An Open Letter to the Provincial Treasurer

Last night on Compass, Hon. Mitch Murphy, the Provincial Treasurer, engaged in open speculation about his plans for dealing with the provincial deficit. One of the trial balloons he sent up was a new health care premium. Used in some other provinces already, this is a monthly or yearly fee, sometimes income-geared, that is charged as a separate fee to every citizen in return for health care privileges.

I don’t think this is a good idea.

I’m all for paying for health care, and perhaps more than most families, I’m in a position, after the birth of a child, and three major operations for our family in two years, to appreciate the value of having high quality, well-funded health care at our disposal.

I don’t have any problem paying more for health care. As long as the system is well-regulated, available to all, and is client-centred, I’ll contribute happily.

But introducing a health care premium is going to complicate my life, and the lives of my fellow citizens. Needlessly. It’s going to require an entirely new bureaucracy to maintain. We’re all going to have to remember to pay our premiums, and staff will have to be in place to send out invoices, process payments, chase down non-payers. There are going to have to be systems in place at the doctor’s office to handle people who haven’t paid their premiums: do they get denied access? And so on.

All of this seems like a waste when we already have an effective, well-maintained system of filing, collection, and enforcement through the income tax system. A simple administrative change to the provincial income tax rate could achieve the same increase in revenue, without the need to introduce an entirely new level of bureaucracy.

So, Minister Murphy, please consider this as feedback to your trial balloon: charge me more for health care, but do it simply by increasing my taxes. Please.


Al's picture
Al on March 5, 2004 - 00:38 Permalink

This is what happens when politicians paint themselves into a corner equatig taxation with theft every four years.

GiArc's picture
GiArc on March 5, 2004 - 05:15 Permalink

So here

Ken's picture
Ken on March 5, 2004 - 16:17 Permalink

Same argument Peter for toll booths, why not collect that money at the pump? In fact it money is collected on fuel for roads now, and we’re paying tolls. If it’s about creatign employment, well then, lets toll booth every mile until we reach full employment!

It’s not where the tax is drawn, it’s who’s department it’s drawn into and the effect of tapping people in an entirely new place. New revenue, hah!

The good news is, PEI is not run by the super rich like America. PEI has few super-rich voters. This means, like every time in the past, people will bitterly complain if a medical surcharge is levied — and they will not vote for a government that introduces user-charges.

I think they should mandate hospital-service hours on users, when you see the doctor for fifteen minutes, you must contribute fifteen minutes of time to your local hospital. What do you think about that?

Marcus's picture
Marcus on March 5, 2004 - 16:50 Permalink

One way to eliminate part of PEI’s cash-cow-provincial-spending at least in DOT is road tolls. I’d be all for tolls on some of our major roads. Highways are the biggest darned sinkhole that Canadian provinces are suckered into paying for.

They take up huge amounts of land, we have to pay for their upkeep through ongoing maintenance.

Why should PEI’s *extremely* limited tax base have to pay for paved roads across the entire Island that are enjoyed by 1.5 million tourists each summer. Make them pay some.

Politicians (on PEI at least) use them as patronage-weilding leverage over their ridings.

New and improved roads, provided freely by the taxpayer, contribute to urban sprawl. Our countryside since the fixed link was built has witnessed more than its share of poor planning, where farmland continues to get subdivided so that single-detached homes dot our country roads. (When will the province mandate the entire province under a single municipal-type planning entity?)

And the kicker is that the trucking industry gets to drive on taxpayer-subsidized roads for free. A single loaded semi-truck passing over a stretch of pavement has the same wear-and-tear impact on the road surface as the passage of 9,000 cars.

Gas taxes should be an environmental tax to pay for society’s cost of breathing exhaust fumes. Tolls should be user-pay and cover the cost of the infrastructure. There should be no need to pay for roads from general revenue.

Peter Rukavina's picture
Peter Rukavina on March 5, 2004 - 18:34 Permalink

1.5 million tourists x $100 “visitor fee” = $150 million.

Robert  Paterson's picture
Robert Paterson on March 5, 2004 - 19:05 Permalink

A reason why I support some kind of user fee is that it pushes back at usage. It is the utilization of the system that is causing it to go out of control. Oh you say that is a regressive tax on the poor.

A lot of usage is about colds feeling shitty etc. Take 2 asprin and see me later works well becuase in most cases that’s all it is. This is not my opinion it iw what the numbers tell us. A $10 dollar fee hits hard at the utilization issue that is larger than the funding issue — Peter, we could find a neat way to collect it if we tried

Alan's picture
Alan on March 5, 2004 - 19:53 Permalink

$100 tourist fee + registering your names for the new Phillip Brown government database = 700,000 tourists.

