Millions of Canadians are planning for their retirement relying on Registered Retirement Savings Plans (RRSPs) and private pension plans, either as their only future retirement income or to supplement the Canada Pension Plan (CPP) and Quebec Pension Plan (QPP). Approximately 5 million contribute to RRSPs. Another 3.7 million participate in registered pension plans (RPPs). Some are independent business people, others work in family businesses. Some are self-employed or work for organizations that have opted for RRSPs instead of RPPs. Our Alliance is representative of this Canadian diversity.
The objective of the Alliance is to maintain the current provisions of the Income Tax Act (the Act) and Income Tax Regulations (the Regulations) governing retirement savings. The current system is fundamentally good for the economy of Canada, and any changes made for short term deficit reduction will ultimately harm the economy in general and small and medium-sized business, in particular. Research shows that RRSPs are an important tool for small business retirement planning. Only in recent years have limits been adjusted to bring similar protection to those afforded under RPPs.
We have only just started to achieve a measure of equitable treatment for the retirement savings of the self-employed and employees not protected by employer pension plans. The current system provides for the harmonization of all tax-assisted retirement savings arrangements, which will only be achieved when the limits on money-purchase arrangements (including RRSPs) attain the equivalent limits already set for defined-benefit arrangements, such as employer pension plans.
Changes to RRSPs alone will discriminate against the self-employed and against employees without employer pension plans. These Canadians form the majority of the workforce now and in the future.
Arguments in favour of changes to the current system are based on two assumptions: firstly, that Canadians are saving sufficient income for their retirement and will continue to do so regardless of tax increases; and secondly, that the cost to the Government in lost tax revenues is enormous. Neither of these assumptions is valid.
The fiscal theory underlying retirement savings is decades old. Contributions to registered plans are deductible and all earnings are exempt from tax until benefits are paid out from those plans. In essence the retirement savings system consists of a deferral of tax on contributions and earnings.
The pension tax reform of 1989-1990 does not change the underlying fiscal theory. It aims to achieve equity between the employed and the self-employed and between defined benefit arrangements and money-purchase arrangements (including RRSPs).
That equity was achieved by phasing in a higher contribution limit for money-purchase arrangements so that they could, in the future, provide a retirement income comparable to that furnished by a defined benefit arrangement. This objective of achieving equivalence permeates the Act and the Regulations and has resulted in a substantial and continuing realignment of retirement savings arrangements in Canada. That realignment, with its attendant compliance costs, borne by employers and employees, was based on the acceptance of the premises behind pension tax reform, which acceptance Canadians have demonstrated.
This realignment had a gestation period of over 5 years. 1 From the 1984 federal budget, which sought complete equity but with massive compliance costs, to the 1985 federal budget, which sought lesser compliance costs but with diminished equity, there issued pension tax reform, which yields substantial equity with substantial compliance costs.
The Auditor General, in his 1988 report, estimated that pension tax reform would necessitate $330 million in start-up costs and $15 million in annual reporting costs. The Department of Finance disagreed and estimated that start-up costs would be from $60 to $70 million and that the annual reporting costs would be between $10 and $15 million. The independent consultant's report, upon which the Auditor General's report was based, had said that the start-up costs would be $395 million.
Accordingly, Canadians have already borne many of the costs of retooling the retirement savings system and will continue to do so. Having paid those costs, surely Canadians are entitled to the measure of equity that the system promises.
There are disquieting rumours about possible changes to the current retirement savings system. As yet, the government has said little on this issue, other than to say that the retirement system is not inviolable.
The Alliance seeks to maintain the status quo. We should, therefore, deal with the principles that underlie the current system, and which continue to hold true: internal fairness and the accumulation of sufficient retirement income.
The current system was reformed to deliver internal fairness - if not quite yet, by 1996. It allows individuals to accumulate a pre-determined amount of private retirement savings. Taxpayers may, on a tax-assisted basis, earn a lifetime pension at the rate of $1,722 per year. In other words, an employee with 35 years of service may be entitled, on retirement, to an annual lifetime pension of $60,270. That level of tax assistance has been available to members of defined benefit plans since 1977. It has been frozen at that level since that time and will remain frozen until 1996.
The money purchase limits, including RRSP limits, have been phased in to eventually provide equivalent benefits. Accordingly, the annual RRSP limits, when fully instituted in 1996, will allow the self-employed to accumulate retirement savings equivalent to those of members of defined benefit plans.
