Citizens As Monetary Units (Hee, Hee. Hee, Hee. He Said ‘Unit’)

March 4, 2011

We here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke… and by ‘we’, I mean ‘me’, still all alone in this office for months now… I’ve been pondering upon this taxpayer vs. citizen notion. Probably much of that having to do with our Walmart manager mayor, Rob Ford, and all his talk of ‘value for money’ and Respect For The Taxpayer and “Good morning, sir. Can I help you? Linen and nachos? Aisle 37.”

It’s a monetization of citizenship.

The issue reared its head again recently, with the questions of spending over at the TCHC and the mayor’s own words a week or so ago when he was sputtering out blather in an attempt to cover yet another homophobic gaffe. He’d been the lone voice at council to vote against taking provincial funds to provide STI awareness and screening. His publicly stated reason? “Everyone says it’s provincial money. No. It’s taxpayers’ money. So, you know what? In the big picture, they say it doesn’t cost the city a dime. Well, it costs people money…”

That’s when it hit me. No, Mayor Ford, it isn’t the taxpayers’ money. Taxes are the rent we pay to live in a civilized society. (h/t Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr..) We pay so that we can walk/drive/bike on safe, clean streets. We pay to have potable water come directly into our homes and to have the sewage taken away. To have our garbage collected. The snow plowed. To educate our children. Etc., etc. etc. Taxes are what we owe in order that we can inhabit a hospitable environment and more easily get on with living our lives.

Take a look at this and see the breadth of services this city offers in return for the taxes we submit. I’d call that pretty good value for money. And if you still aren’t convinced and resent handing over your money, let me paraphrase a Tweet I saw awhile back. Go live in the fucking woods.

Yes, there are always hiccups. Misuse of funds. Sometimes even illegalities. That tends to happen in organizations that deal with billions of dollars a year. So far, though, even in gravy laden Toronto, it is a very small fraction of the overall money spent and, as the Auditor-General report shows, mechanisms are in place to root out and curb excesses.

How taxes are allocated and who pays how much is all part of the negotiation of living in a liberal democracy. Parties form around that particular issue. Some elections hinge on it. (See, Toronto municipal election, October 25th, 2010.)

I attended a transit seminar earlier this week at the Institute on Municipal Governance and Finance where one of the speakers was Barry Watson, President and Chief Executive Officer, of Environics Research Group. In his presentation, he stated over 2/3 of people expressed a preference for better services to tax cuts. In fact, in a survey done last December entitled Focus GTA, just as the Ford Nation was forming, more than 3 times the people asked cited transportation concerns over the issue of taxes. According to Dr. Watson, for most Canadians (both inside and outside Ford Nation presumably) the issue of taxation is not a major fixation. 70% of us see taxes as mostly a force for good, and that’s down noticeably over the past 5 years. I wonder why that could be.

Cue the anti-tax crusaders.

For, it seems, taxes do become a dominant issue when we start to believe that they are being squandered by our government, when all we hear about is wasteful spending, disrespect for the taxpayer and, yes, Teh Gravy Train. It’s almost as if our one note mayor and his crack team of messengers researched this and realized they could put together a winning formula by just harping on, over and over and over and over, about waste, excess and disrespect, using big numbers and de-contextualized anecdotal evidence, to blow the situation out of all proportion and beyond the actual reality on the ground. If one tended to cynically believe in that sort of crass politics, that is.

That is in no way to diminish the problems that arise like we’ve seen this week with the Toronto Community Housing Corporation. But we need to step back and take a more measured response, to try and understand its actual scope and the true degree of malfeasance at work here. Over-reacting and baying like bib-and-tuckered bloodhounds (for all you Christopher Fry fans out there) is counterproductive. It only plays into the mayor’s hands and his anti-tax/government spending histrionics. Without our indignation and outrage, he’s got nothing.

To survive, Mayor Ford needs to de-couple the notion of citizenry and taxation. He needs to reduce our relationship with government to nothing more than a straightforward financial transaction. He needs us to accept his view that taxes are extortion. Money unjustly and, quite possibly, criminally ripped from our wallets and fed into the gaping maw of an overweening and insatiable alien life force that serves no other purpose than to suck us dry.

We know better than that. Let’s stop falling prey to this nasty appeal to our worst instincts. It benefits no one in the long run except exploitive politicians bent on delivering us whole hog to the vagaries and indifference of pure, unfettered free marketry.

citizenly submitted by Cityslikr


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