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McGill will advocate for taxed post-docs

Senate discusses new taxes on graduate students

McGill administrators confirmed at Senate that they will work to advocate for post-doctoral researchers, in response to a sudden federal policy shift that classifies post-docs’ income as taxable.

PGSS president Daniel Simeone said at Senate that in the past, McGill postdocs were classed as students, were tax exempt, and received no benefits – in contrast to non-students, who are taxed, and receive state benefits. Now, with the release of the new federal budget classifying their income as taxable, they’re in the worst of both worlds, Simeone explained: being taxed, and receiving no benefits.

“The imposition of the new taxation regulations will have a detrimental effect on McGill post-docs’ quality of life, and will make it difficult for the recruitment of qualified personnel to McGill labs in the future,” Simeone told The Daily.

In a presentation on post docs at McGill, Martin Kreiswirth, dean of graduate and post-doctoral studies, said that postdocs are the most internationally mobile of all types of students, and raised the concern of conflicts between these new classification regulations and immigration rules. Many postdoctoral fellows aren’t authorized to work in Canada, but must now be classified as non-students.

“With very little advertising or forewarning, the government decided all post-doc income was taxable,” Kreiswirth said. “There was very little consultation done, and this flies in the face of other regulation of Immigration Canada.”
Simeone added during Senate that PGSS postdocs are more concerned with total income than their registered status, and asked President Heather Munroe-Blum for McGill to add to the level of monetary support for post-docs. Munroe-Blum replied that she appreciated the intent of the request and is “deeply concerned and committed” to the issue, though she was not prepared to commit to monetary funding on short notice.

“McGill on a policy level is certainly very supportive, though we did not expect to hear on short notice a guarantee for bridge funding for postdocs as we enter into a new taxation regime,” Simeone told The Daily. “If we are going to enter into a new taxation regime, the bridge funding to ease into a new funding reality would ensure that individuals are not hit with immediately disastrous financial circumstances.”
Estimates of the concentration of Canadian post-docs living in Quebec from the Canadian Assocation of Post-doctoral Studies place the numbers between 20 and 30 per cent.

According to Kreiswirth’s presentation, 504 of McGill post-docs are in the faculties of medicine and dentistry, 106 in science, 67 in engineering, 44 in arts, and 31 in agriculture and environmental sciences. They make an average yearly income of $38,000.

At the same time that post-doc income was defined as taxable, the government also created 140 postdoctoral fellowships, paying $70,000 a year each.

“The number of fellowships is 140, compared to 6,000 post-docs across the country…[and] the wisdom of a $70,000 fellowship is questionable,” Simeone said. “It would have perhaps been better to fund more post-docs with a $40,000 salary.'”

An abridged version of this story appeared in print on March 29.

Related articles:

There’s room to improve grad student resources, 10/1/09
Post-doc’s tax and childcare status rejected, 2/11/10
Commentary: real progressives say no to CFS, 3/27/10