Thus, one of the rationales underlying the current retirement savings structure is to eliminate the earlier discrimination against the self-employed. The self-employed will now be allowed to achieve retirement savings equivalent to those available to employees. RRSPs are not an isolated program under the Act, but rather an integral component of an indissoluble whole.
Accumulation of Sufficient Retirement Income
The limits set by pension tax reform are intended to provide a level of retirement income that will allow retired individuals to maintain their standard of living. It is generally felt that a retirement income equal to about 60-70 percent of pre-retirement income should not result in a marked change in one's standard of living.
Increasingly, it appears that individual taxpayers will need to rely more on private retirement savings and less on public programmes. It is important, therefore, that the tax system permit the accumulation of retirement savings sufficient to allow taxpayers to maintain their pre-retirement standard of living.
Indeed, it does not appear possible for money-purchase arrangements to reach, in most cases, the replacement ratio of 60 to 70 percent. Consider the following example. 2 Let us consider two taxpayers earning $50,000 and $100,000 respectively, in 1993 who maximize their contributions to RRSPs. What replacement income ratio can these taxpayers attain?
Assume that the taxpayers are married and that the annuity to be purchased from the RRSP, at retirement, has the following characteristics: post-retirement indexation at 3% per annum with a spousal survivor benefit of two-thirds. 3 The results of this hypothetical are:
[TABLE CONTENT DOES NOT DISPLAY PROPERLY. SEE PDF FOR PROPER DISPLAY]
RRSP as a percentage of final year's salary at a 1993 salary of $50,000 ($100,000)
Savings Start Age
The above table indicates, for example, that a 35-year old earning $50,000 in 1993 can, at most, earn a pension from an RRSP equal to 48.8% of his final year's income, if his retirement commences at age 65. In other words, after 30 years of working and saving, that individual will have a retirement income of less than half of his pre-retirement income. This is below the income replacement threshold assumed by pension tax reform itself. For the taxpayer earning $100,000 in 1993, his RRSP pension will be 37.6% of this pre-retirement income.
The only individual who attains an adequate replacement ratio, on these assumptions, is the 25-year old who saves for 40 years. It follows that, although the pension tax system espouses equivalence with the defined benefit pension plan, it does not attain it in practice.
Inequities in the Current System
In the current North American context, the limits of Canadian tax assistance for retirement savings are not generous. The equivalent money purchase and defined benefit limits for the United States, for example, are more than twice as generous as the Canadian limits. In addition, the Canadian system does not provide for deferrals of salary, as does the United States system.
Furthermore, inequities exist in the provision of supplementary retirement benefits. Supplementary benefits are those in excess of the $60,270 benchmark pension discussed above. They also include benefits that the Regulations, and the Department of National Revenue, do not allow to be paid from a registered pension plan. Servants of the people, such as Members of Parliament and Members of Provincial Legislatures, benefit from the privileged status of the payor of the pension, in that security of the pension promise is not an issue. Self-employed individuals and ordinary employees, on the other hand, must be concerned with the funding of their pension promise.
Requirement for Informed and Thoughtful Debate
In the early 1990s, annual contributions to RRSPs and RPPs exceeded $33 billion. Trusteed pensions, not including consolidated revenue fund plans, held $235 billion in assets at the end of 1992. The book value of the assets of such plans stood at $268 billion at the end of the first quarter of 1994. RRSP assets, not including self-directed plans, totalled $147 billion at the end of 1992.
In his discussion paper entitled Creating a Healthy Fiscal Climate: The Economic and Fiscal Update, released October 18, 1994, the Minister of Finance has indicated that the tax expenditure associated with all retirement savings for 1991 was $14.9 billion.
It is not surprising, therefore, that the Department of Finance should cast a covetous eye at the retirement savings system. We are concerned that a search for easy sources of revenue might prompt the government to change the existing rules in the Act governing retirement savings. It is submitted, however, that changes to the system, although fiscally attractive in the short term, would be detrimental to Canadian taxpayers in the long run.
Deficit reduction should not be the sole motivating factor for change to the retirement savings system. The existing complex web of rules governing retirement savings should only be touched if there are compelling reasons, unrelated to immediate deficit reduction, to effect change. This is particularly so given the recent and unfinished reform of retirement savings arrangements in this country.
