Let’s talk about doctor’s pay

Doctors have been given benefits under incorporation in lieu of receiving wage hikes and that’s not right. Doctors are on both sides of the issue. The Canadian Medical Association has come out against any changes to these benefits while 450 doctors signed an open letter to Finance Minister Morneau in favour of tax reform.

  Dr. Rita McCracken supports tax reform. Photo: Huffington Post

The existing tax system allows for the questionable practice of “income sprinkling” where family members are paid even when they don’t contribute to the doctor’s business. In Ontario, children and spouses are allowed to be paid as members of doctor’s corporate boards.

Doctor practices are unlike other small business. They operate private businesses while being paid through the public healthcare system.

Some doctors are uncomfortable the existing breaks. Dr. Hasan Sheikh says:

“There is nothing unique about a physician’s work that makes income sprinkling okay for them and not for others (Globe and Mail Sept. 22, 2017.)”

As usual, proposed tax changes are political fodder. Some premiers have condemned them, even though the details have yet to be released. Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister calls them “class warfare.” Nova Scotia Premier Stephan McNeil worries about the ability to attract doctors and small business to the province. B.C. Finance Minister Carole James concerns are more nuanced:

“I certainly believe in closing tax loopholes, I believe that’s important, but I also don’t believe there was good consultation done.”

That’s Morneau’s failing. He announced the changes in the downtime of summer and faces a storm brewing in the fall. Only now is he consulting provinces.

One of the doctors in favour of tax reforms is Dr. Ritika Goel. The existing system doesn’t even benefit all doctors fairly:

“So, for example, if you have a single mother who is a physician she would be paying higher tax rate than a mother with a spouse that she’s able to income sprinkle and we don’t believe that’s fair (CBC’s The Current, Sept. 19, 2017).”

Another doctor is opposed to the changes. While acknowledging the issue of tax-fairness, she is bitter about existing compensation. Dr. Brenna Velker told The Current:

“I think that as physicians, you know, we all understand that those who make more money need to pay more tax, that’s how society works. The problem that I think a lot of us are running into is that we’re feeling really beat down. So, any of the forms that I fill out and of the phone calls that I make, or you know, e-mails, or anything like that, any other communication with my patients is unpaid. You know, it really leaves a bad taste in your mouth.”

Doctors deserve fair wages. They are dedicated and hard working. They incur more student debt and they start earning money later in their career.

“Let’s stop talking about propping up a broken tax system that benefits some Canadians and not others based on the title of their profession and not the nature of it,” adds Dr. Sheikh.

Instead of granting doctors dubious tax breaks, they should be given appropriate pay and benefits that dignify their profession.

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Merge CBC with Canada Post

 

The CBC and Canada Post are both in the business of delivering information, so why not bring them together into a single entity?

Canada Post/CBC

Canada Post/CBC

They are both crown corporations; they are both undergoing radical transitions to digital communication; and each has what the other could use.

Canada Post has 6,200 public and privately-operated offices across Canada. CBC has hundreds of TV and radio transmitters. Canada Post serves a larger area than any other country. CBC broadcasts to every corner of Canada in English, French and eight aboriginal languages.

The new entity, the Canadian Communication Corporation would not only consolidate the resources of the CBC and Canada Post, it would expand into the mobile wireless business to provide some needed competition.

Canadians now pay some of the highest cell phone prices for some of the worst service in the industrialized world, reports the Huffington Post (July 18. 2013). In a study of prices in 34 OECD countries, Canada is 25th for high priced wireless phones. We are dead last when it comes to the number of people owning a cell phone.

The former Conservative government tried without success to encourage more independent wireless carriers into the market. The CCC would sell phones at Canada Post outlets and use CBC transmission towers to carry the service. For example, a customer in Iqaluit, Nunavut, could pick up the phone at the post office and receive service from a cell transmitter mounted on the tower that broadcasts CBM-FM-3.

Canada’s North lags behind in internet access. Nunavut tourism advises “Internet service is limited in Nunavut and slower than elsewhere. Wi-Fi service is uncommon. Visitors to Nunavut should not plan to spend much time on the internet.”

Professor Dwayne Winseck of Carleton University lists other advantages of the CCC: “Blanket cities with open access, lighting up the vast stock of underused and unused municipal dark fibre (CCPA Monitor, July/August, 2016).” By “dark fibre,” he means optical fibre that is not being used to capacity. As I reported in my column Kamloops Community Network -a vision unfulfilled, (July 22, 2014), Kamloops has a lot of dark fibre, the legacy of bold plan of former city technology manager Frank Mayhood.

“Extend public Wi-Fi in cities across Canada,” adds Winseck, “and broadband access to underused and unserved people in rural, remote and poor urban areas.” Rural service is not a luxury; it’s a necessity in business and education. The mayor of Caledon, Ontario, says that some students have their parents drive to the parking lot of a public library just so they can upload homework assignments (National Post, November 23, 2015.

The Trudeau government will give $16 million to internet service providers in B.C. to provide better rural access. If it makes sense to provide give money to private providers, it makes even more sense to invest in the CCC.

While there is a scarcity of internet service in Canada, there is also a looming news crisis. The CCC could not only deliver the news, it could produce it through the CBC’s capacity.

The business model of news delivery is failing as we get news echoed from ever fewer sources. A newly configured public broadcaster could fill that vacuum.

