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MPs to vote on cost of Canada’s Syrian refugee plan

Syrian refugees wait for their names to be called for a UNHCR interview that will determine whether they are eligible for a second interview by the Canadian authorities in Amman Nov. 27, 2015.

Annie Sakkab

The cost of Canada's Syrian refugee program is expected to be put to a House of Commons vote during a brief sitting of Parliament next month.

The 338 newly elected members of Parliament are scheduled to return to Ottawa on Thursday for the first time since the October election.

The first order of business will be to elect a Speaker. A Throne Speech will follow on Friday. The House will then sit for five more days before adjourning Dec. 11.

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In an interview with The Globe and Mail, Government House Leader Dominic LeBlanc outlined his plans for those five days.

While details have not yet been finalized, he said the government will likely introduce a spending item called supplementary estimates that will include the cost of Ottawa's refugee plans. The minister said the contents of the spending vote will be limited.

"It's not a voluminous thing," he said. "Our plan would be to table and then have approved the supplementary estimates. The main item, if not the only item, but certainly the only significant item, would be the spending plan for the Syrian refugee effort."

Given that the governing Liberals hold a majority of the seats in the new Parliament, votes on spending items are expected to pass easily.

Plans for the vote come as a new Nanos Research survey shows 65 per cent of Canadians either support or somewhat support the Liberal election pledge to accept 25,000 Syrian refugees.

The government recently said the Syrian refugee program will cost up to $678-million over six years. The Liberal platform had said its refugee promise would cost $250-million over three years.

Mr. LeBlanc said there will also be a separate vote that week to approve the government's promised income-tax changes for the 2016 tax year. The Liberals promised to reduce the tax rate on income between $44,701 and $89,401 from 22 per cent to 20.5 per cent. They also promised to introduce a new tax rate of 33 per cent on income earned above $200,000.

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The content of that motion is expected to be limited to the party's promise on income taxes.

"The other [tax] measures would likely flow in a budget," Mr. LeBlanc said.

That likely means the motion will not include the party's pledge to reverse this year's near doubling of the maximum contribution Canadians can make each year to their tax free savings accounts .

The Liberals' promise to roll back the maximum annual TFSA contribution to $5,500 from $10,000 this year faced considerable opposition from seniors groups and other Canadians.

It is unclear whether the Liberals intend to have the new limit in place for Jan. 1, 2016. The platform said it would be in place during the 2016-17 fiscal year, which begins April 1, 2016. Tax changes normally apply to calendar years.

Mr. LeBlanc referred questions on that topic to Bill Morneau, however the Finance Minister was not available and his office declined comment.

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"I would suggest that if there are any plans to change the rules surrounding the TFSA, the government should detail these as soon as possible," said Bank of Montreal chief economist Doug Porter, who added that he personally believes the promised change is unnecessary.

The parliamentary schedule also suggests the first Liberal budget is not imminent.

The government plans to get at least two committees running quickly and will ask the House of Commons finance committee to hold prebudget hearings in January and February.

Conservative finance critic Lisa Raitt said the government needs to explain the full financial impact of its promises, both in terms of what it means for families and what it means for Ottawa's long-term bottom line.

"All of these tax changes need to be presented in a bundle so that people can be prepared for their own budget changes at home," she said, noting that the Liberals also promised changes to family benefits and employment insurance premiums.

"If take-home pay is reduced, families need to know now," she said.

The Nanos Survey of 1,000 Canadians took place Nov. 21-24. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

A member of the Parliamentary Press Gallery since 1999, Bill Curry worked for The Hill Times and the National Post prior to joining The Globe in Feb. 2005. Originally from North Bay, Ont., Bill reports on a wide range of topics on Parliament Hill, with a focus on finance. More


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