Let us now debate the difference between user fees and taxes (II) - Macleans.ca

Let us now debate the difference between user fees and taxes (II)


Officially it is called the Airport Travellers Security Charge. Introduced in 2002, it was reduced from $24 to $14 in the Liberal government’s budget for 2003. Hansard shows two references to the charge from Stephen Harper, Canadian Alliance leader and leader of the opposition at the time, during the session of Parliament when that budget was tabled, the first of which links to this speech, delivered in response to that budget.

That speech makes four references to an “air tax.”


Let us now debate the difference between user fees and taxes (II)


    • The heir? Who's that? Prentice? Bernier?

  2. But we know by now not to take Steve at his word, right?

  3. I think you're missing the important point here for the Tories.

    Now that we have this context, it actually doesn't matter whether we call it a tax or not. The Liberals did it first so, ipso facto, it's fine for the Tories to do it. Have you not been paying attention? Now that they're in office, it's perfectly acceptable, nay, perhaps mandatory, for the Tories to follow the lead of Liberals past.

    "We're just doing what the Liberals always did" is their new mantra for Pete's sake.

  4. Here are the excerpts for those who don't want to go hunting (it's a long speech):

    "Short term relief has been overshadowed by new levies like the air tax and massive increases in Canada pension plan contributions."

    "We also applaud the minister for other changes such as small business tax changes and increases to the RRSP limits. We even recognize the finance minister for reversing somewhat the course of his predecessor in following our lead by at least reducing to some degree the destructive air tax, a cause fought for and will continue to be fought for by our member for Port Moody–Coquitlam–Port Coquitlam."

    "Our reservations on these items are only that they will take years to implement in some cases and in many cases such as the air tax, they do not go far enough. These taxes should have been eliminated. The Canadian Alliance would immediately eliminate all taxes and tax increases originally brought in to reduce the deficit. We would eliminate, not just reduce, the air tax that is crippling our airline industry."

  5. Well I for one applaud Harper's clarity on this. Air is of course a commodity that can be taxed… security is more of a feeling than a quantifiable substance. Moreover, Canada is clearly a leader among countries in air, we literally have tons of it floating around.


    • Let Mike T figure out how to shut of capslock.

  7. Air tax: Harper proves once again that he is the only leader able to simultaneously suck, blow and tax.

  8. And we just knew it was coming…

  9. Eurasia has always had an air tax on Oceania.

  10. Are these commenters getting dumber, or just louder?

  11. We have indeed always been at war with Eastasia.

    Not to be outdone by his Leader, James Moore also confirms that a security fee is an "air tax":

    "Mr. James Moore: Right. Therefore, given the definition that a fee is related directly to a service, and it's generally accepted that a fee is dedicated to the appropriation of that service on a cost-recovery basis, would not the $24 air tax be considered a tax, not a fee, as the minister keeps defending? The air carriers, when they collect the tax, cut a cheque to the Receiver General, not to the independent air security authority. It would be a tax, right? […] The $24 air tax is a tax."

  12. Ah, but the Liberals last reduced the "Air Tax" while the Tories are raising it.

    So, they can't even follow the trend right.

    Maybe Dion should've pitched a Carbon User Fee plan.

  13. Amusing as this is, flyers damn well better pay the price for their dopey security plans. I sure as hell don't want to.

    The absurd and arbitrary airport rents are a better example of "soaking" the taxpayer to me.

  14. Am I the only one who thinks that the tax/user fee debate is pointless and boring?

    • I second you my friend, this debate, is much do about NOTHING…

  15. Dumber, Sir.

  16. AH, but it's not a *new* tax.

  17. No, I expect there are a few people who are quite comfortable with Harper's hypocrisy, so long as he doesn't say he's a Liberal.

  18. So, if I voted for the Conservatives and got the Liberals, what will happen when I vote Liberal next time around?

  19. Don't get me wrong. I totally recognize the propaganda value of branding a relatively trivial increase in airport security fees ($2.58 to $8.91) as a "new tax". It's ripe for distortion, that's for sure.

  20. Or so long as he doesn't say he's from Quebec.

  21. You get Dippers?

  22. No.

  23. But this is not the imposition of a new tax. It's a tax hike. Or rather, an increase to an existing user fee.

    Quite different. (and probably quite necessary).

    Most people would probably prefer that the cost of the new security measures be met by airline passengers (like me), rather than the general population.

    I can't see too many Canadians getting worked up about this tax/user fee increase or (sadly) the government's sneaky dishonesty.