Cuts to CRA encourage tax avoidance

It’s a familiar pattern: talk tough and do nothing. The Harper government says that they want to crack down on tax evaders; all the while they cut 3,000 positions from the very agency that could investigate. To top that, they fail to pass legislation that would plug loopholes.

tax

To enable tax avoidance, the Harper government signed a treaty in 2011 with Bermuda to allow Canadians to transfer money there and transfer tax-free dividends back, reports Paul Weinberg in the CCPA Monitor.

For appearances sake, the finance minister made a trip to Bermuda in 2013 to assure fellow G8 countries that Canada was on board in the effort to close tax loopholes.

It’s fine to talk tough but actions speak louder. Alain Deneault, professor at The University of Quebec discloses that Canada is complicit in sheltering tax avoiders in his soon to be released book Canada, A New Tax Haven: How the Country that Shaped Caribbean Tax Havens is Becoming One Itself.

While researching his book, Professor Deneault found inside sources that exposed the government’s hypocrisy.  “Officially, Canada shows solidarity with other western countries about tackling tax avoidance. I have informants in other countries, people whom I talk to when I travel, and they say that Canada, in the meeting rooms, is also always fighting against any kind of proposal that would make it difficult for corporations to use tax havens.”

It’s not just big Canadian corporations that are avoiding taxes. Court documents recently obtained by the CBC reveal that a wealthy Victoria family paid virtually no tax over a span of eight years in a sham cooked up by one of the most respected accounting firms, KPMG Canada.

The Canadian Revenue Agency found that that between 2002 and 2010, the Victoria family paid little or no tax, despite receiving nearly $6 million from an offshore company. KPMG lawyers claim any money the family received were “gifts” and therefore non-taxable.

KPMG must have felt emboldened by the inaction of the Harper government. The feds were essentially signaling to KPMG that despite the tough talk, this kind of dodge was OK.

Imagine the number of tax avoiders that Canada Revenue Agency could find if they were properly staffed?

While other G8 countries are tightening up laws to reduce tax avoidance, Canada’s net to catch cheaters has holes in it big enough for a whale to swim through.

NDP tax critic, Murray Rankin, tried to pass a private members bill that would tighten the net and bring Canada up to par with the tougher approach to tax cheats taken by the U.S.  It failed to receive government support.

“Murray Rankin’s bill is right on,” says Robert McMechan, a former general counsel in the tax litigation section of the Department of Justice. He’s seen too many “complicated corporate transactions where money goes around a circle and nothing of real economic substance occurs.”

I gladly pay my taxes, not just because the money is well spent in the services and infrastructure I receive in return, but as investment in the kind of Canada I believe in. It’s too bad the Harper government isn’t of the same mind.

Firelight stories shape our culture

It wasn’t a real campfire but the effect was the same. We settled for a propane campfire after wood campfires were banned. Other than being instantly on and producing no smoke, the propane briquettes flickered as brightly and radiated a warm glow.

burningcampfire

It didn’t take long until we were transfixed by the fire and drawn into sheltering canopy of flickering light that spread only a little beyond our circle to the tree tops. Beyond our little circle, the great sphere of stars above: that slowly rotating screen of ancient constellations.

As dark draws the circle tighter, stories real and fantastic are told. Imagination takes flight and the mundane matters of the day concerning food and water fade.

The primal firelight connects us with our ancient selves. Polly Wiessner, anthropology professor at the University of Utah, wondered what it was about firelight that is so compelling. Since the stories of early humans are not embedded in the charcoal remains of their fires, she did the next best thing and studied the culture of a people for whom firelight is not a summertime novelty but part of daily life.

“What I found was a big difference between day and night conversation, the kinds of information transmitted and the use of imaginary thought,” Wiessner told CBC’s Quirks and Quarks.

Stories told by firelight transform societies and encourage innovation through imagining what couldn’t be seen. Prof. Wiessner found that firelight helped human culture and thought evolve by reinforcing social traditions, promoting harmony and equality, and sparking the imagination to envision a broad sense of community, both with distant people and the spirit world.

This study goes beyond the obvious effects of fire on cooking and how the processing of food affected diets and anatomy. Not much research has gone into how firelight extends the day, especially in tropical latitudes where it is dark for 12 hours a day. “Little is known about how important the extended day was for igniting the embers of culture and society.”

“There is something about fire in the middle of the darkness that bonds, mellows and also excites people. It’s intimate,” says Wiessner, who has studied the !Kung Bushmen the Kalahari Desert for 40 years. “Nighttime around a fire is universally time for bonding, for telling social information, for entertaining, for a lot of shared emotions.”

Wiessner found daytime conversations differed considerably. Of daytime conversations, 34 per cent were complaints, criticism and gossip to regulate social relationships; 31 per cent were economic matters, such as hunting for dinner; 16 percent were jokes; only 6 percent were stories. At night 80 per cent were stories.

“Stories are told in virtually all hunter-gatherer societies; together with gifts, they were the original social media.” Firelight stories are more than flights of fancy. They allow us to imagine worlds and communities beyond our own.

Such extended communities allowed humans “to colonize our planet because they had networks of mutual support, which you see expressed today in our capacity for social networking. Humans form communities that are not together in space, but are in our heads – virtual communities. They are communities in our heads.”