It is clear that this debate has not yet begun and cannot be completed before the next federal budget. The prudent approach, therefore, is to defer any change to the retirement savings system until that debate has taken its course.
A Framework for the Debate
The following parameters should govern any consideration of the changes to the retirement savings system.
1. The Principle of Even-Handedness
It is clear that all components of the retirement savings structure are interrelated. As a result, it would be unfair to single out RRSPs for detrimental treatment. RRSP savings are no different from other forms of retirement savings.
2. A Tax Increase
According to a recent study of the Canada Tax Foundation, 3.7 million Canadians contributed to RPPs, and 4.8 million Canadians contributed to RRSPs, in the 1992 taxation year. 4 In that year, 69.7 percent of contributors to RPPs and 60.5 percent of contributors to RRSPs were in the middle income range ($25,000 to $60,000).
Obviously, the participation rate by Canadians in retirement savings arrangements is quite high. A change to the retirement savings regime, by limiting deductibility of contributions for example, would be viewed as a tax increase by users of these arrangements. Indeed, for those individuals, any negative change to the retirement savings arrangement will have the same effect as a tax increase.
3. Job Creation
The quest for deficit reduction should not obscure the important role that government can play in creating an environment conducive to increasing employment opportunities. As the government has previously stated, the bulk of job creation must come from small and medium-sized businesses. As a result, the current retirement savings regime, and in particular RRSP investments, should be viewed as an asset, and not a liability.
The ability to deduct savings for retirement has the effect of increasing aggregate private savings as a source of funds for capital investment. 5 Reducing the tax incentive for retirement savings could have the effect of reducing the amount of "pooled" capital funds that could be made available for entrepreneurial activities. It would also add to the cost of doing business in Canada and stifle future employment opportunities.
The rules in the Income Tax Act that permit RRSP contributors to put investments in small businesses are insufficient at present and must be strenghtened if the government wants to encourage job creation. Canada's Economic Challenges 6 shows that small business is playing an increasing role in the economy. Any reduction in the existing schedule of limits will hurt the ability of small business to create jobs.
Indeed, the government should consider measures to increase the access by small and medium businesses to the retirement savings capital pool. The latest report of the House of Commons Industry Committee makes the point well:
Ottawa should use tax incentives to help improve the competitiveness of the Canadian small business sector...One way the government can increase small business access to capital would be to permit owners, operators and other major shareholders to use funds from their registered retirement savings plans to buy equity in their business...that would increase the availability of such "love capital". 7
4. The Tax Expenditure Calculation
As indicated earlier, it is said that the tax expenditure for all retirement savings for 1991 was $14.9 billion. That number suggests that the Government of Canada bears a high cost for its retirement savings system. However, it is our view that the calculation of that cost is not correct, with the result that the number is inflated.
The Department of Finance's calculation of the tax expenditure cost is arrived at by adding the value of deductions associated with contributions and the value of the tax shelter on earnings. From that result is subtracted the revenue generated from withdrawals. For example, for the 1991 taxation year, the $14.9 billion number noted above is calculated as follows:
Tax expenditure (RRSP)
= value of deductions + value of tax shelter - taxes on withdrawals
= $3.310 billion + $2.960 billion - .735 million
= $5.535 billion
Tax expenditure (RPP)
= value of deductions + value of tax shelter - taxes on withdrawals
= $4.460 billion + $8.950 billion - 4.030 billion
= $9.38 billion
Tax expenditure (RRSP + RPP) = $5.535 billion + $9.38 billion = $14.915 billion.
The Government of Canada has itself admitted that its calculation of tax expenditures is subjective. In the case of tax deferrals, it has further stated that:
Estimating the cost of tax deferrals presents a number of methodological difficulties since, even though the tax is not currently received, it may be collected at some point in the future. 8
The government has also specifically commented on tax expenditures associated with retirement savings:
It should be noted that the RRSP/RPP tax expenditure estimates do not reflect a mature system because contributions currently exceed withdrawals. Assuming a constant tax rate, if contributions equalled withdrawals, only the non-taxation of investment would contribute to the net tax expenditure. As time goes by and more retired individuals have had the opportunity to contribute to RRSPs throughout their lifetime, the gap between contributions and withdrawals will shrink and possibly even become negative. An upward bias in the current estimates can therefore be expected to decline. 9
The method used to calculate the tax expenditure costs associated with retirement savings is based on the "current cash-flow" model. In effect, the calculation takes a snapshot of a given year and does not take into account future income flows. As indicated above, the calculation adds the value in a year of tax deductions to the lost tax on earnings, and subtracts the tax generated from withdrawals.