Oliver B's picture
Oliver B on March 5, 2004 - 20:50 Permalink

Visitor fees are a beautiful idea in the abstract, but diplomatically they’re a disaster. Fees for visas go up and down with the tensions that existing between host and guest nation, and to me this squares perfectly with the effect the cost has on me, at least at point of purchase. It makes a visitor feel discriminated against and hence unwelcome. It’s some host that charges you to enter his living room. The mountain trekking fee in Nepal is only barely tolerable, and I don’t think it would be, if it were Switzerland, unless even domestic tourists from Zurich had to pay it (the problem is that the local mountain dwellers can trek around all they want for free and make money selling things to the visitors). Visitor fees to national parks I find sort of O.K., because visitors must derive additional benefits over whatever indirect benefits are enjoyed by taxpayers that don’t visit the parks. But to charge a foreigner extra just because he or she is a foreigner? That says “you’re not like us,” and I would expect that to discourage visits at least to some extent. I don’t know if that’s just an argument for ruling it out all together or just for pricing the fee very carefully.

Peter Rukavina's picture
Peter Rukavina on March 5, 2004 - 21:38 Permalink

Here’s what I wonder (and I truly don’t know the answer): do we put up with tourists here on Prince Edward Island because their spending is a pillar of our economy, or do we truly welcome them here? And is there a limit to how many we will accept?

Alan's picture
Alan on March 5, 2004 - 21:57 Permalink

I think there is no one answer for that. I think the ladies of Cavendish United are as welcoming as any when they host their strawbery social. This is probably a better measure of societal warmth than the form of welcome that you might expect from, say, waiting staff at any given restaurant which seldom measures up to its press. Unlike Newfoundlanders, Prince Edward Islanders are not the outgoing welcoming sort, more the cup of tea types. Hence no “screeching in” sort of welcome — despite the excellence of the moonshine.

Your generic tax on entry, like your limit on entry, is also likely unconstitutional as restrictions on the mobility right of all Canadians — besides, how would you exercise your “we will accept”?

Marcus's picture
Marcus on March 5, 2004 - 22:02 Permalink

How about triple-taxation for out-of-province land owners?


How about charging $100/foot of shore frontage for all waterfront property owners, *if* you have an improved property located on a waterfront lot (with some grandfathering for old family farms, etc.)?

The land-use commission’s findings under Doug Boylan and others seems to have gone the wayside in the past decade. Rural subdivisions, cottage developments, resorts alongside national parks, etc. should all face very high property taxes. This could help pay for a much-needed province-wide public transit system.

Then use user-fees in hospitals and road tolls, and cut backs to the civil service to make up the rest.

You don’t have to roll back wages, just cut back the number on the gov’t payroll. Why couldn’t the maritimes start sharing on resources for bureaucracy? PEI’s population is the same as the town of Oakville, Ontario (140,000 +/- ). There’s no need to be $1 billion+ in debt and have a $140 million+ deficit this year. We have one of the largest public sector economies in the country and there’s no need for it.

My 2 cents (hopefully not taxed by Mitch Murphy for his poor management).

Marcus's picture
Marcus on March 5, 2004 - 22:19 Permalink

We have one of the largest public sector economies in the country and there’s no need for it.

I meant to add “per-capita” in there. Seriously though? Since when was it decided that our service-sector jobs would be filled by government employment? 6-8 thousand public sector employees are not needed to run a place like PEI.

We need a fundamental rethinking about what role our provincial gov’t has to play in providing services to the taxpayers of this province. We’re not getting value for our tax dollars by paying for an inflated bureaucracy, underutilized schools, hospitals every 30 km… Remember the old PEI Railway — they had a station every 2.5 miles. The thing was bankrupt before it even ran a single train & Canada had to bail us out through Confederation-blackmail.

Buy bureaucratic services from New Brunswick (or Nova Scotia), or merge with them the dep’ts of education, health, transportation, etc. Keep a few dept’s like economic development, service PEI, intergovernmental relations, etc. Adding services for 140,000 taxpayers onto jurisdictions of 800-950 thousand would be much more efficient than wasting our money on our own in-house bureacracy.

PEI should be run more like a widespread municipality. Halifax Regional Municipality is larger in area than PEI, and has 3 times as many citizens.

