Do Lawyers Care Less About Society Than Doctors?

This past week Dr. Michael Rachlis launched Doctors for Fair Taxation, calling for the top wealth earners in Canada to be taxed even further. Given that physicians are often prominent members of this tax bracket, the initiative attracted lots of attention.

Rachlis suggested to Toronto Star columnist Thomas Walkom that this could inspire a “Lawyers for Fair Taxation.” Walkom responded with skepticism, which to me was incredibly telling of the way that lawyers continue to be perceived in society.

The rationale behind Rachlis’ group is that income inequalities lead to poorer health indicators, and that the decline of social indicators in Canadian society is largely due to shrinking government revenues. Their proposal was explained in the Canadian Press,

Doctors for Fair Taxation are proposing new surtaxes that would tax any income over $100,000.

People who earn between $100,000 and $170,000 would pay an extra one per cent on the income between those two figures and income between $170,000 and $640,000 would be subject to an extra two per cent levy.

Income over $640,000 and less than $1.85 million would be hit with an additional three per cent and income over $1.85 million would be subject to an additional surtax of six per cent.

The group estimates that the federal government would earn an extra $3.5 billion a year and Ontario would raise an extra $1.7 billion.

A calculator is available here to determine how much more tax you would pay.

Raising taxes is one of the most unpopular moves possible for politicians, in almost any economic climate. So maybe it takes a group of physicians, who enjoy much a much higher public perception than politicians, to publicly encourage higher taxes for high earners, starting with them personally. Except that doctors enjoy a much higher public perception than lawyers as well, which always had me thinking.

The only way that lawyers will ever improve their perception in society is by increasing their pro bono work and publicly involving themselves in more altruistic work for the betterment of everyone. There are many things lawyers could learn from doctors, and this initiative is just one of them.

And so I introduce to you Lawyers for Fair Taxation. If the site looks remarkably similar as the physicians’ one, there’s a reason – we’ve been discussing with that group all weekend and plan on working closely with them. The one significant difference between the sites is the number of people who have signed the petition on each, because our site was just launched this afternoon. That distinction can only be changed by people like you signing the petition.

Although there are some voices who raise legal questions of equality under a progressive taxation regime, most Western economies accept that some level of progressive taxation is required to stimulate the economy. Since the economic recession there have been calls to simply increase the amounts at the top brackets.

What do lawyers have unique to add to the conversation? Well how about studies that show that income inequality is a predictor and possibly a determinant for homicide rates in Canada, for starters? The supposed benefits of reducing income inequality would be felt beyond the low-income targets of social programs, because middle-class citizens would live in safer neighbourhoods as well.

It may mean less work for criminal lawyers who handle homicide cases, in the same way that poorer health indicators result in less visits to the doctors. But that’s exactly why lawyers need to be on the record as supporting initiatives beyond their own self-interests.

There are already reports of an Engineers for Fair Taxation mobilizing. Please don’t let the lawyers be left out.


  1. As one who’s more than $100,000 and less than $100,000 (presently under), I don’t think that more taxes are called for. I believe that better use can be made of what we have.

    This country, and my province (the pool of oil province) have spending problems not taxation problems. I’m not sure that we don’t have the appropriate level of taxation already. Why should government get 1/2 of one’s earned income? Can someone provide me a convincing argument for that? I know that it can’t be zero, after all, those societies on are the tv to see everyday and NO ONE wants to live under those conditions (see Somalia and Afghanistan as examples where one pays no taxes). However, paying 1/2 of one’s income seems a bit extreme.

    From about 70K to 114K one pays (in my province) about 36-40% of one’s income in taxes. Isn’t that enough?

    Yeah, I know, typical lawyer response, but seriously. Why do we need to pay more? I don’t understand it. Doesn’t the state get enough of our hard earned dollars?

    The Wet One

  2. “The Wet One,”
    Yes, yours may be a typical lawyers’ response. But in my opinion we need some different legal voices available to demonstrate that we do have nuanced positions on these issues.

    We’ve been doing audits for years now, and the assumption that private sector spending is more efficient is now being demonstrated as false.

    At the same time we’re seeing significant tax cuts, mostly for the highest earners.

    We need government revenue for our health system (hence the doctors group), but also for social programs which will prevent young offenders from entering the justice system to begin with. For some reason we’re okay with having our taxes allocated to building mega prisons and throwing away the keys, but programs that have been demonstrated to be more cost effective than imprisonment are somehow problematic.

    Lawyers who don’t support tax increases may also care about society, in a different way. But in tough times those of us with more should be willing to sacrifice a bit more. That, in my books, is the greatest form of patriotism there is.

  3. RE: “This past week Dr. Michael Rachlis launched Doctors for Fair Taxation, calling for the top wealth earners in Canada to be taxed even further. Given that physicians are often prominent members of this tax bracket, the initiative attracted lots of attention.”

    This high-sounding proposal was bound to attact the press. But maybe it would be more practical to start with a more modest and possibly achievable goal? How about doctors start paying their entire CMPA premiums instead of having taxpayers (including the working poor) pick up 85% of the tab? In this way, each year the provinces could redirect the taxpayer cash currently being sent to the CMPA (so doctors can get high priced taxpayer funded “Cadillac” lawyering) toward something that might help improve the health and well being of the poor and vulnerable. If doctors aren’t even willing to do that – then it is unlikely many will get behind the proposal that they pay higher taxes. If they won’t stop downloading their CMPA fees on to the taxpayer (including the working poor) – then how likely is it that many will want to volunteer to pay more taxes? Here’s the thing – if CMPA contributions came entirely from doctors – then the doctors would be less inclined to let lawyers pay themselves from it so lavishly. (12 CMPA taxpayer paid lawyers simultaneously billing CMPA to defend Wai Ping! Get serious.)
    Wouldn’t this modest tax-oreinted initiative allow both doctors and lawyers to begin to demonstrate that they care about the broader society?