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The Weekly Wrap: The Liberals lean all the way into class warfare

Commentary

In The Weekly Wrap Sean Speer, our editor-at-large, analyses for Hub subscribers the big stories shaping politics, policy, and the economy in the week that was.

What’s behind the capital gains tax increase?

Although the prime minister had already announced most of its signature measures over the previous week or so, this week’s budget still contained one notable surprise: an increase to the capital gains tax rate for capital gains above $250,000 for individuals and at any level for corporations and trusts. 

We had anticipated the budget would set out tax increases for corporations and high-income earners—in fact, the March 9 edition of the Weekly Wrap warned that the budget might “appeal to class warfare”—but we didn’t expect changes to the capital gains tax regime. The disincentives for entrepreneurship and investment seemed too high in the face of a stagnant economy, low business investment, and declining productivity. 

The budget proposal, which is projected to raise nearly $20 billion in new revenues over the next five years, has generated significant criticism from entrepreneurs and investors who rightly warn that it will discourage business start-ups and capital investment. Calgary-based investor Derrick Hunter has written about these risks for The Hub

At a time when the Canadian economy is in high demand of capital to expand the housing supply, increase business starts, and boost productivity, this is a counter-productive policy. There’s a considerable body of research that shows that capital taxes are among the most economically damaging forms of taxation. The economic costs of extracting this capital from investors and handing it over to the federal government are therefore likely to be significant. Especially since it wasn’t offset by accompanying tax reductions as Hub contributor Trevor Tombe set out in his post-budget analysis. 

It prompts the question: why is the Trudeau government doing this? 

We know for instance from former Finance Minister Bill Morneau that it’s been something the government had considered and rejected in the past. It strikes me that there are three explanations for adopting it now. 

  • Politics: The government hopes to bait Pierre Poilievre and the Conservatives and/or parts of the business community into a fight in which the prime minister can reposition himself as on the side of middle-class Canadians. His gratuitous use of the “ultra-wealthy” in recent days to describe those affected by the policy change is a sign that the government is in search of a wedge issue. 
  • Fiscal anchor: Between the 2023 budget and Fall Economic Statement, the government committed to lowering the debt-to-GDP ratio on a year-over-year basis, and without the new revenues from the tax change (particularly the windfall in the current fiscal year) it’s quite likely it would have once again broken free from its anchor. This would have not only set up the government for political criticism, but it may also have increased the likelihood that it faces a credit downgrade for its lack of fiscal credibility.  
  • Ideology: The most underrated explanation is that the Liberal Party itself has evolved from a centrist party with corporate sensibilities to a much more progressive party that’s skeptical of capital and more predisposed to income redistribution and an activist state. This point cannot be overstated: it’s notable for instance that the budget change reverses a cut to the capital gains tax rate enacted by the Chrétien government in 2000. 

Whatever the ultimate balance of factors behind the government’s decision, the economic effects are still the same: hiking taxes on capital is bound to worsen Canada’s investment climate and ultimately its economy as a whole. 

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Chrystia Freeland are joined by cabinet ministers for a photo before the tabling of the federal budget on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, on Tuesday, April 16, 2024. Justin Tang/The Canadian Press.
Generational fairness requires prioritizing growth

The Trudeau government has sought to define this week’s budget in terms of “generational fairness.” It spoke for instance of the need to “restore a fair chance for Millenials and Gen Z.” Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland’s budget speech even claimed that we find ourselves at a “pivotal moment” for these cohorts. 

This political positioning is understandable yet insufficient. There’s plenty of evidence that younger Canadians are feeling anxious and agitated about their circumstances. They cannot afford homes. They’re delaying marriage and family formation. And, as we outlined this week in The Hub’s first bi-weekly DeepDive, they’re increasingly unhappy. 

The numbers are striking. Younger Canadians used to report higher levels of happiness than older Canadians. Not anymore. Canadians under age 30 are now on average less happy. Canada’s overall level of satisfaction ranked number 15 in this year’s World Happiness Report. But if you limit it to younger Canadians, we actually fall to number 58 along with countries like Paraguay, Malaysia, and China. 

