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Fraser Institute

Bill Maher is right about Canadian health care

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4 minute read

From the Fraser Institute

By Mackenzie Moir

Recently, popular American comedian and talk show host, Bill Maher, took aim at some of Canada’s public policy failings in one of his monologues. In entertaining fashion, Maher highlighted our high housing costs, unemployment rates and “vaunted” health-care system.

Indeed, citing work published by the Fraser Institute, he explained that after adjusting for age, Canada spends 13.3 per cent of our economy on health care (2020), the highest level of spending by a developed country with universal coverage that year. And that Canada has some of the poorest access to timely appointments with family doctors when compared to our peers.

Unfortunately, while that’s where his segment on health care ended, the bad news for the Canadian system doesn’t stop there.

On top of Canada continuing to be one of the most expensive universal health-care systems in the world, we get little in return when it comes to both available medical resources and wait times. For example, among high-income countries with universal health care, Canada has some of the lowest numbers of physicians, hospital beds, MRI machines and CT scanners.

And in Canada, only 38 per cent of patients report seeing a specialist within four weeks (compared to 69 per cent in the Netherlands) and only 62 per cent report receiving non-emergency surgery within four months (compared to 99 per cent in Germany).

Unfortunately, wait times in Canada aren’t simply long compared to other countries, they’re the longest they’ve ever been. Last year the median wait for a Canadian patient seeking non-emergency care reached 27.7 weeks—nearly three times longer than the 9.3 week-wait Canadians experienced three decades ago.

This raises the obvious question. How do other countries outperform Canada’s health-care system while also often spending less as a share of their economies? In short, their approach to universal health care, and in particular their relationship with the private sector, departs drastically from the approach here at home.

Australia, for example, partners with private hospitals to deliver the majority (58.6 per cent) of all non-emergency surgeries within its universal health-care system. Australia also spends less of its total economy (i.e. GDP) on health care but outperforms Canada on every measure of timely care.

Even with restrictions on the private sector, Canada has some limited experience that should encourage policymakers to embrace greater private-sector involvement. Saskatchewan, for example, contracted with private surgical clinics starting in 2010 to deliver publicly-funded services as part of a four-year initiative to reduce wait times, which were among the longest in the country. Between 2010 and 2014, wait times in the province fell from 26.5 weeks to 14.2 weeks. After the initiative ended, the province’s wait times began to grow.

More recently, Quebec, which has some of the shortest wait times for medical services in the country, contracts out one out of every six day-surgeries to private clinics within the publicly-funded health-care system.

Maher’s monologue, which was viewed by millions online, highlighted the key failings of Canada’s health-care system. If policymakers in Ottawa and the provinces want to fix Canadian health care, they must learn from other countries that deliver universal health-care at the same or even lower cost, often with better access and results for patients.

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Business

Ottawa should end war on plastics for sake of the environment

Published on

From the Fraser Institute

By Kenneth P. Green

Here’s the shocker: Meng shows that for 15 out of the 16 uses, plastic products incur fewer GHG emissions than their alternatives…

For example, when you swap plastic grocery bags for paper, you get 80 per cent higher GHG emissions. Substituting plastic furniture for wood—50 per cent higher GHG emissions. Substitute plastic-based carpeting with wool—80 per cent higher GHG emissions.

It’s been known for years that efforts to ban plastic products—and encourage people to use alternatives such as paper, metal or glass—can backfire. By banning plastic waste and plastic products, governments lead consumers to switch to substitutes, but those substitutes, mainly bulkier and heavier paper-based products, mean more waste to manage.

Now a new study by Fanran Meng of the University of Sheffield drives the point home—plastic substitutes are not inherently better for the environment. Meng uses comprehensive life-cycle analysis to understand how plastic substitutes increase or decrease greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by assessing the GHG emissions of 16 uses of plastics in five major plastic-using sectors: packaging, building and construction, automotive, textiles and consumer durables. These plastics, according to Meng, account for about 90 per cent of global plastic volume.

Here’s the shocker: Meng shows that for 15 out of the 16 uses, plastic products incur fewer GHG emissions than their alternatives. Read that again. When considering 90 per cent of global plastic use, alternatives to plastic lead to greater GHG emissions than the plastic products they displace. For example, when you swap plastic grocery bags for paper, you get 80 per cent higher GHG emissions. Substituting plastic furniture for wood—50 per cent higher GHG emissions. Substitute plastic-based carpeting with wool—80 per cent higher GHG emissions.

A few substitutions were GHG neutral, such as swapping plastic drinking cups and milk containers with paper alternatives. But overall, in the 13 uses where a plastic product has lower emissions than its non-plastic alternatives, the GHG emission impact is between 10 per cent and 90 per cent lower than the next-best alternatives.

