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I'm Sick Of Attempts To Divide Health-Care Workers Over Tax Reform

Government wants to draw a clear line between doctors and nurses, facetiously suggesting that hard-working nurses pay higher taxes than "lazy" doctors.

09/20/2017 16:51 EDT | Updated 09/20/2017 16:59 EDT

One could be forgiven for being a bit cynical about Canadian politics these days. The federal Liberals have released a tax proposal that has sparked intense debate across the country. Many are in favour of eliminating what the Liberals have been referring to as "loopholes," while others are worried this will harm small businesses like family farms and community medical clinics.

Where I start to feel cynical is the point where I realize that the Liberals are heavily spinning their proposal as progressive tax reform, yet it's apparent they have abandoned a campaign promise to close a loophole enjoyed by the wealthiest in our society. While they are fighting to recoup an estimated $250 million from thousands of small business owners, a little bit of lobbying allows 75 CEOs to walk away with nearly $500 million. Remind me again what exactly is so progressive about allowing the super-rich to maintain tax advantages no one else has access to?

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But I really get cynical about this whole process when I hear the divisive rhetoric our government is using to promote their plan. In Question Period this week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau accused the Conservative Party of "telling every doctor... they stand with them." Trudeau later went on to contrast "wealthy doctors" with "the nurses who work alongside them" in a transparent bid to drive a wedge between two of the oldest and most closely connected groups of health-care workers in our system. Recently, the Canadian Nurses Association backed the Liberals' tax plan (despite some strong disagreement from nurses within the organization), and now it seems the government wants to use this endorsement to draw a clear line between doctors and nurses, facetiously suggesting that hard-working nurses pay higher taxes than "lazy" doctors, a totally unsupported claim.

Where does that leave union supporters like me? Should the government and the CNA ever find itself at odds over, say, pensions or sick leave benefits, I would #standwithnurses and support the unionized workers over the government. Every time. I strongly feel all health-care workers should be organized to protect our rights, and would be in favour of replacing the Ontario Medical Association with a proper union for physicians. Maybe then the section for doctors on the Ministry of Labour's website wouldn't say "exempt" for all the categories other workers are protected in, including the right to meal breaks and rest periods. I know not all my colleagues will agree with me on this, but it's a conversation worth having in these days of physician burnout and palpable disrespect from our government.

I went into medicine to be a part of the health-care system, not to be a silo unto myself.

You know who else I stand with? I #standwithPSWs, who in this province finally received a long-fought-for raise, only to discover that their hours were being cut to essentially erase the effects of that raise. Obviously this has a major impact on the patients who depend on PSW support in the home, since cutting back on hours to save money cuts service to patients as well. I hear from patients in need of more home care hours all the time, and as a family physician I am mostly powerless to help them.

I stand with all my front-line colleagues working in Canadian hospitals, both doctors AND nurses. Health care providers working in emergency rooms and acute care wards have been sounding the alarm on patient overcrowding for years, mostly to go unheard by the powers that be. The result of chronic hospital overcapacity is worse care for patients and a less-safe working environment for those front line workers. I will always #standwithhospitalworkers.

I also #standwithaddictionworkers, both the physicians working in addiction medicine, arguably one of the most psychologically and emotionally taxing areas in health care, and the tireless volunteers who recently pushed a resistant Toronto to accept (for now) a pop-up safe injection site that is saving lives.

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My list goes on: I #standwithmentalhealthworkers, particularly those working in remote areas of the country where they are continually overwhelmed by patient need and under-supported by our public resources. We are currently in the midst of a suicide epidemic in our Indigenous population, who already face some of the worst living conditions and health-care outcomes in the Western world. I support all those fighting to save Indigenous lives. I #standwiththenorth, an overlooked part of this country that struggles with a higher burden of mental illness, addiction and violence, as well as a TB epidemic that is nowhere near contained.

I could go on all day about the many different health-care workers and patients I support, and it would still be an incomplete list. The thing is, I went into medicine to be a part of the health-care system, not to be a silo unto myself. I couldn't do my job without my non-physician colleagues, and I'm grateful every day for the excellent work they do. We are all on the same team with the same goals, regardless of our government's cynical attempts to divide us. We may disagree on how specific health-care issues and problems should be tackled, but that doesn't mean we should allow politicians to pit us against one another to serve their own distinct goals.

Quite frankly, I'm ashamed of the divisive tactics of this government, and I think our prime minister owes an apology to the health-care providers he's maligned. Standing with doctors should not be a barb thrown at a political opponent to score points. You may not personally agree with the stance many doctors have taken in opposition to this tax proposal (and there are doctors who disagree with the majority opinion as well), but we are all patients at some point or another, reliant on the doctors, nurses and other health-care workers in this country to take care of us. If we can't trust that ALL the different providers in our health-care system are hard-working, we are already far worse off than our cynical government would imagine us to be.

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