There’s a tendency to observe these dynamics through the lens of politics. A key reason that the budget is so focused on this cohort is because it has abandoned the Liberal Party en masse. The Conservative Party of Canada is the only centre-right party in the Anglo-American world that currently has a political advantage among younger voters. These developments challenge long-standing political axioms about the interaction between demographics and political preferences.

But the biggest issue here isn’t politics. There’s something far more concerning about the demographic, socio-economic and even psychological effects of large numbers of young Canadians experiencing  “failure to launch” syndrome. It can have long-run costs and consequences for individuals and society as a whole.  

It’s not a coincidence for instance that the fertility rate is at an all-time low at the same time that Canadians under age 30 are reporting rising levels of unhappiness. Causality is doubtless working in both directions.  

An unmarried, childless future in an ugly and overpriced, small downtown apartment is a rather grim proposition. Nothing in the totality of human experience tells us that these are the conditions for human flourishing or a successful society. 

Some of the budget measures may help on the margins. But one does get the sense that there’s something bigger going on here and technocratic solutions are a necessary yet insufficient response. Howard Anglin’s article for The Hub this weekend about building aesthetics, textured neighbourhoods, and what Tim Carney calls “family-friendly” communities starts to get closer to some of the underlying factors behind this generational malaise. One could also point to the void of spiritual questions—though that’s beyond the scope of public policy and certainly this essay. 

I would however make the case for a lack of growth and progress as a key (and perhaps the key) explanatory factor. Here I may respectfully part company with Anglin. I don’t think that people are telling us that things are moving too fast. I think in a lot of ways they’re telling us that they’re moving too slow. I subscribe to the Douthian argument that economic and technological stagnation (outside of narrow cones of progress), cultural conformity and replication, and the absence of a common project have contributed to a self-reinforcing mix of stagnancy, sterility, and drift. 

Douthat’s solution to what he calls “decadence” is a combination of divine intervention and renewed technological progress (“So down on our knees—and start working on that wrap drive.”). 

Maybe he’s right. But either way, these are the precise questions that we ought to be asking before we consign a generation or two of young Canadians to an uninspiring and unfulfilling future. 

Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews (34) celebrates his goal with Max Domi (11), and TJ Brodie (78) during the third period of an NHL hockey game against the New Jersey Devils Tuesday, April 9, 2024, in Newark, N.J. Bill Kostroun/AP Photo.
This might finally be the Maple Leafs’ year

Today marks something far more important than politics or public policy: it’s the start of the NHL playoffs and the Toronto Maple Leafs’ elusive search for their first Stanley Cup since 1967.

George Will likes to say that he writes about politics to support his baseball habit. I can relate. The only job that I can envision leaving The Hub for is really any role with the Maple Leafs, from team president to the guy who fills the water bottles.

I’ve loved hockey ever since I can remember. I played a lot as a young person—though not particularly well. I recently wrote about my playing days, including the occasional fight, for Cardus’ Comment Magazine. You can find my essay here.

Will also often says that at an age too young to make life-shaping decisions, he had to choose between becoming a Chicago Cubs fan or a St. Louis Cardinals fan. Most of his friends became Cardinals fans and grew up cheerful and liberal. He chose the Cubs and grew up a gloomy conservative.

Again, I can relate. Being a Leafs fan is good training for a conservative. It’s a steadfast lesson in low expectations and the inherent fallibility of man.

But I’m a North American conservative so I’m susceptible, however wrongheaded, to a unique continental optimism. I can’t help but succumb against my better judgment to a quixotic hopefulness.

No matter how hard one tries, the Leafs invariably tempt you into believing that this year is different. Last year’s first-round win against the Tampa Bay Lightning set off those feelings for me. The swift second-round defeat to the Florida Panthers caused a precipitous fall back to reality.

This season I’ve once again watched most of the games. I began the year determined to protect myself from inevitable disappointment. But somewhere along the way, perhaps due to Auston Matthews’ 69 goals or the group-think of my hockey chat groups (yes, there are two), I’ve come, at an almost sub-conscious level, to believe that this might be the year.

If so, I’ll need to bring my boys to Toronto for the parade because even though they’re only one and three years old, there’s a good chance that it won’t happen again in their lifetimes.