We argue that that model is flawed. Current demographics show that the system is not yet mature since contributions will exceed withdrawals for some time.
Once the baby boom generation begins to retire, withdrawals will exceed contributions. Substantial revenues will be generated for the fisc, revenues necessary to support government programs of the day. The value of the tax on those withdrawals is totally ignored in the static model adopted by the Department of Finance.
Statistics Canada projects that the proportion of the Canadian population aged 70 and over will increase from 7.84% in 1991 to 10.6% in 2010. The numbers of such individuals will increase from 2.102 million in 1991, to 3.355 million in 2010, a 59.6 percent increase. Those individuals will be drawing pensions, both from RRSPs and RPPs. Those pensions will be taxed and will benefit the fisc.
Furthermore, there is evidence to suggest that the calculation adopted by the Government greatly over-values the cost to the fisc. A US commentator has suggested that government also gains "additional corporate tax revenue on the extra capital stock that results from higher savings. The government's official revenue estimates ignore this increase in corporate tax receipts." 10
To restate the position, the tax expenditure calculation adopts a static approach, both by considering only the current year's cash flows and by ignoring any secondary effects of the retirement savings pool. Until the true cost of the retirement savings system can be ascertained, the current estimates cannot be relied upon to justify change to the tax rules governing retirement savings.
While the Alliance recognizes the need for the Government to get its fiscal house in order, with a particular emphasis on the expenditure side of the equation, a proper balance must be struck between short-term solutions and longer-term consequences.
One important consideration is the long-term pain that would result from Canadians having less financial flexibility to properly plan for their retirement. This long-term consequence must be measured against the short-term gain in revenues that would result from a freeze or reduction in the contributions to RRSPs and RPPs.
At a time when the Government is encouraging greater self-reliance in matters of finance, further limiting Canadians' ability to adequately plan for their retirement would serve to aggravate the public future dependence on government programs. Looking at current demographic trends, it is important to ensure that all Canadians have an opportunity to set aside necessary financial resources that will be drawn upon (and taxed) at the time of retirement. If the government is looking to become more efficient in its delivery of public sector programs, it should also ensure that the private sector is allowed sufficient flexibility to meet its needs. In this context, the current retirement savings plans should be considered an investment in the future and should not be tampered with or diminished.
I THE ALLIANCE RECOMMENDS THAT THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT CONSIDER THE TOTAL COST OF THE RETIREMENT SAVINGS SYSTEM BEFORE MAKING ANY CHANGES TO THE INCOME TAX ACT.
II THE ALLIANCE RECOMMENDS THAT THE EQUITY ESTABLISHED DURING PENSION REFORM NOT BE DISTURBED BY DISCRIMINATORY CHANGES AND THAT ANY FUNDAMENTAL CHANGES TO THE SYSTEM SHOULD INVOLVE A PROCESS OF INFORMED AND THOUGHTFUL INQUIRY AND DEBATE.
III THE ALLIANCE RECOMMENDS THAT THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT FOSTER ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT BY TREATING RRSP CONTRIBUTIONS AS ASSETS RATHER THAN LIABILITIES AND BY EXPLORING THE REGULATORY CHANGES NECESSARY TO ENSURE INCREASED ACCESS TO SUCH FUNDS BY SMALL AND MEDIUM-SIZED BUSINESSES.
1 Appendix A to this submission details the historical development of pension tax reform.
2 Taken from Sylvain Parent, FSA, FCIA, RRSP income replacement levels: a case study, 1993 Pension & Tax Reports; 4:93-94.
3 Further assumptions are as follows: rate of return is 7.5% per annum; yearly salary increases are 5.5% per annum; mortality is 80% of the average of the 1983 Group Annuity Mortality rates for males and females.
4 Perry, David B, Everyone's Tax Shelter At Risk, Canadian Tax Highlights, Volume 2, number 10, October 19, 1994; p. 75.
5 Andrews and Bradford, Savings Incentives in a Hybrid Income Tax, Studies of Government and Finance, The Brookings Institution, Washington, DC; February, 1988.
