New health minister facing pressure to back doctors amid small business tax pushback
Ginette Petitpas Taylor is sworn in as the new health minister at a swearing-in ceremony at Rideau Hall in Ottawa on Monday, Aug. 28, 2017. (Adrian Wyld / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Published Friday, September 1, 2017 2:42PM EDT
Last Updated Friday, September 1, 2017 3:46PM EDT
OTTAWA – Newly-appointed Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor is defending the government’s controversial plans to close what it's called “unfair” tax loopholes, amid calls to defend Canadian physicians.
Critics say the changes will result in taxes being hiked for small business owners, including doctors.
But Petitpas Taylor tells CTV News she thinks what the government’s proposing is fair.
“This issue has nothing to do with a specific group of professionals,” she said.
On this issue, Petitpas Taylor is in a unique position, considering she was sitting next to Finance Minister Bill Morneau when he unveiled the changes in Ottawa in July, as then-finance parliamentary secretary.
“I worked very closely with minister Morneau. The intent and the spirit of this tax change is all about fairness,” said Petitpas Taylor.
However, the Conservatives argue that the tax changes will make it harder for Canadians to find a family doctor and increase wait times.
“It is my hope that the minister will use her new role to defend Canadian physicians and act as an advocate for them against the proposed Liberal tax increases on professionals,” Conservative health critic Marilyn Gladu told CTV News in a statement.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tapped Petitpas Taylor to the health portfolio in the Aug. 28 cabinet shuffle. Up until her cabinet promotion, Petitpas Taylor was parliamentary secretary to Morneau, a position she’d held since January 2017.
In her first week as health minister, Petitpas Taylor said she hasn’t heard any feedback about the tax changes, but said she’s open to taking any concerns she does receive, to Morneau.
“We are looking forward to hearing feedback from individuals on this topic,” said Petitpas Taylor, who said she is determined to get it right, “and that there are no unintended consequences.”
Frustration has been mounting among small business owners since the federal government unveiled its plans to close three loopholes that let high-income earners pay the lower corporate tax rate instead of personal income taxes.
The new measures will tackle income sprinkling, where a business owner splits his or her income among family members by paying them salaries; and methods of converting income into dividends and capital gains.
The blowback over the proposal has reached the ears of a number of Liberal MPs, prompting Morneau to hold a conference call Thursday with the Liberal caucus to discuss the issue.
At the time of the announcement, Petitpas Taylor told reporters the tax changes were about putting the middle class first, a position she defended Friday.
“When we speak to Canadians, Canadians feel that everyone should be paying their fair share of taxes,” she said.
The Canadian Medical Association, the lobby group that represents more than 85,000 doctors, is prompting its members to write to the federal government about the changes it says will “have serious ramifications for physicians.” It’s in the process of preparing a submission to the government about the proposed changes.
President of the CMA, Laurent Marcoux told CTV News in a statement that the association looks forward to working with Petitpas Taylor, “on important issues affecting the health of Canadians and the health of our health care system.”
A steep learning curve
While her new mandate letter has yet to be released, Petitpas Taylor said she will bring her social work and mental health experience to the new role. She said she plans to build on the work already done by her predecessor. Jane Philpott—who worked as a doctor for 30 years before being elected in 2015—made considerable progress on her mandate letter during the time she held the health minister role.
NDP health critic Don Davies said with a number of high-profile issues on her dossier right now, like the opioid crisis and marijuana legalization, Petitpas Taylor has her work cut out for her.
"The learning curve in all ministries is steep and I think it's particularly steep in health, so I hope she can rise to the challenge and do so quickly,” Davies said in an interview.
"They're halfway through their mandate and I think we are entitled at this point to start demanding some results,” he said.
Petitpas Taylor was elected for the first time in 2015 and was quickly given additional parliamentary responsibilities. Prior to being a parliamentary secretary, she was deputy government whip, and a member of the Procedure and House Affairs Committee.
She won her Moncton-Riverview-Dieppe, N.B. riding with 57.8 per cent of the vote. She is now the second of 10 New Brunswick MPs to join Trudeau’s cabinet, following Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard Dominic LeBlanc, who is the MP for Beauséjour, N.B. All ridings in the province went to the Liberals in the 2015 election as part of a sweep of Atlantic Canada.
Prior to politics, she worked for 23 years as a victim services coordinator with the Codiac RCMP. Petitpas Taylor has a bachelor’s degree in social work from the Université de Moncton.
“I look forward to the challenges that are coming ahead,” Petitpas Taylor told reporters Aug. 28 following her swearing-in.
The revised membership lists for cabinet committees have also not yet been disclosed. Prior to the shuffle, Philpott was chair of the Cabinet Committee on Growing the Middle Class, and was a member of the Treasury Board, and Intelligence and Emergency Management cabinet committees. It’s yet to be seen which cabinet committees Petitpas Taylor will be placed on, or if Philpott will retain these spots in her new portfolio as minister of indigenous services.
The Prime Minister’s Office said the new parliamentary secretary for finance will be named “in the coming weeks.”