New Health Minister Petitpas Taylor defends tax changes under fire from doctors

TheGlobeandMail.com – News/Politics/Tax Changes

September 14, 2017.   , ST. JOHN’S

It is a bit of a rough time to have been handed the federal health portfolio.

Across the country, doctors are protesting proposed changes to the small-business tax regime that will cut into their earnings. Some are threatening – as they do during intermittent fights with governments – to move to the United States. And Liberal MPs have been getting an earful from the physicians and from Canadians who are worried about their health care.

But Ginette Petitpas Taylor, who was named Health Minister by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau a little over two weeks ago, is taking the pressures in stride – mostly because she is convinced that the tax system that allows loopholes for doctors and other wealthy Canadians is unfair and needs to be changed.

It helps, she said during an interview with The Globe and Mail on the second day of a cabinet meeting in St. John’s, that she was the parliamentary secretary to Finance Minister Bill Morneau before she was given a ministry of her own, and has spent much time working on the tax file.

“I was well versed on the topic so that certainly has been beneficial,” Ms. Petitpas Taylor said. “I certainly believe in the spirit of the tax changes that are being brought forward.”

She has spent much time talking to doctors and other professionals about the revisions that are in the offing.

“We certainly want to hear from them because we want to get this right. We recognize it is about tax fairness for all Canadians,” Ms. Petitpas Taylor said. But, she said, “I have told them, ‘Don’t just come to the consultation process and say you don’t agree with these changes. Because there’s going to be some changes that are going to be happening. Come up with some suggestions. What would be recommendations that you would make?'”

The fight with the doctors notwithstanding, Ms. Petitpas Taylor is taking over the health portfolio at a time when she can avoid some other battles.

The most expensive part of the department – the delivery of health care to Canada’s Indigenous people – will be hived off in the coming weeks and handed to Ms. Petitpas Taylor’s predecessor, Jane Philpott, who now leads a new ministry dedicated to providing services to First Nations, Inuit and Métis.

Dr. Philpott also accomplished the most difficult job assigned to federal health ministers. She obtained multiyear funding agreements with all of the provinces and territories, which means Ms. Petitpas Taylor does not have to worry about engaging in those politically fraught negotiations.

But she has taken the time during her first two weeks in cabinet to reach out to her provincial and territorial counterparts, getting to know them a little before she meets with them face-to-face next month.

Ms. Petitpas Taylor has also inherited some big jobs: reducing pharmaceutical costs, combatting the opioid crisis, building better mental-health supports and legalizing marijuana.

Senior Canadian police officers appeared before a Commons committee earlier this week to say they would not be ready to enforce the new laws the government is preparing to put in place next summer to replace the ones that make possession of marijuana a crime.

Ms. Petitpas Taylor is not perturbed.

“We campaigned during Campaign 2015 that this was going to be one of our policy items that we were getting through,” she said. “I am confident that by July, 2018, that we are going to get this done.”

The minister was a social worker for 25 years. She has a personal understanding, through her clients, of the difficulties faced by people living with mental-health problems and addictions – two of the areas that new health funding offered to the provinces by her government is intended to target.

“I certainly want to make sure that we continue on a path forward in making sure that services are in place for Canadians,” Ms. Petitpas Taylor said.

But for now, her most pressing job may be to calm the doctors.

When the proposed tax changes are fully explained, they are understood, she said. But “if there are unique situations that [doctors and others] are faced with, we want to make sure that we hear from them and that we get this right.”

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