Tax-filing season, everybody’s favourite time of year, is once again upon us in Canada. It’s that time of year that we get to see just how much of our money our provincial and federal governments are taking to spend on seemingly wasteful things that nobody is supposed to care about. It’s also the perfect time of year for the politicians to start talking louder than usual about cutting taxes and eliminating unnecessary spending.
The funny thing about this, though, is that many of the people who call for cuts to taxes and spending are all for it until the cuts affect something that they themselves benefit from. When that happens, people start getting mad that something they depend on is being cut back.
It’s not a coincidence that some of Canada’s most prominent politicians, such as Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, have both promised that they can cut taxes and balance budgets without affecting the essential services Canadians have come to rely on. Money would be saved through finding efficiencies and cutting deadwood, rather than affecting frontline staff and services.
Try telling that to many of Canada’s veterans, who are furious with the federal Conservatives for closing so many Veterans’ Affairs offices, and who have taken the government to court for cutting their disability benefits.
Try telling it to small business owners and individual citizens who go through hoops trying to call the Canada Revenue Agency or Service Canada.
Try telling it to Canadians who now have to work two extra years before they can now collect their pensions, or who have a harder time collecting from the employment insurance fund they’ve paid into. The parliamentary budget officer was quite blunt when he noted that the Harper government’s cuts were directly affecting frontline services.
In Toronto, Ford promised that the subways would be built with private money and no tax increases, and that essential services wouldn’t be cut … even though the private money never appeared. Torontonians are looking at a tax increase to pay for the subway line, even as Ford tried to close libraries and other core services.
In both cases, the Harper and Ford governments broke specific promises they made about balancing the budget without cutting essential services. Apparently we could have all the services we wanted without having to pay for them. Compare this to 20 years ago, when prominent conservatives like Preston Manning, Mike Harris and Ralph Klein were blunt about what had to be done to balance the books, and that everyone was going to be affected.
Before we start cheering tax cuts or criticizing spending increases, we ought to think about what it is we’re willing to give up in terms of government support and services to pay for those cuts. Our taxes pay for everything from infrastructure to education to veterans’ services. Simply cutting arts grants, public service salaries and welfare programs likely won’t balance our books by themselves.
So what, as Canadians, are we willing to give up?
Jared Milne is a St. Albert resident with a passion for Canadian history and politics.
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