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Fraser Institute

Ottawa’s health-care deal cements failed status quo in Canada

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From the Fraser Institute

By Mackenzie Moir and Jake Fuss

Canada will reach a projected $244.1 billion in 2023, which translates to $6,205 per person—nearly double the level of per-person spending (inflation-adjusted) three decades ago. And yet, last year Canadians endured the longest median wait time (27.7 weeks) ever recorded for non-emergency surgery.

Last week, as part of Ottawa’s promised $46 billion in additional health-care spending, the Trudeau government agreed to increase Quebec’s share of federal health-care dollars by $900 million annually. Quebec was the last province to reach an agreement with Ottawa before the March 31 deadline. With the closure of this agreement, Canadian taxpayers are on the hook for more health-care spending than ever before. For the same old broken health-care system.

Of course, it ultimately doesn’t matter whether the $46 billion originates from Ottawa or the provinces. In the end, Canadian taxpayers foot the bill. And what do we get in return for our health-care dollars?

In 2021, the latest year of comparable data, Canada’s total health-care spending (as a percentage of the economy) was the highest among 29 other comparable countries with universal health care (after adjusting for differences in population age). This isn’t a new development. Canada has a long history of having one of most expensive systems among high-income universal health-care countries.

Despite this, according to the latest comparable data, Canada ranks among the poorest performing universal health-care countries in key areas such as the number of physicians, hospital beds and diagnostic technology (e.g. MRI machines). Further, according to the Commonwealth Fund, in 2020 Canada ranked dead last on timely access to specialist consultations and non-emergency surgery.

Meanwhile, public health-care spending in Canada will reach a projected $244.1 billion in 2023, which translates to $6,205 per person—nearly double the level of per-person spending (inflation-adjusted) three decades ago. And yet, last year Canadians endured the longest median wait time (27.7 weeks) ever recorded for non-emergency surgery.

In short, Canada’s health-care system is in shambles, but the answer does not lie in simply throwing more money in its general direction. Federal politicians should instead look to the example of welfare reform during the Chrétien era in the 1990s. Those reforms, which reduced federal transfers to provinces and eliminated most of the “strings” attached to federal funding, resulted in increased provincial autonomy, greater policy experimentation, fewer Canadians needing welfare and savings for the federal government (i.e. taxpayers).

This is the opposite of today’s approach to health care, where the existing vehicle for federal funding (the Canada Health Transfer) is connected to the Canada Health Act (CHA), which prevents provincial governments from innovating and experimenting in health care by threatening financial penalties for non-compliance with often vaguely defined federal preferences. The result is a stalemate that satisfies no one and ensures that Canada’s policies remain at odds with the policies of our better-performing universal health-care peers.

While new federal dollars for health care are undoubtedly appealing to premiers, they will not improve the state of health care for Canadians. Until our federal politicians have the courage to reform the CHA and follow the example of 1990s welfare reform to improve outcomes, our health-care system’s unacceptable status quo will continue.

Business

Capital gains tax hike will cause widespread damage in Canadian economy

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From the Fraser Institute

By Jake Fuss and Grady Munro

According to an analysis by economist Jack Mintz, 50 per cent of taxpayers who claim more than $250,000 of capital gains in a year earned less than $117,592 in normal annual income from 2011 to 2021. These include individuals with modest annual incomes who own businesses, second homes or stocks, and who may choose to sell those assets once or infrequently in their lifetimes (such as at retirement)

On Monday, two months after tabling the federal budget, Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland introduced a motion in Parliament to increase taxes on capital gains. On Tuesday, the motion passed as the NDP, Bloc Québécois and Green Party voted with the Liberals. Unfortunately for Canadians, the tax hike will likely hurt Canada’s economy. And the finance minister continues to make misleading claims to defend it.

Currently, investors who sell capital assets pay taxes on 50 per cent of the gain (based on their highest marginal tax rate). On June 25, thanks to Freeland’s motion, that share will increase to 66.7 per cent for capital gains above $250,000. (Critically, the gain includes inflationary and real increases in the value of the asset.)

According to Minister Freeland, the hike is necessary because it will bring in more than $19 billion of revenue over five years to pay for new spending on housing, national defence and other programs. This claim is disingenuous for two reasons.

First, investors do not pay capital gains taxes until they sell assets and realize gains. A higher capital gains tax rate gives them an incentive to hold onto their investments, perhaps anticipating that a future government may reduce the rate. Individuals and businesses may not sell their assets as quickly as the government anticipates so the tax hike ends up generating less revenue than expected.

Second, the government does not have a revenue problem. Annual federal revenue is increasing and has grown (nominally) more than $185 billion (or 66.2 per cent) from 2014-15 to 2023-24. Before tabling the budget in April, the government was already anticipating annual revenue to increase by more than $27 billion this year. But the government has chosen to spend every dime it takes in (and then some) instead of being disciplined.

Years of unrestrained spending and borrowing have led to a precarious fiscal situation in Ottawa. If the government wanted to pay for new programs, it could’ve reduced spending in other areas. But Minister Freeland largely chose not to do this and sought new revenue tools after realizing this year’s deficit was on track to surpass her fiscal targets. Clearly, raising taxes to generate revenue was unnecessary and could’ve been avoided with more disciplined spending.

