Do We Really Have To Talk About This?

Point 4. (Following, of course, points 1, 2 and 3.)



You know, we’d probably be happier with our governments if they just stopped asking us for money and, instead, concentrated their efforts on delivering the services we demand.

“It’s always the same issue,” Ehtisham Waqar told Jane Gerster of the Toronto Star (h/t David Hains for pointing me in the direction of the article). “Quality of life needs to increase and I think the only way to do that is to decrease taxes.”

Just like anything in life. You want more of it, at a better quality, pay less for it. It’s common business sense.

We seemed to have reached a fundamental divide these days between looking for practical solutions and wishful thinking. Goaded on by politicians of, increasingly, every stripe, we have convinced our collective selves that we pay too much in taxes to our governments and get too little in return. taxburdenWe pay too much or somebody else is paying too little. The point is, from a taxpayers’ perspective, we’re getting a raw deal with this arrangement.

How anti-tax minded have we become? The federal leader of the left-wing party in this country, those supposed tax-and-spenders, Thomas Mulcair sees any individual tax rate over 50% (I guess he’s talking marginal rates here) as confiscatory. Confiscatory, at 50%, which would be on the low side if we look back over the past 50 years or so, and which nowhere in the country do we sit at currently. But never mind. Out of the question. According to our silly socialists.

If we can’t get our loonie left to talk about the benefits and necessity of appropriate taxation applied fairly, then the anti-tax crusaders have won the battle. ducttaperepairOur public sphere will continue to be chronically under-funded, services and programs deemed increasingly inadequate and, having fenced off any talk of increasing revenue in the form of taxation as nothing short of extremism, our only response will be that of the above Mr. Waqar. Everything’s a mess. Cut taxes.

I’m not the first person to say this but I urge anyone who thinks we’re not receiving a good deal on the taxes we pay to go out and stand on a street corner, at a busy intersection and have a look around. Take a moment. Look hard.

If you don’t see, I don’t know, at least 5 services and pieces of infrastructure in place and paid for by your tax dollars that make the difference between living in a relatively accessible urban landscape instead of some ramshackle hut on a dirt road with outdoor plumbing, you’re not trying hard enough. And that’s just at a municipal level. Forget that school up the street or the hospital around the corner. What we get in return for the taxes we pay to City Hall happens all around us every day. badmathmanPerhaps we simply take it for granted.

Four years ago we bought, hook, line and sinker, the very fanciful notion of a confirmed tax hater that we were taxed too much (“The city doesn’t have a revenue problem.”) and all that was really needed was some fiscal discipline (“The city has a spending problem”). We could reduce spending by 5, 10% and not feel a lick of difference. Guaranteed.

Well, how’s that working for you, Mr. Waqar? All those potholes every block or so on the streets you drive. What about you, Mr. Generic Taxpayer? That tree limb that came crashing down in your yard during December’s ice storm, taking out the electricity and leaving you in the dark for 3 days over Christmas. Been cleaned up and collected yet? You been compensated for the food in your freezer that went off when the power took forever to be restored. Your basement now all spic-and-span after the July storm flooded it?

How’s it been, waiting for the Dufferin bus lately, Ms. Generic Taxpayer? Then cramming into the 4th subway car at Yonge and Bloor every rush hour. Imagine how paying even less taxes would greatly speed up your commute.badmath3

Anyone campaigning in 2014 on a flimsy platform built on Rob Ford’s fiscal agenda minus the scandals is doing nothing more than promising you exactly the same minus the scandals. That is, more potholes, less public transit, further weakening of infrastructure, increased user fees. A dirtier, more ragged, more congested city.

That is what’s happened since 2010. A general decline in the quality of life on the streets and in the communities of this city. And here’s the kicker. Spending has gone up with this administration as have property taxes. Sure, we got rid of one new source of revenue, the vehicle registration, which has only put further stress on others including the land transfer tax that the mayor also wants to do away with. We haven’t decreased overall spending or property taxes.

You know why?

Because we can’t.

It costs money to run this city, and no manner of magical thinking or mathematics can change that. You can’t even make do with less let alone do more with less. texaschainsawmassacreThe numbers simply don’t add up.

You certainly can choose to run the city on the cheap. That’s what we’ve been doing since 2010 but, as they say, you get what you pay for. A cheap city. A cheap city doesn’t thrive. It struggles and falters.