Meng concludes that “Across most applications, simply switching from plastics to currently available non-plastic alternatives is not a viable solution for reducing GHG emissions. Therefore, care should be taken when formulating policies or interventions to reduce plastic demand that they result in the removal of the plastics from use rather than a switch to an alternative material” adding that “applying material substitution strategies to plastics never really makes sense.” Instead, Meng suggests that policies encouraging re-use of plastic products would more effectively reduce GHG emissions associated with plastics, which, globally, are responsible for 4.5 per cent of global emissions.

The Meng study should drive the last nail into the coffin of the war on plastics. This study shows that encouraging substitutes for plastic—a key element of the Trudeau government’s climate plan—will lead to higher GHG emissions than sticking with plastics, making it more difficult to achieve the government’s goal of making Canada a “net-zero” emitter of GHG by 2050.

Clearly, the Trudeau government should end its misguided campaign against plastic products, “single use” or otherwise. According to the evidence, plastic bans and substitution policies not only deprive Canadians of products they value (and in many cases, products that protect human health), they are bad for the environment and bad for the climate. The government should encourage Canadians to reuse their plastic products rather than replace them.

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Economy

Prime minister’s misleading capital gains video misses the point

Published on

From the Fraser Institute

By Jake Fuss and Alex Whalen

According to a 2021 study published by the Fraser Institute, 38.4 per cent of those who paid capital gains taxes in Canada earned less than $100,000 per year, and 18.3 per cent earned less than $50,000. Yet in his video, Prime Minister Trudeau claims that his capital gains tax hike will affect only the richest “0.13 per cent of Canadians”

This week, Prime Minister Trudeau released a video about his government’s decision to increase capital gains taxes. Unfortunately, he made several misleading claims while failing to acknowledge the harmful effects this tax increase will have on a broad swath of Canadians.

Right now, individuals and businesses who sell capital assets pay taxes on 50 per cent of the gain (based on their full marginal rate). Beginning on June 25, however, the Trudeau government will increase that share to 66.7 per cent for capital gains above $250,000. People with gains above that amount will again pay their full marginal rate, but now on two-thirds of the gain.

In the video, which you can view online, the prime minister claims that this tax increase will affect only the “very richest” people in Canada and will generate significant new revenue—$20 billion, according to him—to pay for social programs. But economic research and data on capital gains taxes reveal a different picture.

For starters, it simply isn’t true that capital gains taxes only affect the wealthy. Many Canadians who incur capital gains taxes, such as small business owners, may only do so once in their lifetimes.

For example, a plumber who makes $90,000 annually may choose to sell his business for $500,000 at retirement. In that year, the plumber’s income is exaggerated because it includes the capital gain rather than only his normal income. In fact, according to a 2021 study published by the Fraser Institute, 38.4 per cent of those who paid capital gains taxes in Canada earned less than $100,000 per year, and 18.3 per cent earned less than $50,000. Yet in his video, Prime Minister Trudeau claims that his capital gains tax hike will affect only the richest “0.13 per cent of Canadians” with an “average income of $1.4 million a year.”

But this is a misleading statement. Why? Because it creates a distorted view of who will pay these capital gains taxes. Many Canadians with modest annual incomes own businesses, second homes or stocks and could end up paying these higher taxes following a onetime sale where the appreciation of their asset equals at least $250,000.

Moreover, economic research finds that capital taxes remain among the most economically damaging forms of taxation precisely because they reduce the incentive to innovate and invest. By increasing them the government will deter investment in Canada and chase away capital at a time when we badly need it. Business investment, which is crucial to boost living standards and incomes for Canadians, is collapsing in Canada. This tax hike will make a bad economic situation worse.

Finally, as noted, in the video the prime minister claims that this tax increase will generate “almost $20 billion in new revenue.” But investors do not incur capital gains taxes until they sell an asset and realize a gain. A higher capital gains tax rate gives them an incentive to hold onto their investments, perhaps until the rate is reduced after a change in government. According to economists, this “lock-in” effect can stifle economic activity. The Trudeau government likely bases its “$20 billion” number on an assumption that investors will sell their assets sooner rather than later—perhaps before June 25, to take advantage of the old inclusion rate before it disappears (although because the government has not revealed exactly how the new rate will apply that seems less likely). Of course, if revenue from the tax hike does turn out to be less than anticipated, the government will incur larger budget deficits than planned and plunge us further into debt.

Contrary to Prime Minister Trudeau’s claims, raising capital gains taxes will not improve fairness. It’s bad for investment, the economy and the living standards of Canadians.

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