I must be missing something. I may be just a family doc trolling the front lines of healthcare, but after following the oscillations of the tax debacle these past few months you’d think even I’d understand what the Liberal government’s end game is. But honestly, I don’t.
Some of you might call me naïve and that this whole process is just one big money grab. My colleagues repeat the same mantra; the government doesn’t have a revenue problem, it has a spending problem. It’s an insatiable thirst for capital that’s forced government’s hand, seeking out new sources of income.
But that would miss my point.
Let’s start at the beginning. The “consultation period” for the proposed tax changes that began in the middle of summer didn’t pass the smell test: The last time major tax changes were instituted, the government of the day took years to “get it right.” I can’t imagine they hauled all the experts off the golf course in August to create an improved tax system. But that’s just me.
The Liberals followed up with the message that we were an army of tax cheats that allowed JT and BM to paint a big target sign on our backs. This technique carries a long historical footnote — create a common enemy and unite the people against them. (Down with the pro-corpers!)
Then, as grassroots organizations began to mobilize and protest, the government dug in its heels. It claimed the high ground, that it was defending the concept of “fairness.” And those irrelevant facts about maternity leave, retirement planning, sick days, student debt, are just that – irrelevant.
Ignore all those business studies that compare salaried government employees with self-employed docs. The public doesn’t have to know the details. Trivial matters such as benefits packages and tax-free income splitting simply detract from the message.
After a groundswell of opposition, the Liberals relented – we think, anyhow. If we just look at passive investment revisions, we should be happy, right? I mean, they only apply on a go-forward basis now.
So, am I happy?
The answer is a hard “no.” Physicians are ethical, hard-working, caring individuals (kinda goes with the job). Just because it no longer affects many of us “senior types” doesn’t mean our profession and our patients are safe. The long-term effects of these proposals include the very real possibility of decimating our healthcare system.
In other words, those warnings we’ve been shouting from the rooftops have not gone away – they’ve simply been pushed back 10 years. A local survey said 80 percent of our doctors would either retire, move away or slow down. Why? Because there’s no incentive to work hard – the more you work, the more the government will lighten your wallet. Bottom line: they’re punishing success.
If I was graduating from medical school today I would be more than upset, I’d be looking to move south. Once they learn that the Liberals have extended new doctors’ working careers by a decade or so, increased their annual income taxes by thousands of dollars and taken away any incentive to see that extra patient or take that extra shift, they’re going to be ticked. And I don’t blame them.
Which brings me back to my point: I don’t understand the Liberal’s end game. In the beginning, they ticked off physicians with their proposals and by inferring we were tax cheats (and, for the record, also upset dentists, lawyers, entrepreneurs, small business people, et cetera).
Later on, government almost taxed the benefits of employees (since rescinded), getting under their skin. Then it modified the proposals to bypass the current crop of self-employed individuals in order to have a go at the next generation of entrepreneurs, professionals and small business people (and by extension their families, friends, and employees).
I ask you, does that seem like the best way to court votes?
If the Liberal’s end game is to stay in government, they just alienated large chunks of the population. I’ve been listening to the sound of votes being flushed since this fiasco began.
Some of the talking heads on the news say it’s all a communication problem. I don’t buy it. I mean, how can you have a viable communication strategy made out of straw? They haven’t done the math, consulted with the experts or vetted their own personal finances. (Sorry, had to get in one comment about the finance minister.)
I picture the brain trust in the Liberal war room staring at voter demographics. They’re holding martinis in one hand and black markers in the other, which they’re using to scratch out group after group:
Anyone who wants to work hard
Anyone who wants to start a business
So, I have to ask, does the government really have some kind of masterful plan or is it doing this on the fly? What is the upside of continuing down this dead-end road and losing votes? My wife never accused me of being very bright but, please, what am I missing here?
Dr. Michael Simon is a family physician in Saint John. This commentary originally appeared on the website of the Canadian Healthcare Network.
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