Monday, March 12, 2012

Quebec’s Health tax needs to be cancelled in this month’s budget

By The Project Genesis anti-poverty committee
The Metropolitan
March 12, 2012

Medicare is one of Canadians most cherished programs. Whether rich or poor, Canadians are deservedly proud of the principle that all are treated equally when accessing medical services, irrespective of their income levels. Because everyone pays for Medicare through a progressive tax system, we fund Medicare not based on how much we use the system, but based on our ability to pay. Rich or poor, healthy or sick, we all support it based on our ability to do so.

Yet Quebec’s Medicare system is undergoing some profound changes in its financing. Since 2010, in addition to pre-existing taxes, Quebecers have been forced to pay a health tax. This tax, starting at $25 in 2010, then $100 in 2011, and finally reaching $200 this year, is not based on people’s incomes. This fixed amount tax affects all adults who make beyond a certain low-income cut-off point. If you make even one penny more than thiscut-off, you pay the full amount. For a single person, this amount is only slightly above $14,000 per year. Whether you make $15,000, $150,000 or even $1.5 million this year, you will still pay the same $200.

However, if you earn around $15,000, especially in somewhere like Montreal, after rent, groceries and hydro, you simply just do not have a spare $200.

Members of the Project Genesis anti-poverty committee, who believe that healthcare needs to be free at point of delivery and financed through a fair tax system, spent the fall months collecting postcard petitions at points throughout Côte-des-Neiges. We collected nearly 600 cards that we delivered to our local MNA, finance Minister Raymond Bachand. Our aim was to allow residents affected by the health tax to speak out on their specific situations. The testimonials make for some difficult reading.

One resident told us how, “as a retired person, my income is fixed and this tax will be a burden on me and my husband.” On the other end of the age spectrum, one womancompared her situation with that of high-income earners. “I am a single parent and a graduate student. Why should I pay the same $200 as a CEO?”

Another resident told us how this tax, having jumped so rapidly over the last three years, is going to mean that they will have to make changes in the types of food that they buy.Put simply: this health tax means that people barely getting by will simply eat less healthy.

The health tax is unjust on low-income people. It is an assault on the idea that healthcare should be financed through a progressive tax system. We also see its affects as running counter to its stated aim: while the health tax is supposed to improve healthcare services, we cannot help but suspect that it will result in longer-term reduced states of health for lower-income people. It is tough, for instance, to control your diabetes if you cannot afford fresh vegetables, or keep your cholesterol under control when you can only afford to eat processed food.

People are already finding it extremely difficult to fully meet their food needs. Since the onset of the recession in 2008, food bank use has skyrocketed a whopping 26% across Canada.

Do we need more money for the health system, especially with an ageing population? Absolutely, but fairer alternatives do exist than this. Examples abound. The Quebec government could consider a new, or a few more, income tax brackets for very high-income earners. It could also reconsider Quebec’s rock bottom corporate tax rates, especially for the biggest, most-profitable corporations.

In fact, we think one resident hit it dead on when she told us how she would fund the healthcare system. “I’m poor. It’s time that the rich pay more.”

Mr. Bachand: it is time to listen to those most affected by the health tax, and find another solution than this regressive tax. Your upcoming Quebec budget would be a fine moment to act.

If you are interested in learning more or taking action against the health tax, please contact the Project Genesis anti-poverty committee at 514-738-2036 ext. 403 or by e-mail:

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