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Canada's Health-Care System Has An Expiration Date

It's naïve for Canadians to believe these proposed tax changes are going to have no effect on them.

08/28/2017 13:04 EDT | Updated 08/29/2017 11:30 EDT

Is the health-care system in Canada about to collapse? I think there's a very good chance that it will, and I'm willing to make a prediction as to when we will begin to see the cracks — Jan. 1, 2018.

Let me tell you what I see happening in the New Year.

Finance Minister Bill Morneau, with the approval of his boss, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, will have implemented their master plan to plug what they call "unfair tax loopholes afforded private business owners."

Chris Wattie / Reuters
Canada's Finance Minister Bill Morneau.

Business owners will no longer be allowed to income split with family members. They will no longer be able to benefit from deferred corporate income. There will be no more multiplying of the capital gains exemption.

Although all three of these things are tax related, they are also directly related to the health-care system.

A physician's income is controlled by the government. Unlike other professions (and businesses), they cannot increase their fees to offset an increase in operating costs or taxes.

When I listen to Mr. Morneau talk about the abuses and loopholes that he's so determined to plug, who's he really trying to stop? Is it the owners of Bombardier or Shaw Communications? It doesn't appear so; it's the hard working, risk-taking private business owner. This includes physicians.

Imagine what it would be like if more than 50 per cent of all the physicians in Canada were to reduce their workload or stop practising altogether.

But unlike other private business owners, physicians can't pass increased costs on to patients, so what can they do?

Much of the feedback from the medical community has centred around four main outcomes for practising physicians:

  • Retire
  • Reduce the number of hours they work
  • Change careers
  • Leave the country

Think about how hard it is right now to get in to see your family physician. Now imagine what it would be like if more than 50 per cent of all the physicians in Canada were to reduce their workload or stop practising altogether.

Every day on my way to work I drive by a walk-in clinic. Every day there's a line up before the doors open. Often, by mid-afternoon, there's a sign posted that reads "no more patients today." Have you ever been turned away from a clinic? Have you found yourself in an emergency department waiting for hours before you see a doctor? Have you or a loved one found yourself in a hospital hallway waiting for a room? If you haven't, you're lucky. But if these changes go through, be prepared — because I predict that it will be the new reality.

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Most people have no idea what's it's like to be a physician. I can only imagine the stress of making life and death decisions every day. If you make a mistake, people could die. Anyone who has a family member or friend who is a physician understands the toll their job has on them (both physically and emotionally). Their lives are not as glamorous as you think. Long hours, shift work, high stress, uncertainty. Many of them burn out before their employees.

Changing the game is not simply a function of increasing taxes on perceived abusers, but it's undermining the entire existing tax system. It totally discounts the reality of business and professional risk, and discourages hard work.

I hope for the sake of our health-care system that my prediction is wrong.

For 45 years, Canadian business people have worked with an integrated tax system. Most have planned their futures based on this principle. whether it's paying for their children's education or planning their retirement. They expected their government to protect their future, and the futures of their families and employees.

Almost everything that's been written about the proposed changes has been about analyzing the numbers. What most fail to do is talk about what effect it's going to have on the Canadian public.

I've repeatedly called on Mr. Morneau to reconsider these changes and leave the existing integrated tax system alone (as was recommended by his own finance committee last year).

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Many Canadians have taken to social media and petitions in order to have their voices heard. Currently, a Change.org petition to have Morneau preserve existing opportunities for small business has over 30,000 signatures. It appears as though many Canadians agree that our healthcare is something too valuable to change at will.

It's naïve for Canadians to believe these proposed changes are going to have no effect on them, and I hope for the sake of our health-care system that my prediction is wrong.

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