Why can’t the Island think outside the box:

* can the municipal governments
* bring in comprehensive province-wide zoning for every square inch of the landmass
* make the premier & 26 other assembly members have more responsibility to the citizens
* put most delivery of big-ticket bureaucracies in the hands of NS & NB or others (contract it out every year or two — make those provinces bid on providing these services).
* bring in user fees for hospital visits, etc.
* bring in road tolls
* bring in some type of visitor tax to pay for the tourism dep’t.
* bring in out-of-province land-ownership taxes
* bring in higher waterfront property taxes
* bring in higher resort/tourist accomodation facility taxes

Oliver B's picture
Oliver B on March 5, 2004 - 23:00 Permalink

Here’s an idea to reduce beaurocracy: Give up provincial status and reincorporate PEI as a city of Nova Scotia. Let the Nova Scotia bureacracy take care of health care and other province-level concerns. I’m sure your future sister city Oakville would have even more advice.

Oliver B's picture
Oliver B on March 5, 2004 - 23:01 Permalink

bureaucracy” may be closer to the actual spelling

Casper's picture
Casper on March 5, 2004 - 23:06 Permalink

Marcus, thanks for reminding me why I don’t think I’ll ever be coming “home.” I already get fleeced as a non-resident taxpayer (about 40% above the regular rate), and you blithely suggest that I should pay 3 times the regular rate. You and Peter have also come up with the brilliant suggestion that every time I come “home” to attend a family gathering, or deal with family responsibilities, I should be taxed another $100 as a “visitor.”

(By the way, all those waterfront lots are already taxed at a much higher rate than other property.)

You fellas must think that as soon as you start working on the mainland, you get paid in gold bars. Well PEI already plays the milk-the-mainlanders game to the max. It’s just that the best of that boodle has always gone to the Island’s political bosses and their business cronies (the ones building monster homes from one end of the Island to the other).

Rob L.'s picture
Rob L. on March 5, 2004 - 23:43 Permalink

I say we declare Borden-Carleton a National Park and collect the fee at the bridge toll. Maybe the Charlottetown airport too.

Ken's picture
Ken on March 6, 2004 - 01:34 Permalink

Real creative ideas here, y’all sound like second rate mafia types, let’s hope that the PEI legislature can think beyond “tax foreigners”…

<h2>What about tax free land for non-residents?</h2>

Thinking…rising land prices…thinking…local control…thinking…land rush.

Other ideas: pass some offshore banking regulations, invest in the porn industry, become the nations graveyard…

Chris's picture
Chris on March 6, 2004 - 14:31 Permalink

Buy beraucratic services from NS and NB? hhhhhmmmmmmm, do you think the people who would then collect a salary in NB and NS would come back to the Island and spend?
Why don’t we just take everyones job on the island and give it to someone in T.O. ? This would surely reduce gov’t expenditures.

Alan's picture
Alan on March 6, 2004 - 15:31 Permalink

The funniest thing about this thread is how little anyone wants to pay for expenditures out of their own pockets — which was Peter’s point. Why don’t you just suck it up and add a 200 buck surcharge to income taxes? [$200 x 68,000 employed workers = 1,360,000 which is more than enough to cover the 2004-2005 shortfall and a large part of the additional interest for the 2003-2004 increased debt. $16.67 per month.] Then you do not put off tourists or any other customers, you have the pride of taking care of your own problems and you learn to budget according your means.

Casper's picture
Casper on March 6, 2004 - 22:15 Permalink

Good point, Alan. Citizens have put up with the sleazy politics that permitted this situation to develop, and then everyone tears their hair when a political system riddled with patronage, cynicism, and pork-barrelling produces exactly what you’d expect of it.

I agree with the many statements that the government is needlessly bloated and inefficient. But the sad truth is: that’s pretty much how Islanders have liked it for as long as anyone can remember.

Islanders are very enthusiastic about the electoral “game” and seem to think it’s just fine for the spoils

Oliver B's picture
Oliver B on March 6, 2004 - 22:20 Permalink

(to Chris)Economy of scale ought to apply to bureacracy as much as anything. It’s got to be inefficient for a small population to maintain all the bureaucratic trappings of a provices. So, all things equal, it should be cheaper per capita for Nova Scotatians and Islanders to buy their provincial bureaucratic services from a single provincial administration in Nova Scotia. No need to hold a referendum on my account though. It was just an idea.

Tony Lohnes's picture
Tony Lohnes on November 14, 2004 - 00:57 Permalink

Prince Edward Island does not need Sunday shopping. If Sunday shopping is to be allowed lets open the banks,government & Municipal offices,schools,universities, lets get mail delivered on Sunday! Are we not human beings any more? That can think ,rest,spend a day with our families? Forcing retail workers to work on Sunday is unfair and does not show any choice. Sunday shopping should be banned all together in Prince Edward Island.