Saturday, February 13, 2010

CEOs unite for GST hike... "not before an election"

Raising taxes is probably not the thing we Canadians want to hear, particularly politicians just before an election, but the reality is at some point the bills have to be paid... and with the Federal polling numbers nearly in a dead heat you can bet the last dollar you have that we'll not see those taxes raised anytime soon... most of the time it's not what make sense with our elected officials as much as it's about looking after themselves being re-elected... not a great legacy to pass on to our next generation....
TD Bank CEO Ed Clark isn't returning calls, but my guess is that, if he could, he would quietly take back the following comments he made at a TD Ameritrade management conference in Florida last week: "It will astound you, but there's a group called the Canadian Council of Chief Executives and we had a meeting two weeks ago, and almost every single person said, 'Raise my taxes, get this deficit done.' " Nothing warms the hearts of Canadians more than hearing the CEO of a major corporation, especially a bank, calling on the government, as if on behalf of all Canadians, to "raise my taxes."
With those words, Mr. Clark launched the Battle of the Budget Bulge, a micro-war of partisan words over taxes that has the TD Bank executive as lightening rod between Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Conservatives, Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff and an assortment of average Canadians who may or may not be on Mr. Clark's side. Judging by initial reaction in the blogosphere, Mr. Clark should not plan on running for public office any time soon.
It's a fine little tempest that, if someone isn't careful, could turn into a Canadian tea party.
What's this really all about? Less than a tea party, but more than a tea pot. Unmentioned in the exchange and in any of the news reports so far is the background behind Mr. Clark's reference to the Council of Chief Executives and the fact that its members, meeting in late January, somehow "to a person" cast their lot with the idea of "Raise my taxes" to solve Canada's budget-deficit problem.
Technically, no such CEO vote was ever held at the CCE meeting. According to a CEO who was at that meeting, there has been broad discussion within the council about Ottawa's budget deficit. And while no formal position has ever been taken, Canada's CEOs are more or less unanimously in favour of raising the GST to combat the federal deficit. The council has no official position on this, but the general sense is that the CEOs believe Ottawa should raise the federal GST portion of Canada's increasingly harmonized sales tax regime back up to 7%.
That's the tax to which Mr. Clark was referring when he said that all CEOs said, "Raise my taxes." Politically, this may not be a winner for CEOs, since most Canadians would rightly assume that the GST is no big deal in the financial lives of bankers and CEOs, and therefore what the heck are they doing telling the Prime Minister to raise other people's taxes?
Finance Minister Jim Flaherty has also heard privately from other members of the Council of CEOs, urging him to raise the GST as the first step in returning Ottawa to a balanced budget. This is not going to happen any time soon, and is unlikely to happen ever under a Conservative finance minister. So why raise the subject? As for Mr. Ignatieff, despite his bluster about the PMO's attack on a private citizen, it is Mr. Clark and the CEOs who have inserted themselves into this highly charged public debate.
Terence Corcoran,
Financial Post
Published: Saturday, February 13th

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