Thunderous applause met Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at nearly every turn during Wednesday night’s UBC Okanagan town hall, but he didn’t escape the event without some criticism.
Site C protesters gathered outside and people disillusioned by the Prime Minister’s failure to follow through with electoral reform had their say.
The issue that gained the most tread, however, was proposed taxation changes the government has said are designed to close loopholes that give wealthy, small-business owners an unfair advantage. Area residents had a lot to say.
They claimed that the federal government is creating a disparity between employees with benefits and small business owners without. The topic even prompted a pointed exchange between the PM and an anonymous audience member.
Dr. Anita Sanan, a local anesthesiologist, told the Prime Minister she went to school for 14 years and accrued a six-figure debt load to become a doctor. Now the future she worked toward isn’t coming together as planned.
“You moved the goalposts in the middle of the game and expect me somehow to be able to plan for my retirement, plan for maternity leave — which I will not be able to afford at this time — and I’m having to choose between having a family and actually practice here in Kelowna as a physician,” said Dr. Sanan.
Trudeau questioned her point on maternity leave.
“I’m not an expert on provincial policy, but I’m fairly certain there’s maternity leave for doctors in every single province in this country,” he said.
Sanan said he was incorrect, and across the room from where she stood, a man yelled “that’s a lie.”
“I said I was fairly certain, but I’m happy to be corrected,” Trudeau said, facing the heckler.
From there he went on to talk about how the current taxation system has already reinforced inequities.
“On the issue of two classes of citizens, we have a tax system right now that has created a double structure system where people who can afford to incorporate and create private corporations as a way of helping with their tax planning are already having access to things that employees and others do not,” he said.
“We have a system that treats people differently whether or not they’re making a certain amount of money and independent businesses or independent corporations, versus people who don’t have that option.”
The government plan is three parts. The first focuses on eliminating an incentive that enables small-business owners to use their corporations as a way to shift a portion of their income to family members who face lower personal tax rates, regardless of whether or not those relatives are not active in the business.
Another change would limit the use of private corporations to make passive investments in stocks or real estate.
The third reform would limit the ability to convert a corporation’s regular income into capital gains that are typically taxed at a lower rate.
These changes, said Trudeau, support the government focus of “creating better services, better opportunities and better help to the folks who really need it.”
That brought back the crowd support that defined the event that lured an estimated 2,600 area residents to the university’s gym.
One point where crowd support surged was when 12-year-old Tor Broughton addressed Trudeau.
“I don’t really have a question, but my name is Tor and I’m trans and I’d like to thank you and all the other MPs here for passing bill C16,” said Broughton, receiving a standing ovation.
Bill C-16, introduced in the Parliament of Canada on May 17, 2016 by the Liberal government, adds gender expression and identity as a protected ground to the Canadian Human Rights Act, and also to the Criminal Code provisions dealing with hate propaganda, incitement to genocide, and aggravating factors in sentencing.
Trudeau, who said afterward that the exchange nearly brought tears to his eyes, told Broughton that “defending rights is something we do as Canadians.”
“Defending each other’s rights goes to the heart of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, goes to the heart of how we are as a country,” he said.
Canadians, he said, need make sure everyone is treated with respect and dignity, given all the opportunities regardless of where they’re from, what their religion is, who they choose to love. “These are things that make us incredibly lucky as a country, but also something that gives us a level of responsibility …Not everybody has the opportunity around the world to stand up in a community hall like this and talk about their sexuality to be supported and applauded like you are tonight,” he said to Broughton.
He told the crowd that one of his great pleasures as Prime Minister was walking in Pride parades with his nine-year-old son and eight-year-old daughter because it provided an opportunity to speak about why pride events are still so important.
“They are a generation that doesn’t understand the transformation of our society (that happened) within the lifetime of everyone within this society,” he said. “We have changed our society in fundamental ways for the better and we need to continue to do it.”