Toronto has been struggling and faltering. Doing more of the same, running the city on the cheap, can’t possibly turn things around for the better. It defies logic and common sense to believe otherwise.

So when a politician comes knocking at your door this campaign season and tells you our taxes are too high, ask them compared to what. The answer they give you will pretty much tell you if they’re fit to lead this city. The answer you want to hear will pretty much tell you if you’re serious about living in a vibrant, equitable city.

taxingly submitted by Cityslikr

Tax Class

OK, kids.

Today, we’re having a lesson on a very, very sensitive subject. teacheratachalkboardEverybody’s given me their signed permission slips from their parents or legal guardians, right? Good.

Today, we’ll be talking about taxes, or taxation. Some of you may’ve heard your parents, legal guardians or older siblings refer to it as taxedtodeath.

For a long time now, probably from before any of you were born, the words ‘taxes’ or ‘taxation’ were what people called ‘dirty words’. Not like the f-word or c-bomb but words many people said through gritted teeth as if they were very, very angry having to say them.

Yes, Sagittarius?

That’s right. Sometimes your daddy might use the f-word just before saying ‘taxes’. But hopefully your mommy washes his mouth out with soap if he does.


Nobody’s ever really liked taxes or taxation. In fact, there’s been a revolution or two fought over them. washyourmouthoutjpgBut most people, most people who aren’t blinkered ideologues, see taxes and taxation as a necessary part of creating healthy and functioning communities, towns, cities, countries and world. The famous American jurist, Oliver Wendell Holmes Junior, said way back over a hundred years ago that taxes were the price we pay for a civilized society.

Baskin? You have a question?

Yes, it just might be on your midterm.

But recently, many people have started to think of taxes or taxation as a burden, an unnecessary imposition upon them, even outright thievery. Hands up everybody who’s heard their daddy say that he knows how to spend his money better than some stupid politician or bureaucrat? Oh my. That’s a lot of you. Almost everybody.

Well, next time you hear your parents, legal guardians or older siblings say that, ask them, very politely because sometimes being challenged on their negative views on taxes and taxation makes people quite defensive and angry, ask how they would, with their hard-earned money out of their pockets, pave that road outside your house that they use every day. And if you get yelled at and told to go up to your room that just means they don’t really have a good answer to your question. Don’t be mad at them. livinginacaveThey just haven’t learned or they’ve forgotten that without everybody paying taxes, most of us would be still living in dirt houses, pulling our wagons over corduroy roads.

No, Buford. Those aren’t roads made out of pants. What is Mr. Stencil teaching you in history class?

I’m sorry, Slmantha, what was your question again?

Oh. That’s a very good question. Did everyone hear that? No? Slmantha asked about government waste and respect for the taxpayer.

Yes, class. Sometimes governments waste some of the taxpayer money taxpayers pay them. That is bad. The people involved in government who do that kind of thing should be held accountable.

But that doesn’t mean the concept of taxes and taxation is bad or inherently evil, as some non-politician politicians like to say. It just means that governments that rely on taxes and taxation need to take better care of how they spend that money. And ultimately, if they don’t, we can relieve them of that responsibility and vote them out of office.

Now, for every example of waste or fiscal malfeasance that tax critics—

I beg your pardon, Puntilly?

No. Malfeasance is not an insect. It means—well, just Google it on your computer. Malfeasance. M-A-L-F-E-A-S-A-N-C-E… “Intentionally doing something either legally or morally wrong, always involving dishonesty, illegality, or knowingly exceeding authority for improper reasons.” That’s right. taxesareevilAnd for every one of those, there’s 3, 4, 10, 100 examples of government revenue from taxes or taxation doing something positive for our society.

Here’s one, for example.

In Los Angeles County in a state called California in a place called the United States of America, where they have a history of hating taxes and keeping them so low that it’s almost taken them to the brink of bankruptcy, they passed in 2008 what is called Measure R, a proposition to raise their sales tax by ½ a cent over the next 30 years, and dedicate that money to building public transit because Los Angeles realized it was horribly congested. This is what’s happened so far, five years later. Click on the link. On the word ‘this’. Back, back. Three sentences ago. Four now…

Subways! Yes. LRTs! Yes. Dedicated busways! Yes. Cleaner air! Yes. Thousands and thousands of new job! Yes. Less congestion! Yes. More walking and biking! Yes and yes.

