Three doctors from Cape Breton stood before a Senate committee on national finance in Halifax Tuesday and pleaded with its members to do whatever they could to protect doctors' income.

Among them was Dr. Caitlin Lees, the president of the Maritime Resident Doctors Board, who warned: "We are young, we are mobile and we will leave. It's not an empty threat."

The doctors are worried the federal government will put an end to a 20-year custom in this province of incorporating their private practices.

Perks of incorporating

The Savage government of the 1990s offered Nova Scotia doctors the option to incorporate as a way for them to save for retirement and pay for children's education, among other things.

At the time it was considered a way to recruit and retain doctors — especially in rural parts of the province.

senate meeting halifax doctors

Some doctors are worried the federal government will put an end to a 20-year custom in this province of incorporating their private practices. (CBC)

The money doctors hive away in their corporation is taxed at a much lower rate than their income.

"I have two children approaching university age," Dr. Craig Stone told the Senate committee. "I have no bought RESPs (registered education savings plan) or any such thing. I was relying on what the law was going to give me."

'It's also a life'

Dr. Maria Alexiadis explained to the committee that if had she not been able to incorporate her practice, she would never have been able to keep it going while she battled breast cancer.

Alexiadis said that ability also helps to pay for maternity leaves.

"It's not just a profession," Alexiadis said about being a physician. "It's also a life."

Doctors in Nova Scotia are given no more than 17 weeks of maternity leave, she said.

"And that's not a lot, especially right now when they're considering 18 months for the rest of Canada."

'Concerned about the uncertainty'

The Senate committee is touring the country gathering input on the Trudeau government's controversial tax reforms.

Besides hearing from doctors, the Senate committee also listened to members of the Atlantic Chamber of Commerce, who urged the committee to recommend a royal commission on tax reform.

"Right now our members are concerned about the uncertainty," said Glenn Davis of the Atlantic Chamber of Commerce.

Davis told the committee that small business owners, even if they make more than salaried workers, should not be taxed as heavily because it's the business owners who are assuming more risk.