Candidates’ Corner: business

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Local businessman grills hopefuls on policy

Welcome to Candidates’ Corner, where you, the reader, get to grill federal candidates about the issues of the day. Twice a week during this election, the Gazette will be taking questions from members of the public and posing them to politicians.

This week’s questioner is Ivan Mayer, president of the Riel Business Park Association in St. Albert and owner of Crackmasters Windshield Repair.

“Nobody seems to want to tackle the national debt we’ve got,” Mayer says. Canada has racked up a lot of it — $586 billion, according to last week’s budget — and he’s worried the interest on it could put the country into a U.S.-style tailspin.

“If we’re paying all that money to service the debt, eventually we’re going to hit the wall,” he says. “I’d like to ask the government-to-be, if they get a majority, what’s their plan to reduce the national debt?”

The Conservatives plan to have a balanced budget by 2014, says Westlock-St. Paul Conservative candidate Brian Storseth, and will aggressively attack the deficit in the years that follow. Departmental savings, economic growth and an end to the stimulus plan would all help reduce the debt, he says.

Last week’s federal budget projected the debt to peak at $615 billion in 2014, falling to $611 billion in 2015.

“Not only do we need to reduce our debt,” Storseth continues, “but we need to reduce the amount of taxes Canadians pay to the government.” Continued corporate tax rate cuts would make Canada’s economy more competitive and productive. “The biggest job creators and the people who end up paying more taxes are businessmen,” he says, and lower taxes would put more money in their pockets.

Canada doesn’t need to cut its corporate tax rates to 15 per cent to be competitive, says Rob Fox, the Liberal candidate in Westlock-St. Paul. At that level, the only nation lower than us would be Ireland and their economy had to be bailed out by the European Union.

Brazil, India, Russia and China are the world’s fastest-growing economies, Fox says, and they have corporate tax rates ranging from 20 to 35 per cent. “If corporate taxes were going to drive out investment, then investment wouldn’t be going into those countries.”

Returning corporate tax rates to 18 per cent would net the government some $6 billion a year to pay off the debt, Fox says. Cuts to the Prime Minister’s Office budget, which has ballooned in recent years, would also free up cash. “We’re not going to starve the people of Canada with trying to pay off the debt.”

Mayer’s second question was on Employment Insurance.

“What are you going to do about the ever-rising unemployment costs to the employer?”

The Conservatives made those costs worse this year by ending a two-year freeze on EI premiums, Fox says.

The best way to lower premiums is to lower unemployment, he continues. “We’ve got to create an atmosphere where we create more employment,” he says. Canada can’t compete with China on wages, so it has to draw new industries through investment in education, research and technology. “You have to invest in not only today’s markets, but the markets of the future.”

The Liberals would have raised EI premiums considerably had their recent move to expand EI eligibility passed the House of Commons, Storseth says. (The Liberals had proposed lowering the eligibility threshold for EI to 360 hours of work a year from around 420.)

The Conservatives will address premiums through a one-time hiring credit for small businesses of up to $1,000, Storseth says, which would be applied against a company’s increase in its 2011 EI premiums compared to 2010. An identical measure was proposed in last week’s budget.

“The other thing we need to do is create jobs.” Canada’s economy has created about 480,000 jobs since 2009, he notes, and its low taxes convinced Tim Hortons to move its corporate headquarters back to Canada.

NDP candidate Lyndsey Henderson did not respond to requests for an interview.

Candidates’ Corner

Got a question for the candidates? Send them and your contact information to kma@stalbert.greatwest.ca, and they might show up in a future column.

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Kevin Ma

Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.