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Okay, maybe it will be an 8.5 per cent GST

By Walter Robinson
web posted October 7, 2002

After the next federal election, it seems pretty likely that some new form of tax will be levied on Canadians to raise money for health care. Conjecture? Mischief making? Misinformation? Well if you're a supporter of the federal government you will probably state as much.

Prime Minister Jean Chretien and Finance Minister John Manley declined on October 3 to rule out tax hikes, but also said there was no plan to raise them
Prime Minister Jean Chretien and Finance Minister John Manley declined on October 3 to rule out tax hikes, but also said there was no plan to raise them

In fact this is what the Prime Minister and Finance Minister said just over two weeks ago when the national press caught wind of a government trial balloon to raise the GST from 7 per cent to 10 per cent to pay for anticipated demands for more health care funding. Now, a fortnight later, Mssrs. Chretien and Manley refuse to categorically rule out a new tax to fund health care.

Taxpayers deserve better than this type of obfuscation from their politicians. On the nation's most important issue – the future of our health care system – one would think our political masters would start to think "outside the proverbial box."

If simply throwing more tax dollars at health care were the answer to the system's woes, there would have been absolutely no need for the Kirby Senate committee or the Romanow Royal Commission travel, consult and study options for the reform of our health care system.

Moreover it truly is a damning indictment of politicians at all levels of government who continue to whine for more money or blame their colleagues when it comes to health care.

In his response to the Throne Speech, the PM trotted out former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Holmes' often used lined that "taxes are the price we pay for a civilized society." But how civil a society are when we spend record amounts of money on health in nominal and real dollars yet more Canadians than ever before are stuck on waiting lists? How civil is our society when 21st century technologies (some developed with our tax dollars) are not used in Canada but are commonplace in other countries? How civil is our society when we rank near third-world standards for access to diagnostic imaging tools?

To be fair, both the Kirby committee and the Romanow commission are expected to call for an augmented direct federal presence in health care as well as increased indirect financial presence – through larger CHST transfers – to the provinces. Projected figures range from an extra $4 billion to $6 billion annually.

Yes, new technologies, pharmaceuticals, demographic pressures, human resource shortages and patient expectations are all driving costs higher. But we cannot allow Ottawa or the provinces to simply hike taxes, spend more money and say they've fixed the problem.

This fall's historic health care reports from Kirby and Romanow afford us the opportunity to change the debate. We must stop measuring our compassion and commitment to health care by how much money we spend, either privately or publicly. Instead we must focus on outcomes and results.

What are we getting for our $102 billion annual health care tab? Are we reducing waiting lists? Are patient outcomes from cancer treatments or heart surgeries improving? Are we delivering the best quality care for those with disabilities or the elderly in need?

If Canadians don't hold Ottawa to account to implement real reforms like modernization of the Canada Health Act and generational pre-funding while simultaneously insisting the feds reallocate monies for health care by ending corporate welfare and other boondoggle schemes, then new taxes will become a reality.

For 2004/2005, net GST proceeds are pegged at $31 billion. So the PM was right, he or his successor won't need to raise the GST to 10 per cent … simply hiking the tax to 8.5 per cent would net a cool $6.6 billion.

Walter Robinson is the federal director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.

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