Further misleading Canadians, the Trudeau government claims this tax hike will only increase taxes for “0.13 per cent of Canadians.” But in reality, many Canadians earning modest incomes will pay capital gains taxes.

According to an analysis by economist Jack Mintz, 50 per cent of taxpayers who claim more than $250,000 of capital gains in a year earned less than $117,592 in normal annual income from 2011 to 2021. These include individuals with modest annual incomes who own businesses, second homes or stocks, and who may choose to sell those assets once or infrequently in their lifetimes (such as at retirement). Contrary to the government’s claims, the capital gains tax hike will affect 4.74 million investors in Canadian companies (or 15.8 per cent of all tax filers).

In sum, many Canadians who you wouldn’t consider among “the wealthiest” will earn capital gains exceeding $250,000 following the sale of their assets, and be impacted by Freeland’s hike.

Finally, the capital gains tax hike will also inhibit economic growth during a time when Canadians are seeing a historic decline in living standards. Capital gains taxes discourage entrepreneurship and business investment. By raising capital gains taxes the Trudeau government is reducing the return that entrepreneurs and investors can expect from starting a business or investing in the Canadian economy. This means that potential entrepreneurs or investors are more likely to take their ideas and money elsewhere, and Canadians will continue to suffer the consequences of a stagnating economy.

If Minister Freeland and the Trudeau government want to pave a path to widespread prosperity for Canadians, they should reverse their tax hike on capital gains.

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Energy

Natural resources remain backbone of Canada’s trade and prosperity

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From the Fraser Institute

By Jock Finlayson and Elmira Aliakbari

It’s hard to overstate the importance of energy to our economy. In its latest “scorecard” report, the Coalition for a Better Future notes that “over the past decade, Canada recorded a cumulative trade gap of $130 billion. Had it not been for energy, our trade gap would have been about $1 trillion.” By any measure, the energy sector punches above its weight when paying Canada’s bills.

Canada is a mid-sized economy accounting for roughly 2 per cent of global production. Within North America, we represent less than one-tenth of the collective output of the three national economies. Canada is also an “open” economy that relies on cross-border flows of trade, investment and knowledge to sustain our high living standards.

To pay our way in an unforgiving and very competitive world, Canada must produce and sell exports to customers in other markets. Among other benefits, these exports furnish the financial means to pay for the vast array of imports that enhance the wellbeing of Canadian households and allow many of our businesses to operate efficiently and grow.

In 2022, Canada exported $779 billion of goods to other countries, and $161 billion of services, for a total of $940 billion. About three-quarters of Canada’s exports are destined for a single market—the United States. Canada also sources the bulk of imports from the U.S.

A hard truth about Canada’s trade is the outsized role of natural resource-based products in the export mix. Added together, energy, non-metallic minerals (and related products), metal ores, forest products and agri-food (i.e. food produced from agriculture) comprise roughly half of Canada’s international exports of goods and services—a notably larger share than in other countries with advanced economies (apart from Australia and New Zealand).

Energy alone accounted for 27 per cent of Canada’s merchandise exports in 2022, generating $212 billion for Canadian businesses, workers and governments. Mining contributed $85 billion in export revenues, followed by forest products ($60 billion) and agri-food ($57 billion).

Within the broad energy basket, oil and oil-based products dominate, accounting for more than three-quarters of all energy-based export revenues. Despite innumerable speeches and press releases issued by the federal government, energy’s contribution to Canada’s exports is poised to increase in the next few years—due not to growing exports of “clean tech” goods, carbon-free electricity or hydrogen, but to pending liquefied natural gas (LNG) production in British Columbia coupled with rising volumes of Western Canadian oil shipments following the completion of pipeline expansion projects.

It’s hard to overstate the importance of energy to our economy. In its latest “scorecard” report, the Coalition for a Better Future notes that “over the past decade, Canada recorded a cumulative trade gap of $130 billion. Had it not been for energy, our trade gap would have been about $1 trillion.” By any measure, the energy sector punches above its weight when paying Canada’s bills. The same is true, albeit to a lesser extent, for the other major resource sectors.

Many Canadians, huddled in increasingly unaffordable urban communities that have few evident connections to the country’s natural resource economy, may be puzzled by the continued vital importance of resource extraction and processing to Canada’s prosperity.

Ultimately, any trading country has a ledger showing the trade surpluses and trade deficits of its industry sectors. In Canada’s case, a handful of sectors generate significant trade surpluses, which help finance the large trade deficits incurred in other parts of the economy.

The story is a simple one—positive trade balances in the energy, mining, forestry and agri-food sectors offset chronic—and in some cases fast-growing—trade deficits in consumer goods, chemicals and plastics, motor vehicles/parts, and industrial and electronic goods. Canada also runs a smallish deficit in our overall services trade.

The sectoral trade data are informative. Among other things, they tell us where Canada has a “comparative advantage” in the global context. For a market economy, a pattern of positive trade balances is evidence that it has a comparative advantage in industries that reliably report trade surpluses.

Armed with such information, smart policymakers should create and sustain a business and investment climate that champions and bolsters the commercial success of industries that underpin the export economy. This is a message the Trudeau government has had trouble digesting, perhaps because it relies heavily on the votes of a few large metropolitan areas while most rural and resource-dependent regions remain a political afterthought.

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