The powerful chants of a 500-strong group of nursing students that burned into my memory were met with a painful silence in the halls of Government House last week. The protesters were there to tell their government that the care of their aging parents is not of the same standard as it is for their medical colleagues.
As part of Health Promotion Week, there were a series of events during which students from around B.C. aired grievances about the government’s funding for long-term care and health care.
These students are some of the brightest minds of our generation. Like many talented students here, they receive funding from the federal government for a medical career, which is taxed at a rate much lower than someone who earns a good living in the building trades. I was honoured to help present these students with scholarships to support their education. The position I hold means the largest single chunk of my salary is subject to taxes.
I am one of about 10,000 Canadians who work in the health-care sector. Over the course of my career, the salaries have not kept pace with the cost of living. Simply put, there are not enough nurses, doctors and other health-care workers to go around.
Part of the reason for this situation is due to the Liberal government’s flawed system for funding the health-care system. During budget 2017, the government promised to inject billions of dollars into medicare over the next 10 years. However, it is not clear how these funds will be used and there has been no full transparency.
There is a different way to improve medicare that allows every Canadian to receive the health care they deserve: increasing the taxation on large corporate profits. This would target the finances of the biggest companies that generate a disproportionate amount of money for Canada, thereby rewarding them for their generosity. It is estimated that this step would generate more than $2.7 billion.
Revenue generated by an increased corporate tax rate should be redistributed back to Canadians for the purposes of health care and education. An extra $500 million or so that the feds bring in for their healthcare coffers each year could be redirected to the taxpayer in some way, whether through a tax rebate or to expand our public education system.
On top of all this, an increase in the tax rate would go a long way in making medicare more equitable. For example, people who live in low-cost public housing may have a harder time affording medicines and staying healthy, but the government could take into account all of the provinces’ variations in corporate income tax.
This is not to say that the government should subsidize residents of high-income households; they should always place citizens’ interests ahead of those of the private sector. It’s not about being against business; it’s about creating a more equitable system.
Let me be clear: those with a net worth of over $1.4 million currently pay the highest corporate tax rate in the country. The Trudeau government needs to realize that an increase in the tax rate for large corporations could pay for additional long-term care beds. This will be good for Canada’s economic competitiveness, and increase our ability to attract companies from other countries that offer better tax advantages.
By increasing taxation on large corporations, the government will need to enact strict rules to limit the influence of the corporate lobby. This is a tall order given the Liberals’ track record in this regard, but you never know: five years ago, the federal government increased the price of cigarettes and supported a tobacco-finance reform bill that would create a new Tobacco Regulation Fund.
Sometimes it takes a middle ground. We don’t have to pick between sick and rich. Our government should be taking bold steps to bring in the resources our hospitals and doctors need.
It will take a leap of political courage to make this change, but we don’t have the luxury of waiting 10 years for such a change to trickle down.
By making public hospitals more affordable and accessible, health care will become more available and more equitable.
With sensible taxes, we will all benefit.
• Dr. Amit Arya is an emergency physician and former president of the B.C. Medical Association. He worked as a doctor for 14 years before he took a step into politics as a New Democrat MP for Vancouver-Quilchena. He is on the boards of both Doctors of B.C. and the Canadian Medical Association.