Cigarette tax hike was due, Finley says

Monte Sonnenberg

By Monte Sonnenberg, Simcoe Reformer




High taxes on cigarettes and the black market for contraband tobacco tend to rise hand-in-hand.

But that wasn’t a consideration this week when the Harper government increased the excise tax on a carton of cigarettes by $4.

With the increase, which was announced in Finance Minister Jim Flaherty’s budget on Tuesday, the excise tax on a carton of 200 cigarettes rises from $17 to $21. The increase, in turn, boosts the overall cost of a legal carton into the range of $85.

Local MP Diane Finley, Minister of Public Works in the Harper cabinet, said the government acted because an increase was overdue. Until this week, the federal excise tax had not changed since 2002.

“The finance minister wants to ensure that the tobacco industry is carrying its fair share of the excise burden,” Finley said by phone from Ottawa on Wednesday.

Also of interest to Norfolk and surrounding area was the federal government’s commitment of $305 million to bring high-speed Internet to 280,000 rural households.

The announcement dovetails with a plan to establish a fibre-optic trunk line in southwest Ontario serving 14 rural municipalities.

The Western Ontario Wardens Caucus identified the project as a priority last year. WOWC is promoting the $234-million concept out of fear that investment dollars will bypass rural Ontario unless it offers communication services comparable to urban centres. Norfolk County contributed $25,000 toward the South West Integrated Fibre Technology (SWIFT) lobbying effort in January.

Finley would not comment on specific Internet projects. However, she did say “The government is going to want to partner with existing initiatives wherever that is possible.”

Flaherty’s presentation this week was the closest Canada has come to a balanced budget since the financial collapse of 2008. The federal deficit this year is expected to come in at $2.9 billion – a miniscule amount relative to the $276.3 billion Ottawa expects to collect in revenue. Flaherty has forecast a surplus in 2015 in the range of $6.5 billlion – just in time for the next federal election.

Consumer protection was also on the agenda this week, specifically as it relates to unexplained price variations between goods sold in both the United States and Canada. The Harper government warned last year that it wants to see improvements in this area. Progress has been slow, so Flaherty says the time has come to act.

How this unfolds remains to be seen. Flaherty was vague on details this week while Finley says a solution will likely involve a larger role for Canada’s Competition Bureau.

“There may be other methods that Minister Flaherty and the finance department will identify to correct this very unfair situation,” Finley said.

Finley is also touting the government’s plan to apply the simplified Lifetime Capital Gains tax rules to farmers and fishermen. This, the MP said, is good news for those who want to keep farm and fishing operations in the family for future generations.

Another measure of interest involves the creation of a $10 million fund for the creation, care and upkeep of snowmobile and walking trails. Those interested in taking advantage are advised to contact Finley’s office for more information.

Monte Sonnenberg

519-426-3528 ext. 150

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