Andrew Scheer revealed a Conservative government would cut $18-billion in infrastructure spending over five years, a surprise announcement that came a day after the Conservative Leader said he had already outlined all of his planned spending cuts.
The party says the change is triggered by a plan to take the existing 12-year allocation for infrastructure spending – worth over $180-billion – and stretch it out over 15 years.
The infrastructure changes are the largest spending reductions by far in the party’s costed election platform, which Mr. Scheer released Friday afternoon in Delta, B.C.
The platform explains for the first time how a Scheer government would deliver on its pledge to erase the federal deficit within five years, while also delivering an across-the-board income tax cut and specific tax breaks for various demographics, including public transit users and parents of newborns.
The raft of new cuts were revealed a day after Mr. Scheer told Canadians in the official French-language debate that his spending reductions had already been disclosed.
“We’ve already announced where we will find savings for Canadians,” the Conservative leader said Thursday night in the final leaders’ debate before the Oct. 21 election.
“We will protect culture, we will protect investments in technology and research we will eliminate $1.5-billion in corporate subsidies and we will cut foreign assistance by 25 per cent,” Mr. Scheer said without mentioning the much bigger cuts that are contained in his platform.
After infrastructure, the second largest cut in the platform is a plan to save $14-billion over five years on federal government operating expenses, which are not detailed in the platform. The party suggested possible measures could include freezing government staffing levels and shrinking the square footage per person for public servants.
Also not detailed is a plan to raise $11-billion over five years through enforcing the “CRA tax gap,” a term used to describe the difference between what the Canada Revenue Agency should theoretically collect and the amount of revenue that actually comes in to Ottawa. The measure suggests more aggressive auditing and enforcement by the federal tax authority.
Tied for fourth in magnitude are the two cuts that Mr. Scheer has frequently mentioned on the campaign trail: a 25 per cent reduction in foreign aid and cutting corporate welfare. Both measures would bring in $7.5-billion over five years, according to the platform.
The timing of the platform’s release – on a Friday afternoon before the long weekend in which advance polls are now open – could mean that the details receive less attention and scrutiny than if they had been released earlier during the campaign.
The Conservative platform projects $52.9-billion in deficit spending over the next four years, which is more than a $9-billion improvement over the status quo fiscal projections produced by the Parliamentary Budget Office that all parties are using as a starting point for costing their campaign pledges.
Ahead of the platform release, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau accused the Conservatives of trying to hide their spending plans.
“You don’t release your best work at six o’clock on a Friday of a long weekend,” Mr. Trudeau told a Friday morning rally in Ottawa.
The Conservative party’s infrastructure revelation comes after Mr. Scheer promised earlier this week to build two new multi-billion dollar subway lines in the Toronto-area — a promise that was not costed by the party. At that Tuesday announcement in Markham, Mr. Scheer criticized the Liberals for not spending enough money on infrastructure over the last four years. The party platform says a Conservative government would follow through on projects that have already been announced.