer of “doubling down” on the scrapped idea in a media release Friday.

“Public schools are at the core of Canada’s economy. Conservative politicians don’t understand that. That’s why Andrew Scheer would weaken Canada’s public education system with a reckless plan to fund private schools,” Hajdu said in the release. 

“Andrew Scheer goes on to say he won’t implement this policy at this time. But he still believes in it and is not being honest about when he’ll do it.”

Though some parents send their children to private institutions for faith-based reasons, Hajdu said such a credit would benefit wealthy families seeking “elite private schools.” 

“This policy pushes children away from public schools and towards private schools. That means fewer students in public schools, and when there are fewer students in the public system it becomes underfunded and public schools start to close,” said Hajdu.

Another senior Liberal from Ontario, Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains took to Twitter Tuesday to share a clip of Scheer discussing his earlier proposal. The clip is from the leadership race in 2017, iPolitics reports.

In the video, Scheer says there are many parents who put their children in a “specialized school” because of their faith or specific education needs.

“I firmly believe in the principle that parents are the first educators. It’s my right and obligation, my duty, to educate my children,” Scheer says in the clip. “And I put them in schools when I’m not able to do that myself….

“We have a public school system in Canada that is there for parents who, obviously, are not able — because they have to work or they don’t have the experience — so that’s there for them.”

Though education is a provincial responsibility, Bains wrote that federal Conservatives would “weaken public education with a reckless plan to fund private schools and homeschooling.” 

Watch: Federal Liberals see Ontario budget as blueprint for Scheer

 

Bains, who is running again in Mississauga and serves as a co-chair of the national Liberal campaign, did not mention in the clip that Scheer has since walked back the idea.

Environment Minister Catherine McKenna, an Ottawa MP, shared Bains’ tweet and drew a link to education cuts made by Ontario Premier Doug Ford. 

“Just like Doug Ford who is making hurtful cuts to education, Andrew Scheer’s plan is to weaken public schools while helping the wealthiest Canadians,” she wrote.

Ontario’s elementary and secondary school teachers could be in a legal position to strike in October, right in the thick of the federal campaign.