Now class, we here in Toronto and the wider region think it might be good to follow Los Angeles’s example and build more transit. Our congestion is pretty bad and we haven’t really built enough to keep up with our growing population. So we’ve been talking about new taxes too. People who don’t mind paying taxes call them ‘revenue tools’.

But there’s some real tax-hating, grumpy Guses out there, girls and boys. You say ‘tax’. They say ‘no’. You say ‘revenue tools’. They say that’s just four syllables for taxes. You say, But we really need to build transit because we’re dying here. They say, SubwaysSubwaysSubwaysPrivateSector.emptypockets2

Now I want you to click the link on the not particularly overly tax-friendly Globe and Mail article and see what they have to say about such stubborn anti-tax attitudes.

I’m sorry, what was that? You can’t get past the paywall? You’ve gone over your monthly article limit? Just go into your control panel and clear your browsing history. That should do it. Yes? Good.

Frenzien? Would you read out the 2nd last paragraph, please? Yes, you. Spit out your gum and read that paragraph, please.

It may be that our household budgets would be better off if we paid a little more now, as opposed to waiting and letting infrastructure and urban congestion get worse. We might also take the long view and say we’re saving our kids from massive tax hikes needed to repair our cities.

You see, children. When your parents or legal guardians complain about paying any more taxes to fund the building of new transit, what they’re really saying is, Screw you, kids. upyoursYou want a liveable city when you grow up? You pay for it.

Yes, Stanton. Teacher did just say ‘screw you’. I’m sorry but I’m a little upset right now.

When your parents or legal guardians complain about taxes, they’re simply being childish and refuse to have an adult conversation. So that’s why we’re talking about this now, in a classroom. Because somebody’s got to start acting like a grown up.

Any questions?

pedagogically submitted by Cityslikr

A Crisis Not Of Our Making

Earlier this year city of Toronto officials announced that if more child-care money wasn’t forthcoming from senior levels of government the city would have to close some 5 000 subsidized spaces over the next two years. As the budget process kicks into high gear this month, we will be hearing a lot of such talk: monetary shortfalls and program/service cuts. That will be followed by the inevitable calls for restraint and the getting of the fiscal house in order, especially with it being an election year.

I think it a good opportunity, however, to point out the way in which this exemplifies the off-kilter political dynamic at work and how municipalities as the street level, day-to-day providers of such things like day-care work at a disadvantage while facing the brunt of the public’s displeasure with decisions that are not, ultimately, made at a local level.

Upon coming to power four years ago, the federal Conservatives led by Stephen Harper rolled back the five billion dollar national child-care plan that the previous Liberal government had proposed, and replaced it with a more modest, shall we say, approach. Part of this new day-care tack on the Conservative government’s part was a one time grant to the provinces, totaling just over $250 million for Ontario. In turn, the Ontario government split that amount into four $63.5 million annual payments to municipalities; payments that run out on April 1st. Already the provincial government has had to pay out an additional $18 million to avoid disruptions during the current school term.

The second key decision in the equation was last fall’s announcement by Queen’s Park that it was going to fund full time kindergarden for the province’s 4 and 5 year-olds. In and of itself, this plan would seem to be unrelated to the day-care cash crunch. However, the removal of older children from day-care, in fact, makes day-care services more expensive because older children, in needing less hands-on attention, are less costly units. In their absence, it will require more money to provide and run day-care centres, therefore making day-care more expensive.

So, what you have is a day-care crisis in the making precipitated by decisions made by the two levels of senior government who do not provide the services. This is your asymmetrical, inverted democracy at work. Individual Canadians, 80% of whom live in urban municipalities, hand over the majority of their taxes to senior levels of government in the form of income and sales taxes. These levels of government then divvy up their expenditures based on whim and political necessity which, oftentimes, are diametrically opposed to the needs of individual Canadians.

This structure represents the height of inefficient governance and lies at the root of much of our municipalities’ money woes. Too much of our taxes go to where it is least needed and is doled out in an ad hoc, politically motivated manner. Yet, it is a situation that largely goes unremarked upon during the course of election campaigns. Rather than pointing fingers at each other, screaming waste, fat, inefficiency, municipal candidates should be aiming their fire at those who are truly responsible up on Parliament Hill in Ottawa and in the country’s provincial legislatures.

Thank you for reading.

submitted by Acaphlegmic