6 Department of Finance, January, 1994, p. 30.
7 Special Report, The Public Sector, October 24, 1994.
8 Government of Canada, Personal and corporate income tax expenditures, December 1993, p.4.
9 Ibid., p.53.
10 Feldstein, Martin. The Effects of Tax-Based Incentives on Government Revenue and National Saving, NBER Working Paper #4021, March 1992. This position has been dismissed, out of hand and with no reasons, by two Canadian commentators: Ingerman, Sid and Rowley, Robin, Tax Losses and Retirement Savings, Canadian Business Economics, Vol. 2, No. 4, Summer 1994, pp. 46-54.
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) commends the federal government for its clear and open process, and for encouraging a dialogue in areas of tax policy and economics. Canadians from all walks of life look to the government for strong and constructive leadership in this area. The CMA therefore appreciates the opportunity to present its views to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance as it considers Bill C-70 "An Act to amend the Excise Tax Act, the Federal-Provincial Fiscal Arrangements Act, the Income Tax Act, the Debt Servicing and Reduction Account Act and related Acts."
The CMA has appeared before the Committee on several occasions when it has considered matters pertaining to federal tax policy in Canada. In addition to our submissions, as part of the government's pre-budget consultation process, the CMA appeared before the Committee when it examined a number of tax policy alternatives to the Goods and Services Tax (GST) in 1994. 1
At that time, the CMA clearly articulated the medical profession's concerns about the need to implement a federal sales tax system that is simplified, fair and equitable for all. The CMA remains strongly committed to the principles that underpin an efficient and effective sales tax system. However, it is of the strong view that there is, on the one hand, a need to review the relationship between sales tax policy and health care policy in Canada, and between the sales tax policy and the physicians as providers of services, on the other.
Canada's health care system is a defining characteristic of what makes Canada special. It is no secret that funding for the health care system is under stress and all providers, including physicians, are being asked to shoulder their responsibility in controlling costs and responding to this fiscal challenge. However, physicians have had their costs of providing medical services increased by the federal government through the introduction of the GST.
Specifically, the introduction of the GST as it applies to physicians serves as a constant reminder that there still remain some tax policy anomalies - that, without amendment, their consequences will be significantly magnified with the introduction of a proposed harmonized sales tax (HST) on April 1, 1997, as was the case with the introduction of the Quebec Sales Tax (QST) on July 1, 1992.
The tax anomaly is a result of the current categorization of medical services as "tax exempt" under the Excise Tax Act. As a consequence, physicians are, on the one hand, in the unenviable position of being denied the ability to claim a GST tax refund (that is, denied the ability to claim input tax credits - ITCs), on the medical supplies (such as medical equipment, medical supplies, rent, utilities) necessary to deliver quality health care, and on the other, cannot pass the tax onto those who purchase such services (i.e., the provincial and territorial governments). Physicians, from coast to coast, are understandably angry that they have been singled out for unfair treatment under the GST, QST and the soon to be implemented HST.
The GST was designed to be a " consumer-based tax" where the tax charged for purchases during the "production process" would be refunded - with the consumer, not producer of a good or a service, bearing the full burden of the tax. As a result, self-employed individuals and small businesses are eligible to claim a tax refund of the GST from the federal government on purchases that are required in most commercial activities. It is important to understand that those who can claim a tax refund under the GST in most commercial activities will still be able to do so with the proposed introduction of a harmonized sales tax in Atlantic Canada. The rate is proposed to be set at 15% (7% federal tax, 8% provincial tax).
In the case of medical services, the consumer (i.e., the one who purchases such services) is almost always the provincial and territorial governments. Since the provincial and territorial governments do not pay GST (due to their Constitutional exemption), one would have expected the cost of providing medical services to be free of GST. However, this is not the case. It is difficult to reconcile federal health care policies to preserve and protect publicly funded health care with tax policy which singles out and taxes the costs of medical services.
Regrettably, physicians find themselves in an untenable situation of "double jeopardy". This is patently unfair and on the basis of the fundamental principles of administering a fair and equitable tax system should be amended accordingly.
In an effort to document the impact of the federal government's decision to designate medical services as tax exempt, an independent study by the accounting firm KPMG estimated that physicians' costs increased by $60 million of GST per year. 2 Since 1991, this total is now in excess of $360 million.
