Ottawa considering home care plan

The federal government is considering using the tax system to help Canadians take time off work to care for elderly or sick family members, says Finance Minister Jim Flaherty.

OTTAWA — The federal government is considering using the tax system to help Canadians take time off work to care for elderly or sick family members, says Finance Minister Jim Flaherty.

In an end-of-year interview with The Canadian Press, Flaherty said the problem was brought home to him during pre-budget consultations in the last few months.

It has also been raised repeatedly by the opposition Liberals.

Flaherty didn’t say he will propose measures in the next federal budget, but confirmed he has looked into the possibility and costs.

“There are some tax initiatives that have been suggested, we’ve costed some, and it’s an area where we have spent a fair amount of time . . . It’s fair to say the government is reviewing that area . . . and the area of caregivers to persons with disabilities.”

The challenge of the elderly is expected to become more acute in Canada starting next year, when the first wave of the Baby Boom demographic bulge enters retirement age.

The opposition Liberals have already promised a $1-billion family-care initiative if they form government. They plan to use the proposal to differentiate their priorities — families — from what they will portray as Conservative priorities of cutting corporate taxes and purchasing fighter jets.

While such a proposal would likely be popular in what is expected to be a pre-election budget, a major stumbling block is cost.

Flaherty has repeatedly warned that he intends to stick to his five-year schedule for eliminating the deficit, which ballooned to a record $55.6 billion last year and will add another $45 billion to the national debt this year.

The shortfalls are expected to fall off sharply after March 31 when almost all elements of the government’s two-year $47-billion stimulus package end. As well, government revenues have been recovering with the economy.

But he admitted a family-care program would be “expensive.”