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Thursday, January 15, 2009
Plan offers tax credit for home renovations
Flaherty floats idea before meeting with premiers today
STEVEN CHASE AND BRIAN LAGHI
From Thursday's Globe and Mail
January 15, 2009 at 4:00 AM EST
OTTAWA — The Harper government has been floating the idea of a tax credit for home renovations - an idea that could deliver significant stimulus for Canada's residential construction industry in the Jan. 27 budget.
Deliberations continue as Canada's premiers meet today in Ottawa to put the final touches on a budget request for Prime Minister Stephen Harper - one that sources say will include more cash for employment training, more benefits for the jobless and extra funding for infrastructure.
Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, meanwhile, has been conducting his own consultation on the looming budget, expected to deliver up to $30-billion in stimulus to soften an economic downturn.
During a closed-door session in Montreal last week, Mr. Flaherty asked participants' opinion on a partly refundable tax credit for renovations. Some economists among the more than 20 attendees criticized the proposal while representatives of the building-trades sector lauded it. Tax credits can be used to reduce the amount of taxes a person owes to the government, but refundable tax credits can benefit filers even if they have no taxes to be paid; in that case, they could get a refund based on the credit.
The federal Finance Department looks favourably on stimulus spending that helps builders, in part because so many of their materials are made in Canada. This ensures more benefits of stimulus spending remain in this country than if the money goes to taxpayers in the form of rebates to spur consumption. There's a good chance that consumer spending would leak the benefits of stimulus to foreigners: 50 per cent of durable goods bought in Canada are imported.
"[By] contrast, only 20 per cent of investment in residential and non-residential buildings is imported through such inputs as building materials," the Finance Department said in its recent paper on stimulus.
One important decision Mr. Flaherty will have to make should the Tories proceed with this idea is whether to offer a tax credit for home renovation in general, or merely for retrofits and upgrades that increase energy efficiency.
Toronto Dominion Bank chief economist Don Drummond said stimulus for home renovations would be helpful because there's a limit to how many public works projects Ottawa can kick start soon.
"There's only so much of the big infrastructure stuff you can get going in 2009 and 2010," Mr. Drummond said.
"We are past the peak of employment in the construction industry, and those people are going to be getting laid off."
One drawback of programs such as subsidies for retrofitting and house refurbishment is that they are typically difficult to administer, hard to monitor and susceptible to fraud.
In Ottawa, the premiers plan to ask Mr. Harper when they meet with him tonight and tomorrow for more infrastructure money and increased flexibility in spending it.
The Harper government has committed itself to $33-billion over seven years, and is pledging to accelerate that spending. But premiers want the government to add to the overall global total.
Governments also appear close to an agreement to streamline environmental requirements for infrastructure projects. Ontario is particularly concerned for Ottawa to find a way to increase benefits for the unemployed and not just money for worker training. Toronto wants more workers to be able to access benefits.
Premiers will not put a price tag on their requests. "Most premiers are not looking to jam up the feds and put an astronomical number they can't meet," the source said.
Canada's municipal governments yesterday released a list of more than 1,000 infrastructure projects that they say could start this spring if federal funds become available.
Combined, the projects would create more than 150,000 jobs, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities said in a release.