“Either I pay taxes or have my mother live with me,” said Neil Brooks with a sly smile. Brooks, co-author of The Trouble With Billionaires (with Linda McQuaig) underlined the value of taxes during the keynote address at this year’s Ontario Health Coalition (OHC) Action Assembly Weekend.
Brooks said that as we shift the line between what’s public and what’s private, the cost to individuals rises as government services become far more expensive to replace privately.
The Action Assembly is the OHC’s annual meeting to plan priorities for the coming year as well as review the victories of the previous one.
November 17-18 the meeting hall at the University of Toronto’s Hart House was packed as health care activists travelled from across the province to meet.
Here are 10 insight moments from this year’s 2-day meeting:
1. Switzerland is a criminal state. Neil Brooks, a tax law professor at Osgoode Law School, said governments have begun to recognize how much money they are losing to tax havens that protect the wealthy from paying their fair share back in their country of residence. It is estimated that $20-$30 trillion is salted away in tax havens, resulting in the loss of billions of dollars to public treasuries. Brooks says more money is leaving Africa for tax havens than all foreign aid coming to the continent.
Neil Brooks, law professor and author.
2. Actor Michael Caine says increasing taxes on the wealthy amounts to government interference. But Brooks suggests that Caine is overlooking the copyright laws passed by the same government that secure his wealth. When it benefits the wealthy, it’s not interference or big government. As top marginal tax rates dramatically decreased in the last 30 years, so did the spread between income growth between the wealthy and the rest of us. Brooks says that with the massive number of films Caine has made, the odds would suggest some of them had to be good.
Posted in Ontario Health Coalition
Tagged Action Assembly Weekend, Canadian and American taxes, Don Drummond, Donna Metcalf Woo, Dr. Michael Rachlis, Ethel Meade, Gary Countess, Gary Engler, Hugh MacKenzie, Louis Rodriguez, Marlene Rivier, Michael Caine, Natalie Mehra, Neil Brooks, OHC Annual Meeting, Orville Thacker, Patty Park, Ron Walker, Ross Sutherland, Sara Williamson, Sue Hotte, The Year We Became Us, Trish McAuliffe
Focused on austerity, the government appears to be ignoring tax policies that have the potential to bring in billions to the provincial treasury.
The ruthless slashing of public sector funding – including the current freeze on base funding to Ontario’s hospitals – appears to be more ideologically based than on sound economic policy.
As we have previously noted, cutting public spending also creates a fiscal drag on the economy. Public sector workers spend their earnings in the community, generating economic activity. When government puts the squeeze on them, it puts the squeeze on everybody by reducing economic growth.
We have seen how both the Harris and McGuinty governments reduced revenues by slashing the corporate tax rate. Less discussed are substantial exemptions to the Employer Health Tax (EHT), introduced in the late 1980s to replace the previous OHIP premiums.
When the EHT was introduced, it featured a graduated rate structure – the only one of its kind in Canada. For employers with annual payrolls of less than $200,000, the rate was 0.98 per cent. For employers with more than $400,000 in payroll, the rate increased to 1.95 per cent.
While the media have portrayed health care as one of the winners of the spring budget season, the reality is the 2.1 per cent average increase in health funding over the next three years will represent major restraint on services. Last summer the Auditor General of Ontario described the previous target of 3.6 per cent as “aggressive” in his pre-election report, suggesting it would lead to a choice between hospital deficits and cuts to services.
The situation is particularly clouded for hospitals, which not only face a zero base budget, but are contending with a new funding formula that could see them receive even less than they did last year.
The Ontario Health Coalition is holding a series of town hall forums across the province in May and June to talk about the impact of the budget on the delivery of public health care.
Confirmed speakers include economist Hugh Mackenzie (Hugh Mackenzie and Associates), Dennis Howlett (Coordinator of Canadians for Tax Fairness), Trish Hennesey (Director of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives Income Inequality Project) and Natalie Mehra (Director, Ontario Health Coalition).
Speakers from OPSEU so far include Sara Labelle (Chair, Health Care Divisional Council), Sandi Blancher (Vice-Chair, Hospital Professionals Division) and Marlene Rivier (President of Local 479, Royal Ottawa Health Group and Chair of the Ottawa Health Coalition.)
Speakers will vary by location.
Late last year the Vector Poll asked Canadians about whether they supported a 5-cents a drink tax to fund mental health programs.
This is an idea that has floated around for a while. In 2007 Senator Michael Kirby suggested a five cent tax on booze would raise $500 million a year that could help revamp Canada’s woeful mental health services.
To put that in perspective, the provincial initiative to improve mental health services for children and youth is spending about $70 million per year.
The Vector Poll has shown that of all health services, Canadians have the least faith in the present mental health system. If there is anything close to consensus, it is on the necessity for new investment in these services.
The connection between mental health, addictions and alcohol is about as clear as it gets.
The Ontario Health Coalition has confirmed that author Linda McQuaig and economist Hugh Mackenzie will be among featured speakers at their two day Action Assembly and Conference in Toronto November 19-20.
The Action Assembly sets the agenda for the work of the coalition for the coming year. Each year an associated one-day conference provides for more in-depth discussion on key health care issues.
McQuaig is author of eight books on politics and economics – all national bestsellers – including Shooting the Hippo (short-listed for the Governor General’s Award for Non-Fiction), The Cult of Impotence, All You Can Eat, It’s the Crude, Dude: War, Big Oil and the Fight for the Planet, and Holding the Bully’s Coat: Canada and the U.S. Empire. Her most recent book, co-authored with Neil Brooks, is The Trouble With Billionaires.
Mackenzie has worked for 35 years in a variety of public policy roles at all three levels of government. He is the Chair fo the Atkinson Charitable Foundation and a research associate with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. He is a frequent contributor to opinion pages on issues related to public finance.
On Sunday speakers include Taylor Chelsea (Occupy Toronto), Hugh Armstrong (Council on Aging), Winnie Ng (Sam Gindin Chair at Ryerson University), Diane Dowling (National Farmer’s Union) and Maureen O’Reilly (Toronto Public Library).
OPSEU members who are active in their local health coalition do qualify for assistance to attend this event. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
During the leader’s election debate September 27 NDP Leader Andrea Horwath repeated the phrase “blank cheque” when it came to corporate taxes.
The NDP want to roll back recent corporate tax cuts to 14 per cent. The Tories and Liberals favour a 10 per cent rate.
The NDP argue that nothing has been required of corporations for the tax cuts.