Manitobans —and those visiting the province— are a mixed bag on the concept of proposed health care premiums.
Premier Brian Pallister announced Wednesday that his government might introduce the new tax to offset rising health care costs.
“[I’m] Shocked to begin with,” said Loren Remillard, president and CEO of the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce.
“It’s troubling because it opens the floodgates for all sorts of new ways to tax Manitobans. Our response back to the province is: live within your means,” he said.
While Pallister said there would be a consultation period with the public beginning with an online survey, he noted there would be no referendum because it doesn’t involve income or sales tax.
Remillard countered it would align with the government’s campaign promise to put any major tax change to a referendum.
And while he commends the province for first consulting with Manitobans before implementing a new premium, he calls the proposed measure ‘troubling,’
“When we take a look at health care premiums in other jurisdictions, if Manitoba matches those other jurisdictions, where average two-income family pays about $75 a month, that family would face the cost equivalent of a 3% PST increase, ” he said.
“When you consider the litany of tax increases people have faced in recent years, everything from CPP, EI, Manitoba Hydro rate increases, the federal government is proposing some significant tax increases on small business, we’ve just really moved past tax fatigue into tax exhaustion.”
Others are open to paying more if it means improved service.
“It’s not a bad idea,” said Rylan Reed, when approached at The Forks Wednesday night.
“The prices are going up for everything. So if we want to enjoy this same sort of service at some point we’re going to have to pay. Whether there’s a hidden tax or an increase in tax at least Pallister is kind of being open about it and saying look this is what we’re charging for it so I’m OK with it. Transparency is good.”
Pallister said the premiums could help Manitoba maintain its level of care in the wake of changes to the rate at which federal health transfers will go up over the next several years.
But according to the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA), there are better ways of filling in those gaps.
“The health care premiums in other provinces haven’t worked so there’s other means to the provincial government that are income tested such as increasing personal income tax rates on upper income earners or corporations that would bring in this revenue,” said Molly McCracken, director of the Manitoba office of the CCPA.
Other provinces, like BC and Ontario, have health care premiums, while Alberta got rid of them in 2009.
Ian O’donnell, who was visiting Winnipeg from Edmonton and heads the Downtown Business Association there, said he and his partner used to pay about $615 a year for the premium.
“We certainly should look back and regret that we do not have them anymore. It was a relatively small amount spread across the province and it offset an amount of our healthcare expenditures,” he said.
He said now, the province is struggling to recoup health care spending, while the premium was ‘barely noticeable.’
“In Canada we always lament tax but at the end of the day we’re paying a relatively small amount of our income to an exceptional service..hopefully,” he said.
But the timing of Pallister’s proposal, in the height of the health care system overhaul in Manitoba, and resultant disruption to service, is the reason why one mother will not support a new tax.
“Not happy about it especially if it’s health care that has already been cut and then it would be substandard, in my opinion,” said Roberta Gramlich.