I suppose this is a long way of saying that if I’m a bit distracted in the coming days (and hopefully weeks) it’s because I’m focused on my real passion: hockey. Hopefully, politics and policy will cooperate and take a break for a while.

Until then, Maple Leafs forever!

‘It’s no wonder Canada is broke(n)’: The best comments from Hub readers this week

Commentary

Hub readers this week had discussions on how happy (and unhappy) Canadians are, baby boomers winning the generational war, and the federal budget and the potential impacts of increasing Canada’s capital gains taxes.

The goal of Hub Forum is to bring the impressive knowledge and experience of The Hub community to the fore and to foster open dialogue and the competition of differing ideas in a respectful and productive manner. Here are some of the most interesting comments from this past week.

Sign up for our daily Hub Forum email newsletter today.

How happy are you? Canadian satisfaction is deteriorating fast—particularly among youth

Monday, April 15, 2024

“Looking at the chart recording which countries have the happiest people, it is interesting to see that countries which put the welfare of people before profit are among the highest rating populations in the world. Happiness is more than a fat paycheque. A society in which the social needs of its people are put first will be a healthier, happier society.”

— A. Chezzi

“Feeling stuck is a huge detractor from happiness, and I think made worse when (at least to the degree the biggest problem is housing) it has come as a result of policy choices that favour older people rather than bad luck. The current situation has come on the tails of pandemic restrictions that (mostly justifiably) deprived everyone of a lot of choices, but in ways that arguably cost young people more and inarguably benefited them less.”

— Valerie

“Happiness, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. It is difficult for a young person that doesn’t have a high-paying government job to be happy to see half their pay go to taxes while the cost of living and raises for elected officials is out of control.”

— Kim Morton

Baby boomers have won the generational war. Was it worth young Canadians’ future?

Tuesday, April 16, 2024

“Sure, some [debt] was incurred to ward off the calamity of mass unemployment due to pandemic mitigations, but too much patch-work voter-pandering spending, inefficiency, ‘leakage,’ weak governance, and intergovernmental dueling has us on a downward spiral of standard-of-living. The young people are already living it.”

— Paul Attics

“What would be productive would be for new leaders to figure out how we can live with less while providing more housing, better health care, and cheaper education. I’m one boomer who would gladly pay extra taxes to fund this, and I think most would if they knew their money was going to these necessary improvements.”

— Peter Morgan

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Chrystia Freeland receives applause from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, right, and other members of the Liberal party after she presented the federal budget in the House of Commons in Ottawa on Tuesday, April 16, 2024. Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press.
The Liberal’s big-government budget ups spending, raises taxes, and drops the pretences

Wednesday, April 17, 2024

“This budget looks like a scorched earth policy by a government that knows it is not getting reelected. Not only will the new Conservative government be too broke to advance any policies of their own to fix the damage, they will most likely be forced to raise taxes even more to pay for the structural deficits they inherited.”

— Kim Morton

“The criticism of capital gains exemptions is that people (evil capitalists) can buy stuff and make profit just by virtue of owning it. The counterargument is that a special tax status encourages investment in the economy. However owning a home doesn’t stimulate the economy in any significant manner, and some have lamented that too much capital is tied up in real estate while businesses are starved for investment.”

— Gord Edwards

‘Lazy,’ ‘imprudent,’ and ‘irresponsible’: The Hub Reacts to the 2024 federal budget

Thursday, April 18, 2024

“It’s no wonder Canada’s broke(n).”

— Ray Horwath

Slower growth, fewer jobs, a worse economy—the consequences of the capital gains tax shouldn’t be shrugged off

Friday, April 19, 2024

“Appallingly, the liberals are imposing the tax RETROACTIVELY on money, investments, property, and investments made years ago in accordance with the rules and choices we had. Gotcha! Working people are enraged.”

— John Williamson

“This tax change to the proportion of the highest-end earners of capital gains is a shift, nothing fundamentally has changed. Quibbling with the ‘dollar-is-a-dollar’ assertion because the time-value-of-money (which applies to all money, not just venture) is not relevant to the main but dubious claim that early-stage investing will drop significantly because of this tax shift. It reminds me of the claims that a new national or provincial holiday will crush businesses.”

— Paul Attics