Quick, Liberals - here's your chance

Lana
Lana Payne
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As far as blunders go, this one has the potential to be a whopper. That is, if the prime minister's opponents can turn his anti-tax tirade to the Globe and Mail to their advantage.

Usually, it's Canada's finance minister, Jim Flaherty, who speaks without thinking things through. But this time, it was his boss.

As far as blunders go, this one has the potential to be a whopper. That is, if the prime minister's opponents can turn his anti-tax tirade to the Globe and Mail to their advantage.

Usually, it's Canada's finance minister, Jim Flaherty, who speaks without thinking things through. But this time, it was his boss.

By now, you've probably read about the exclusive interview Prime Minister Stephen Harper gave to the Globe and Mail after the G8 leaders met in Italy.

During that interview, the prime minister said this about taxes: "You know, there's two schools in economics on this, one is that there are some good taxes and the other is that no taxes are good taxes. I'm in the latter category. I don't believe any taxes are good taxes."

As was pointed out by several Globe columnists, this is quite an astounding statement coming from a prime minister, even from Canada's most right-wing prime minister.

To say all taxes are bad is just plain stupid.

Taxes are the way we build our nation. They pay for health care, so everyone has access to care no matter the size of their pocketbook. The same can be said for education, clean drinking water, meat and food inspection, roads and bridges, and a long list of critically important public services that we would not have if we did not pay taxes.

I do not understand people who run for government, but do not believe in government and the good government can do to make the world we live in a better place.

We have a prime minister who does not believe in government or in the taxes that build of our nation and, just as importantly, our society.

They build our strong foundation

Taxes, and what we do with them, say something about the kind of country we want: a nation built on the principles of caring and sharing. Taxes and what we do with them say something about the kind of Canada we want: one where no one gets left behind. This may not be everyone's view, but certainly enough people in our country support a more caring society, which is why we have and continue to have universal health care - a dream yet to be realized by the United States and many other nations in the world.

Taxes and the public services we create with those taxes are everyone's wealth; they are, quite simply, our commonwealth.

But clearly these are not things our prime minister's believes in. So if all taxes are bad, does that mean - according to the prime minister's theory - that the things we fund and build with our taxes are also bad? Does this mean, that universal health care is also bad? Does this mean the prime minister prefers the alternative? Private health care that only those with plenty can afford?

What about education? If taxes are bad and they pay for public schools and public education and teachers' salaries, does that mean affording all children - no matter the income of their parents - a decent education paid for with our collective tax dollars is bad? Because the alternative is pretty scary.

Imagine how squeezed families would be if they had to pay for school tuition every September, or for every visit to the doctor's office. How would we ensure our water is safe to drink, or food is safe to eat, without taxes?

This notion that all taxes are bad, as revealing as it was, could cause the prime minister more trouble than he thinks.

If the Liberals play their cards right, they can turn this blunder into a debate on the value of our tax dollars and what we get from them. But the first step is to be bold and not afraid of the debate.

Because what we get from our taxes is quite the deal, according to one recent study.

Canada's Quiet Bargain, by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, found that Canadian households enjoy a higher quality of life because of the public services their taxes fund.

"Our taxes pay for services that are extremely valuable to Canadians. The suggestion we often hear, that taxes are a burden, hides the reality that our taxes fund public services that make Canada's standard of living among the very best," according to economist Hugh MacKenzie, who co-authored the report.

For example, middle-income Canadian families enjoy public services worth about $41,000 annually - equal to about 63 per cent of their income.

The study also found that 80 per cent of Canadians would be better off if the federal government hadn't cut the GST; 75 per cent would be better off if their provincial governments invested in public services instead of broad-based income tax cuts; and 88 per cent would be better off without federal cuts to capital gains taxes.

"Tax cuts are always made to sound like they're free money to middle-income Canadians - they are anything but," says Mackenzie.

"We're far better off with the public services our taxes fund than we are with tax cuts."

It's time for the big Canadian tax debate, and once again Stephen Harper may find that he is in the minority.

Lana Payne is president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour. She can be reached by e-mail at lanapayne@nl.rogers.com. Her column returns Aug. 1.

Organizations: Globe and Mail, Canadian Centre, Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour

Geographic location: Canada, Italy, United States

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Recent comments

  • Justin
    July 02, 2010 - 13:31

    This should make you feel more comfortable, Lana: Any holding the line on taxes increases the tax potential for your guys in the remote event they ever get asked to have a go at the finances. You may shudder at the thought, but there is such a thing as a tax LIMIT.

    No tax is a good tax is an old saw reflecting Thoreau's (or Emerson's) sentiment that government which governs least, governs best.

  • jim
    July 02, 2010 - 13:27

    You might think all taxes are good I believe no taxes are better! I also Think that for the first time in quit a while our PM has said something that every westerner can agree with. Taxes were supposed to be temporary when first introduced in WW1. It's about time the temporary ended.

  • James
    July 02, 2010 - 13:17

    Governments that govern least are irrelevant.

  • Justin
    July 01, 2010 - 20:20

    This should make you feel more comfortable, Lana: Any holding the line on taxes increases the tax potential for your guys in the remote event they ever get asked to have a go at the finances. You may shudder at the thought, but there is such a thing as a tax LIMIT.

    No tax is a good tax is an old saw reflecting Thoreau's (or Emerson's) sentiment that government which governs least, governs best.

  • jim
    July 01, 2010 - 20:14

    You might think all taxes are good I believe no taxes are better! I also Think that for the first time in quit a while our PM has said something that every westerner can agree with. Taxes were supposed to be temporary when first introduced in WW1. It's about time the temporary ended.

  • James
    July 01, 2010 - 19:58

    Governments that govern least are irrelevant.