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The best of both worlds

By: Jared Milne

  |  Posted: Wednesday, Jan 01, 2014 06:00 am

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Politically, 2013 wasn’t much different than previous years. In Toronto, Rob Ford accused his opponents of wanting to keep the “gravy train” going, while his opponents accused him of hypocrisy and failing to live up to his promises. In Ottawa, the Conservative government accused the opposition parties of wanting to drastically raise taxes to pay for their political promises, while the official Opposition accused the Conservatives of slashing essential services and transfers to Canadians. In St. Albert, critics of the city government’s current direction stated that our current level of spending is unsustainable, while people satisfied with the current direction accused the critics of wanting to eliminate many of the services we’ve come to rely on as residents.

By itself, there’s nothing wrong with these types of debates. They’re what democracy is supposed to be all about. However, what risks happening is that public opinion becomes polarized between one option or the other. We can either pay very few taxes and get very little in the way of services, or we can have very good services but have to pay through the nose for them. Anyone who wants to see good services is automatically accused of wanting to jack income taxes up to 80 or 90 percent, while anyone who wants to see taxes and spending cut is accused of wanting to slash and burn public services.

What I don’t get is why it has to be an all-or-nothing thing. Who says we only have to have a highly taxed welfare state, or a radically laissez-faire society? Why can’t we recognize the benefits of both government programs and private enterprise? Sometimes taxes or spending might need to be increased, while at other times they could be cut.

In 2014 and beyond, we could probably all benefit by defining how far we think things should go. What level of public ownership, environmental regulations and social spending would conservatives be willing to accept, for instance? What limits would progressives be willing to accept on business regulations, income taxation or social spending? By more clearly defining just how far different groups are willing to take these policies, it becomes that much more difficult for the worst and most polarizing voices among us to accuse people of wanting to take things too far.

Canada has never thrived solely through government action or through private enterprise. Rather, Canada has come as far as it has through a healthy balance of government action and private business, of individual initiatives and collective action. Of course taxes can sometimes be too high, and regulations can be too much of a hassle. When that happens, they can and should be reduced. But they are not inherently bad in and of themselves, as they’ve helped set up the social, physical and environmental infrastructure we take for granted today.

In 2014, and beyond, we as Canadians could all benefit from more clarity and discussion, and more of a search for the common ground that exists, than we have in past years.

Jared Milne is a St. Albert resident with a passion for Canadian history and politics.


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