Battle lines drawn over tax

A jousting match erupted Monday between Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer as the Liberal government's plan to end "unfair" tax advantages for some wealthy small business owners dominated the return of Parliament.

As they exchanged blows, the two leaders gave what is likely a preview of the themes that will underlie their respective election campaigns in 2019 as each tries to position himself as the champion of the middle class.

Scheer kicked off the first question period of the fall sitting by accusing Trudeau of hiking taxes on hard-working, middle-class small business owners.

"As Conservatives, we believe in raising people up, not tearing people down," Scheer said. "Conservatives wake up every day trying to think of new ways to lower taxes. Liberals wake up every day trying to find new ways to raise taxes."

The new Tory leader, who took over the post in May, vowed that the "pain will only be temporary," promising that Conservatives would fight the proposed tax changes "every step of the way" and "save local businesses."

Trudeau countered by accusing Scheer of siding with the wealthiest Canadians at the expense of their truly middle-class counterparts.

"(Conservatives) have been going around the country telling every doctor they meet that they stand with them, that they will defend their right to pay lower taxes than the nurses who work alongside them," the prime minister said.

"We don't think that's fair."

Trudeau even went on the offensive, urging Scheer to commit "right now" to reversing the Liberals' proposed changes and restoring the current system of "tax breaks for wealthy individuals" if they win the next election.

Scheer did not oblige, prompting Trudeau to accuse the Tories of peddling misinformation to stoke outrage but without any intention of actually undoing the proposed changes.

"They're happy to talk about outrage but they're not proposing to keep this system," Trudeau said. "They invent problems, exaggerate them and then won't act because they know that helping middle-class Canadians matters."

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