The recent agreement between the federal government and Atlantic provinces (except Prince Edward Island) to harmonize their sales taxes will make matters significantly worse for physicians as the HST broadens the provincial tax base to essentially that of the GST in those provinces. With no ability to claim a tax refund on the GST they currently pay (and the proposed HST effective April 1, 1997), physicians once again will have to absorb the additional costs associated with the practice of medicine.
In assessing the impact of the proposed HST, KPMG has estimated that physicians in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland will be out-of-pocket an additional $4.7 million each year because they are not eligible for a tax refund for their purchases. 3
The medical profession, is not looking for special treatment. What we are asking for is to be treated no differently than other self-employed Canadians and small businesses who have the opportunity to claim ITCs, and to be placed on the same footing with other health care providers who have the ability to recoup GST costs.
Physicians, as self-employed individuals are considered small businesses for tax purposes, therefore, it seems entirely reasonable that they should have the same tax rules that apply to other small businesses. This is a question of fundamental fairness.
III. POLICY CONTEXT
Prior to the introduction of the GST, the federal sales tax (FST) was included in the price of most goods (not services) that were produced in, or imported to, Canada. Therefore, when goods were purchased by consumers, the FST was built into the price. At that time, physicians, and other self-employed Canadians and small businesses, were essentially on a level sales tax playing field. Since 1991, however, the introduction of the GST has tilted the table against physicians.
Unless this situation is rectified, with the introduction of the HST, physicians in Atlantic Canada will join those in Quebec who experience additional costs due to the GST and their provincial sales tax using the same rules.
(i). The Impact of the GST on Good Tax Policy and Good Health Care Policy
When it reviews Bill C-70, the Standing Committee on Finance should look for opportunities where tax policy and health care policy go hand-in-hand. The principle of aligning good health policy with sound tax policy is critical to managing change while serving to lay down a strong foundation for future growth and prosperity. Unfortunately, the current GST policy introduces a series of distortions that have tax policy and health policy working against one another. Tax policies that do not reinforce health policy are bad tax policies. Consider, for example:
1. Under the current system, hospitals (under the "MUSH" formula - Municipalities, Universities, Schools and Hospitals) have been afforded an 83% rebate on GST paid for purchases made while physicians must absorb the full GST cost on their supplies. At a time when health policy initiatives across Canada are attempting to expand community-based practices, the current GST policy (and now harmonized sales tax policy) which taxes supplies in a private clinic setting while rebating much of the tax in a hospital setting acts to discourage the shift in emphasis;
2. Prescription drugs are zero-rated. The objective was to ensure that pharmaceutical firms are no worse off than under the previous federal sales tax regime. Recognizing that medical services can play an equally important role as drugs, it appears inconsistent that the government would choose to have drugs as tax free, and medical services absorbing GST;
3. In the current fiscal climate, the current GST policy, and now the proposed harmonized sales tax in Atlantic Canada, is threatening to harm the important role when it comes to recruitment and retention of physicians across Canada, and in particular, the Atlantic provinces - where they are already experiencing difficulty; and,
4. It is estimated that the 55,000 physicians employ up to 100,000 Canadians. Physicians play an important role in job creation. The disproportionate effects of the GST policy could have an adverse effect on the number of individuals employed by physicians.
With these issues at hand, it is apparent that good tax policy and good health policy are themselves not synchronized and are working at cross purposes. At this point, when the Standing Committee is reviewing Bill C-70, it is the time to address this situation based on the fundamental principle of fairness in the tax system, while ensuring that good tax policy reinforces good health care policy.
(ii). Not All Health Care Services Are Created Equal under the GST/HST
Physicians are not the only group of health care providers whose services are placed under the category of "tax exempt", with the result that they incur increased GST costs. For example, the services of dentists, nurses, physiotherapists, psychologists and chiropractors are categorized as "tax exempt".
However, there is an important distinction between whether the services are government funded or not. Health care providers who deliver services privately and which are not publicly funded do have the opportunity to pass along the GST in their costs through their fee structures.
