Canada has a new finance minister in Chrystia Freeland and a six-week prorogation of parliament will give the country plenty of time to stew over the deputy prime minister’s newest role and what policies she and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will introduce when Parliament resumes in September.
But with Freeland’s promotion, the Conservative opposition has already come out swinging, claiming she’s pledged to raise taxes.
Tory MPs unearthed a 2011 quote this week from before Freeland was in politics, where she said “amen to raising taxes” on an American TV news program.
It’s caught fire on social media, with many critics pointing to it as proof Freeland and the Liberals will raise taxes when Parliament returns in late September.
But did Freeland’s “amen” to raising taxes quote even have anything to do with Canada? And what does it mean for Canada’s future fiscal policy?
Why are we talking about this?
Tory finance critic Pierre Poilievre got the ball rolling Tuesday during a news conference where he critiqued Freeland’s appointment as finance minister.
“For Freeland, higher taxes is a religion. She said amen to higher taxes, and I quote. So it sounds like she’s the same as the previous finance minister,” Poilievre said. “Regardless, though, of how you play musical chairs, we still have the same corrupt and incompetent prime minister ahead of the same corrupt and chaotic government.”
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer followed that up by sharing a video clip of Freeland’s quote to Twitter without any context.
But what did she actually say?
The clip referenced by both Poilievre and Scheer comes from a 2011 appearance by Freeland on the MSNBC show “Hardball With Chris Matthews.” At the time, Freeland was the global editor at large for Thomson Reuters Digital.
Along with other panel members, Freeland was asked about the ongoing battle between Democrats and Republicans over the U.S. deficit, and specifically the prospect of eliminating Bush-era tax cuts to avoid the country defaulting on its debts.
“Well, I would say amen to raising taxes, but I‘m getting a little bit tired of people beating up on Europe and claiming that the U.S. economy is in such better shape,” Freeland said. “If you look right now at the western industrialized world, I think that Germany is doing better than anybody.”
“Well, I would say amen to raising taxes, but I‘m getting a little bit tired of people beating up on Europe and claiming that the U.S. economy is in such better shape.”
The other panellist, economist Jeffrey Sachs, agreed with Freeland.
“The Republicans say we‘re going to somehow handle this without a penny more of taxes. What are they thinking? Everyone knows how phony this is,” he said.
So that clip that’s making the rounds actually has nothing to do with Canadian politics — it’s all about the U.S. and former president George Bush’s approach to taxation.
This has come up before
This is far from the first time Tory critics have mobilized the “amen to raising taxes” quote against Freeland. When she first ran in a by-election for Toronto Centre back in 2013, she was attacked with the same quote.
In a statement to supporters ahead of the byelection, the Conservative Party highlighted that quote, among others, as proof Freeland would push to raise taxes if elected.
It’s also been referenced several times during debate in the House of Commons to critique both Freeland and the Liberals in general.
So, is the federal government going to raise taxes right now?
Freeland has in fact been a long-time advocate of raising taxes for wealthier individuals in order to lower them for the middle class. Freeland’s also written a book on the subject, and promoted tax hikes for the wealthy as a way to avoid a “crummy” society.
Trudeau acknowledged that history during a news conference Tuesday.
“Chrystia was part of the team in 2015 when we made the decision that the first thing we would do as a government was raise taxes on the wealthiest one per cent so we could lower them for the middle class,” he said. “That’s exactly what we did.”
But raising taxes in general, as Poilievre and Scheer suggest Freeland will do? According to Trudeau, that’s not happening anytime soon.
“The last thing Canadians need is to see a raise in taxes right now,” he said Tuesday. “Millions of Canadians are out of work and looking for work. The economy is still nowhere near where we need it to be. We have work to do. We are not going to be saddling Canadians with extra costs.”
On Tuesday, Freeland said she would focus on job creation in the coming weeks and months.
“I think all Canadians understand that the restart of our economy needs to be green. It also needs to be equitable. It needs to be inclusive,” she said. “The coronavirus is still with us. This is a once in a lifetime challenge for our whole country.”
With files from Ryan Maloney.