The Newfoundland and Labrador government was on the defensive Monday as Progressive Conservative and New Democrat MPs criticized its cost-of-living relief measures as too little, too late.
Last week, the provincial government announced it would raise the minimum wage, temporarily reduce the gas and diesel tax and introduce a one-time home heating supplement for families with net incomes of $150,000 or less. .
“These are extraordinary measures for extraordinary times, and, you know, I recognize that people want us to do more. That’s what we can do today,” Finance Minister Siobhan Coady said Monday. .
Worries over the cost of living were front and center during the spring sitting of the House of Assembly as fuel prices soared to record highs, inflation rose and many struggled to heat their homes and feed themselves.
Coady and Premier Andrew Furey have insisted for months that cutting the provincial gasoline and diesel tax could lead to the federal government introducing additional taxes because of the way the carbon tax is applied in this province.
Furey said he discussed the issue with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau while he was in St. John’s for the royal visit.
“The Prime Minister had the opportunity to speak with the Prime Minister and was given, you know, the assurance that the backstop, which we were concerned about in terms of the carbon tax, would not be imposed,” Coady said Monday.
WATCH: CBC’s Darryl Dinn speaks to cost of living protesters in Labrador City
The provincial government plans to reduce the provincial tax by seven cents from 14.5 cents per liter of gasoline and 16.5 cents per liter of diesel until January 1. Coady said she hopes the tax cuts pass the House of Assembly this week.
Interim PC leader David Brazil said his party would support the tax cuts but would like to see them go further. Brazil criticized the January 1 end date, saying it wanted the reduction to continue until taxpayers no longer needed the aid.
“You have to give them some stability, some peace of mind, at least knowing they are getting a break at the pumps and that will continue until something drastically changes that brings the price of these fuels down,” did he declare.
The government remains lenient with the tax on sugary drinks
Although the government is reducing its gasoline and diesel taxes, Coady said the province still plans to introduce a 20-cent-per-liter tax on sugary drinks in September.
“The tax is designed to try to get people’s attention to the fact that they’re drinking a sugary drink,” Coady said.
“It’s not about taxation, it’s about driving behavior,” Coady said.
Brazil said his party did not support the tax and had seen research suggesting that similar taxes in other jurisdictions had not had better health outcomes.
“At the end of the day, it’s another tax on people, especially low-income people, that it would have a negative impact on.”
The increase in the minimum wage is not enough according to the NDP
The provincial government is also raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour over the next 16 months. Employee advocates have been calling for this increase for years.
On Monday, Interim NDP Leader Jim Dinn said the increase was not enough to keep up with inflation.
“Waiting 16 months is a bit like throwing that lifeline to a drowning person long after they’ve drowned for the third time,” Dinn said.
Coady said the government was following the recommendations of the provincial minimum wage review committee, which included employee and employer representatives. The government will provide a grant to small businesses to help them raise wages.
During question period, Dinn called on the government to index the minimum wage to the consumer price index plus one percent. The index measures the weighted average of a “basket” of standard consumer goods and services over time.
“It’s something that could have been announced with this package to provide some stability, some comfort, some assurance to people that the government is serious about solving the minimum wage issue,” he said. he declares.
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