Amid growing criticism of his government’s plan to change the country’s tax system to make wealthy owners of small businesses pay more in tax, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is not backing down from the moves he says will “level the playing field.”
But after hearing loud and clear from the public during his three days in Kelowna for the Liberal caucus summer retreat, and from his own MPs behind closed doors, Trudeau now appears willing to tweak the proposals.
“We’re looking at the elements of the tax code that disproportionately benefit the wealthiest so we can focus our support and help on the middle class,” Trudeau told reporters in a new conference at the Delta Grand Hotel after the caucus meetings wrapped up Thursday.
But when it comes to extending the current 75-day public consultation period now in place to discuss those changes with Canadians, the prime minister was non-committal. Critics have slammed the short time frame as woefully inadequate, but the prime minister said the government is “consulting, hearing people’s concerns and acting as well.”
“We will come forward in responsible due course with complete proposals based on the feedback but also based on making this tax system better for the hardest working Canadians,” he said.
According to Trudeau, the proposed changes are not aimed at anyone earning less than $150,000 per year.
Earlier in the day, Kelowna Chamber of Commerce president Tom Dyas refuted Trudeau’s oft-quoted claim in recent days that people earning $250,000 a year are paying less tax than people making $50,000.
And while Dyas said there is a small percentage of small business owners who do have incomes of more than $250,000, most do not.
“This is like killing an ant with a sledgehammer or a stick of dynamite,” he said, referring to the impact of the proposed tax changes on many small business owners.
Trudeau said he has heard the message from Canadians who say his government must ensure the tax changes do not adversely affect the middle class and vowed to “make sure that is what we stay focused on.”
During the news conference, the prime minister was also asked about the federal response to the growing opioid overdose crisis in Canada, and what additional steps his government is planning to take.
Trudeau said Ottawa will continue to work with the provinces, as well as international partners, is approving more safe injection and safe consumption sites and will look at faster approvals for alternate treatments.
But he said Ottawa has no plans to legalize heroin or any other drugs other than marijuana, which is scheduled to be legalized starting next year.
Calling the growing number of overdoses a “continuing crisis,” he said the situation is something his government takes “very, very seriously.”
So far in B.C. around 900 people have died from opioid overdoes and two in the Kelowna just in the last month.
The prime minister also noted smoke in the air lingering across the city and throughout the Interior and took a moment to praise the work of firefighters in B.C who have battled,and are continuing to fight wildfires .
Kelowna-Lake County MP Stephen Fuhr, who hosted the Liberal caucus in his riding, said he was pleased his 183 fellow MPs came to town to hold their retreat and it has helped him acquaint them with this area and its needs.
That is huge for us,” he said, adding it will help him make the case for federal support of future projects.