“A fine is a tax for doing something wrong; a tax is a fine for doing something right.”
We pay too much tax in this country and the idea that government feels it is acceptable to raise or impose a tax to cover the costs of pet projects, cost overruns, or a growing bureaucracy, all contribute to a deterioration in the Canadian standard of living and even to a breakdown in the respect for law and order.
We are raised on the understanding that paying taxes is the price and the privilege of a smooth-running democracy. Well-structured taxes result in a better environment and more livable communities. Today, however, we face “tax creep” at every turn, as all governments seek more creative ways to obtain tax dollars in small increments while at the same time reducing services. Our money, and keep that in mind, it is our money, is spent on so many projects that consistently go over budget with little consequence or are spent on projects that cause the public to ask “why?” The lack of accountability for how tax dollars, from municipal and provincial to federal, are spent is raising the ire of the public.
There has been a lot of social media coverage about the impact of the GST on food products during this period of “shrinkflation.” While governments complain about the cost of food, the application of the GST to an expanded range of products has been ignored by the federal government which is benefitting from this unexpected windfall.
When the GST was established, it was decided that the tax would only apply to so-called “snack foods” and many of those were determined by size and volume. The focus today is on ice cream, which is generally 500 millilitres to avoid the GST. However, it is common now to buy a carton of ice cream, often at the same price or higher than before, which only contains 488 millilitres. This means that the GST can now be applied to that carton.
It seems now that every step we take, and every move we make, attracts a tax. Recently we learned that the City of Calgary is benefitting far more than we understood from its ownership of a local utility company. Calgarians are paying the highest electrical bills that we have ever seen. Growing up, did anyone talk about the cost of their monthly utility bill? Today, people who are struggling with increased mortgage or rent payments are suddenly having to factor utilities into their monthly budget. It’s another quiet source of revenue for the City that was never really discussed until it became a huge problem.
Spend a day just adding up the taxes you pay that seem to slide by without you noticing. The gasoline that you put into your car has a federal excise tax, a provincial excise tax, and a carbon tax and all of them together receive the GST.
At least in Alberta, we have the benefit of energy royalties to help keep income taxes down and supposedly move us to a balanced budget; but in many other provinces, the sales taxes are added. As I wrote a few weeks ago, with all of the taxes our governments collect, one should question why there is a national debt. There is a theory that all of the taxes a citizen pays should not exceed 33 per cent of their income. Yet, in Canada, that number is now more than 45 per cent and there is work being done to find new ways of taxation.
If our roads were all smooth, if our health care was excellent, if our schools and hospitals were all gleaming and our military was supplied with the best possible equipment and if we were paying wages that attract the very best professionals, then perhaps our taxes would seem justified. Instead, the media is filled with complaints about waiting lists, service levels in government offices, rough roads, and universities and trade schools that cannot produce the skilled people we need.
Accountability for how our tax dollars are spent simply must become a much bigger focus of government. We can’t continue on the current path.
George Brookman is chairman and company ambassador for WCD.