For these services that are government funded there are no opportunities for physicians to recover the tax paid for purchases unless a specific rebate has been provided (e.g., hospitals). To date, in negotiations with the medical profession, no provincial/territorial government has agreed to provide funding to reflect the additional costs associated with the introduction of the GST. Their position has been that this is a "federal" matter. This becomes important when one considers that under the Canadian Constitution one level of government cannot tax another, and the provincial governments are not prepared to absorb the cost of the GST.
It is critical to point out that since doctors receive 99% of their professional earnings from the government health insurance plans, 4 they have absolutely no other option when it comes to recovering the GST - they must absorb it!
In summary, while a number of health care services are categorized as tax exempt, it must be emphasized that some providers "are more equal than others" under the GST - contrary to other health care providers, physicians do not have the ability to claim ITCs. This distinction becomes readily apparent when one considers the sources of (private and/or public) funding for such services.
IV. THE SEARCH FOR A SOLUTION
Like many others in Canadian society, physicians work hard to provide quality health care to their patients within what is almost exclusively a publicly-financed system for medical services. Physicians are no different from Canadians in that they, too, are consumers (and purchasers).
As consumers, physicians pay their fair share of taxes to support the wide range of valued government services. By the same token, as providers of health care, physicians have not accepted, nor should they accept, a perpetuation of the fundamental injustices built into the current GST, QST and proposed HST arrangements.
To date, the CMA has made representations to two Ministers of Finance and their Department Officials. We have discussed several ways to address a situation that is not sustainable, with no resolution to date. We look to this Committee and the federal government for a fair solution to this unresolved issue.
This unfair and discriminatory situation can be resolved. There is a solution that can serve to reinforce good economic policy with good health care policy in Canada. An amendment to the Excise Tax Act, the legislation which governs the GST (and proposed HST) can make an unfair situation fair to all Canadian physicians.
In its recent submission to the Standing Committee as part of the 1997 pre-budget consultation process, the CMA recommended "that medical services be zero-rated, in order to achieve a fair and equitable GST policy for physicians." In order to achieve this objective all health care services, including medical services, funded by the provinces could be zero-rated.
This recommendation serves to place physicians on a level playing field with other self-employed Canadians and small businesses. In addition, from a health care perspective, this would treat medical services in the same manner as that of prescription drugs. This is a reasonable proposition, as in many instances, medical treatments and drug regimens go hand-in-hand.
Furthermore, this recommendation would ensure that medical services under the GST and proposed HST would be no worse off than other goods or services that provincial governments' purchase and where suppliers can claim a tax refund (i.e., ITCs).
While the recommendation is an important statement in principle of what is required to address the current inequities under the GST, and soon to be HST, the CMA offers a more specific recommendation to the Standing Committee as to how the principles can be operationalized within the context of Bill C-70 and the Excise Tax Act.
The CMA respectfully recommends the following:
1. "THAT HEALTH CARE SERVICES FUNDED BY THE PROVINCES BE ZERO-RATED."
CMA has been advised that this would be accomplished by amending Bill C-70 as follows:
(1). Section 5 of Part II of Schedule V to the Excise Tax Act is replaced by the following:
5. "A supply (other than a zero-rated supply) made by a medical practitioner of a consultative, diagnostic, treatment or other health care service rendered to an individual (other than a surgical or dental service that is performed for cosmetic purposes and not for medical or reconstructive purposes)."
(2). Section 9 of Part II of Schedule V to the Excise Tax Act is repealed.
(3). Part II of Schedule VI to the Excise Tax Act is amended by adding the following after section 40:
41. A supply of any property or service but only if, and to the extent that, the consideration for the supply is payable or reimbursed by the government under a plan established under an Act of the legislature of the province to provide for health care services for all insured persons of the province.
By adopting the recommendation above, the federal government would fulfil, at least two over-arching policy objectives, they are:
1. Strengthening the relationship between good economic policy and good health policy in Canada; and,
2. Applying the fundamental principles that underpin our taxation system (fairness, efficiency, effectiveness), in all cases.
1 the Goods and Services Tax: Fairness for Physicians, Presentation to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance, Ottawa, Ontario, March 15, 1994. The Canadian Medical Association.
2 Review of the Impact of the Goods and Services Tax on Canadian Physicians, KPMG, June, 1992.
3 Review of the Impact of a Provincial Value Added Tax on Physicians in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland and Labrador, KPMG, August, 1996.
4 National Health Expenditures, 1975-1994, Health Canada, January 1996.