Hundreds of doctors filled a Halifax high school on Saturday for a town hall meeting about proposed changes to the federal tax system and one by one, for more than two hours, speakers predicted dire consequences for the health-care system if those changes are enacted.
The meeting was organized by Doctors Nova Scotia and was intended to give people a chance to discuss the proposal, which would, among other things, eliminate income sprinkling and remove the ability for a corporation to convert earnings to capital gains, a move that reduces taxes.
Doctors Nova Scotia says 75 per cent of doctors in the province are incorporated, a move the association — and doctors at the town hall — said helps physicians save for retirement and make up for the lack of formal sick benefits.
No one spoke in favour of the Liberal government's proposal at the meeting.
Fears of people leaving
Several woman who spoke said being incorporated allowed them to have some semblance of maternity leave they otherwise would not have been able to afford.
Other doctors talked about feeling unfairly portrayed, vilified and disrespected by the government's suggestion what they pay isn't fair.
Dr. Tim Wallace, an ears, nose and throat surgeon in Amherst, said doctors are facing tremendous strain every day at work and the proposal from Ottawa isn't helping the situation.
"Not only are people looking to leave, but you've got people who are wanting now to retire," he said. "Are they ready to see what's actually going to happen and are they ready to fulfill this?"
Politicians beg doctors to stay
Wallace said if the policy is implemented, the trickledown effect on the system could be severe as the list of people without a doctor grows.
Doctors Nova Scotia said 25 per cent of doctors in the province recently responded to a survey about the tax changes, which showed 451 doctors would consider leaving, 375 would look to cut back hours and 359 would look at focusing on more profitable services.
Saturday's event attracted only one federal politician — Conservative MP Lisa Raitt — as well as MLAs from all three provincial political parties. All pledged to bring the doctors' messages to the federal government in hopes of bringing some kind of change.
All of the MLAs who spoke implored doctors in the room not to leave the province.
Morneau says he's listening
On Friday, Premier Stephen McNeil met with federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau for about 40 minutes in Halifax.
Representatives for the premier's office described the meeting as a good discussion where McNeil laid out the concerns that have been brought to him.
Speaking at an event in Fredericton on Saturday, Morneau said he knows consideration needs to be given to any effects that would come with changes to the system.
The minister said the consultations that are happening are legitimate and intended to create a more fair system while also having a system that works for everyone.
"We're listening and we intend on considering people's points of view."
Morneau wouldn't address claims from medical associations that waves of doctors could leave their respective provinces or Canada altogether in search of greener pastures..
"It's an entirely hypothetical question," he said.
"What you're hearing from people is that they are looking at what we're considering and coming to conclusions based on lack of information as to what the final changes will be."
Some support for the plan
Consultation on the proposal goes until Oct. 2.
The unified voice at town halls such as the one in Halifax notwithstanding, not all doctors are opposed to what Morneau and the federal Liberals are pitching.
The Canadian Press reported this week that some doctors who support the proposed tax change, believing it will free up more money that can go toward the health-care system and address systemic shortcomings and delivery issues, are signing a letter that will go to Morneau expressing that view.