Dedicated CBC radio listener that I am, it was hard to hear through the why-everyone-in-Alberta-is-going-to-die narrative that launched the national morning news throughout last week. But thanks to my heritage, I have an ear for loose change.
In her fiscal update, federal Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland tossed a happy-hour special onto the bar of the nation’s ongoing pecuniary bender. Amid the assemblage of fiscal shooters Freeland was pouring, there was a $400 income tax credit for people working from home due to the pandemic.
At this stage, no detailed receipts are required, nor is verification from an employer necessary in order to qualify. So come on down folks, the taps are open. Belly up to the bar and chugalug a little bit more of your children’s and grandchildren’s futures.
In the history of profligacy it’s difficult to think of anything more misguided. (Yes, former Alberta premier Klein’s “Ralph Bucks” $400 rebate comes to mind but that was thoroughly egalitarian.) In this case, Freeland is displaying the economic acumen for which journalists are notorious, compensating people for circumstances that in the vast majority of cases significantly increased their disposable income.
No doubt there are some people negatively impacted by additional data charges from at-home internet use and increased utilities consumption. There might even be some who had to subscribe so their kids could do school work.
But as we’re all anecdotally aware, working from home has been a money-saver for pretty much everyone who has done so. Sure, you’ve occasionally been embarrassed when your cat jumped in front of the screen or in the case of many young parents when their four-year-olds marched back and forth behind them in Spider-Man gear.
When it comes to disposable cash for the white-collar working-from-home class, COVID-19 has been a windfall.
Gas savings likely reach $40 to $50 a week for those living in large cities. Use the car less and there are other benefits in terms of maintenance and repair. Even unused public transit creates a cool $25 a week or so in cost reduction. Then there’s parking, dry-cleaning, the money not spent on new clothes (sorry, sweats and yoga pants don’t count) and the $10 to $20 a day that used to just fall out of your pocket for coffee, a muffin, lunch, etc.
I’ve even heard of folks who took advantage of the mortgage deferral program in order to invest in last spring’s broken stock market before cashing in on its recovery.
Oh, and don’t forget that weekend in Vegas and the trip to Mexico you didn’t take.
Indeed, when it comes to the middle- and upper-class at-home worker, Freeland may be compensating them (and don’t forget the higher the income, the greater the benefit) for the $4,000 to $8,000 they will have saved in a year of working from home.
Meanwhile, the guys who’ve been delivering SkipTheDishes to this domestic bourgeoisie, the 70-something lady who’s staffed the checkout aisle at my grocery store, truck drivers, miners, construction trades, long-term care and front-line healthcare workers won’t qualify. Neither will police officers.
To their credit, grocery store operators such as Sobeys and Walmart are stepping up to reward their employees with bonuses for the work they’ve done and will continue to do as Canada lingers in COVID’s malignant embrace.
Those whose suffering has constituted the indignity of drinking bottled instead of draught beer can maybe feel a little better about that.
Don’t expect anyone to speak out about the exclusion of working men and women here. Yes, there are still a few old-school got-your-back NDPers like MP Charlie Angus out there (if I lived in Timmins, Ont., he’d likely get my vote). But that party has abandoned people with dirty hands for the more well-groomed public sector unions and seems to prefer the ‘woke’ to the working classes.
The Greens never did like oil workers and the Conservatives seem otherwise preoccupied.
So for those of you already set to max out the RSPs this year, bury cash in the garden or, hey, maybe even buy that Beemer you’ve always had your eye on, the path to the trough is clear. Just keep two metres apart.
Peter Menzies is a senior fellow at the Macdonald Laurier Institute, past CRTC vice-chair and a former newspaper publisher.