Monday, April 23, 2007

Mark Milke makes so much sense

A Canadian taxpayer’s declaration of common sense
Business in Vancouver April 17-23, 2007; issue 912
Mark Milke


With apologies to Thomas Paine and his Declaration of Common Sense, it’s tax season, which means we need a taxpayer version of his famous tract. Feel free to clip, e-mail and distribute to friends, relatives, politicians and the tax department.

A Taxpayer’s Declaration of Common Sense:

Taxes are a necessary burden, but governments are a middleman between the services citizens need and the money we pay for them. Wherever possible – which is more often than most politicians think – the middlemen should be cut out to reduce costs.

Thus, I don’t need government to insert itself between me and my purchase of wine, beer or automobile insurance. Nor do I need my taxing big brother to fund “public” television so reporters, talk show hosts and producers can tell the public what we should think.

Common sense would dictate that the [B.C.] provincial government should have refunded $1 billion to all taxpayers in 2006, instead of handing that taxpayers cash over to government unions.

Speaking of handouts, Canadian taxpayers don’t need to grant more cash to Bombardier, Pratt & Whitney and other Montreal-based, subsidy-seeking aerospace companies, any more than Brazilian taxpayers should be forced to subsidize Embraer Aerospace.

Memo to Industry Minister Maxime Bernier: how about letting corporations fight it out without also drafting taxpayers into the ring?

Speaking of Quebec and subsidies, which are – ahem – large, a common sense approach to taxation and spending would scale back and end transfers between governments. (With apologies to John Lennon, some will call me a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.)

After all, how can citizens hold governments accountable if Ottawa taxes us to fund health care and education in the provinces, while the provinces tax us to fund services in municipalities? If I didn’t know any better, I’d think perhaps the political class didn’t want to be held accountable.

Also, why would spend-happy governments such as those in Newfoundland and Quebec think about controlling their overspending given the rest of the country pays for part of it? It’s the ultimate pyramid scheme with taxpayers in B.C., Ontario and Alberta forever at the bottom of the pyramid.

As for justifiable spending, here’s a partial list: governments should spend tax dollars on daycare to help the single mom with two kids, but not the Montreal millionaire who doesn’t need the subsidy.

Politicians who wish to spend money on green causes, a noble endeavour, should first be clear on the useful ends for taxpayer cash. Here’s a hint: the creation of new Stanley Parks and environmental cleanups make sense and add to our urban environments; the diversion of taxpayer money to automobile companies in Ontario does not. With apologies to Pierre Trudeau, Ottawa should get out of the corporate boardrooms of the nation.

A few more sensible and nonsensical locations for tax dollars:

[] for women’s shelters, but not advocacy groups;

[] for immigrants to learn English, but never for terrorists who yet view Canada as a soft touch (and are regrettably correct);

[] for cops, not criminals (unless it’s to keep them in jail longer);

[] for seniors on fixed incomes, but not everyone over age 65 merely because they’re over 65;

[] for soldiers who try to keep families safe in Afghanistan, but never for bogus “asylum”-seekers from the United States who signed up with their own army and then went AWOL.

“Taxes are the price we pay for civilization,” said U.S. Supreme Court justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. in CompaƱia de Tabacos vs. Collector in 1904. True enough, when they’re smartly spent.

But when Holmes offered that quip, taxes in the United States and Canada were a fraction of what they are today.

In Canada, total government expenditures amounted to 9.5% of our economy in 1900 and 11.4% in 1910. Recent Canadian figures from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development now peg revenue to all levels of Canadian governments at 41.2 % of Gross Domestic Product.

My Canada includes taxes though lower, moderate levels are preferable to higher ones. But I’d like them expended with at least a modicum of common sense.

Sincerely,

Your Canadian Taxpayer
Mark Milke (mmilke@telus.net) is the author of A Nation of Serfs? from Wiley Canada. His column appears monthly in Business in Vancouver.

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