  24. It is, however, a tax increase. By their own definition of the item in question.

  25. Does this mean Baird gets to do his monster act?

  26. But it could be worse: if you skip voting or spoil your ballot, you get everybody!

  27. Now now, the others haven't had their turns yet. Just wait!

  28. Well, it's a good question that's hard to answer, but I'll maintain to my dying day that Paul Martin would have given us MUCH more conservative governance if he'd beaten Harper in their last head-to-head than what we got from the current crew. People who actually wanted government based on conservative principles made a mistake when they voted for Harper over Martin, but given Harper's rhetoric at the time it was understandable to expect that Harper was going to govern as he campaigned.

    Liberals run to the left and govern to the right, and Tories reverse the trend. I've often thought that our last 4 years of minority governments has been one long game of "opposite day".

  29. Is that more, less than or the same propaganda value in branding a relatively significant decrease in airport security fees ($24 to $14) as a "destructive air tax"?

    Is that more, less than or the same propaganda value in promising to not increase taxes without any intention of keeping your promise?

  30. Agreed.

    But I can see lots of Canadians getting annoyed and further distrustful of Harper if he insists on saying his party is the only one that will not increase taxes when he has now done it twice.

  31. Only if Canadians become aware of that.

  32. If you look at the Liberal policies when they're in gov't.. you tend to get policies that are fiscally conservative, with socially progressive values.

    Of course, that's because fiscal conservatism tends to fly better in Canada than social conservatism, so when conservatives are in opposition, they fight harder for the fiscal than the social. Meanwhile, the progressives in opposition placate themselves with the socially progressive side of things.

  33. Answer to first question: Roughly the same. Both are examples of meaningless propaganda.

    Is that more, less than or the same propaganda value in promising to not increase taxes without any intention of keeping your promise?

    Harper promised "no new taxes", and as there have not been any new taxes we can infer that has every intention of keeping his promise. A minor increase in airport security fees hardly qualifies as a "new tax", no matter how hard the spin doctors try to spin it that way.

  34. Most definitely dumber. But thats what we get when a security fee/tax debate is not about if the fee/tax is a good thing or not, but weather or not it is a fee or a tax or a service charge or whatever.

    We are all, quite litterally in this case, simply arguing symantics. And thats a waste of everybodies time.

    • I also like Symantics. Their anti-virus software was, and may still be, very popular. And effective. Talk about security! That's everybody's business. Tell on your neighbour!

    • Yes, apologies to all for not engaging in debate on whether Baird's explanation of a tax versus a user fee, when in either case I'm giving them more money, is a place for high minded policy discussions.

  35. You'll get a party with no principles, who will transform itself daily to pander to whatever special-interest group is in vogue for the day.

  36. It was a dialogue from the simpsons – when Mayor Quimby introduced a Bear Tax….

  37. If one were to audit government revenues equating User Fees with Taxes over the term of Harper's Governance, I suspect you'd find "twice" as the number of increases to be a vast understatement.

  38. I'm quite aware of that, thank you very much. And thats my point. WTF does quoting TV sitcoms have to do with substantive debate about anything other than the quality of TV sitcoms?

  39. WTF does quoting TV sitcoms have to do with substantive debate about anything other than the quality of TV sitcoms?

    Who TF comes to the comments section of the Macleans blogs for "substantive debate"?

    In other news: LIGHTEN UP!!!!

    • Maclean's blogs: come for the substantive debate, stay for the debate about anything other than the quality of TV sitcoms!

  40. I see what you did there.

  41. "It's ripe for distortion, that's for sure."

    now there's something both Harper and his sock puppets know of…

  42. That would assume that the big-ticket promises that Martin was making in the last few months were just hot air – which is, I suppose, entirely possible.

    I also disagree that Martin "governed from the right" during the time between the '04 and '06 election – quite the opposite, in fact.

    For myself, I think had Martin been re-elected, it would've been a minority government, and he would've needed the support of either the BQ, NDP or CPC. And has his last(?) budget showed, Martin was more than willing to cut a deal with the NDP when it came to the budget.

    All this isn't to praise the level of spending that the Tories have engaged in (though, arguably, they've been pushed by the fact that all 3 parties in parliament are pushing from their left). But given Martin's behaviour as PM, I think we'd have seen just as much lolly coming out of his Ottawa, albeit in different directions.

  43. LOL

    I know what you were trying to do there, but are you seriously suggesting that the description of "a party with no principles, who will transform itself daily" doesn't fit the current Tories to a T???

  44. Actually, he did both: no new taxes and increased taxes.

  45. Sorry, I'm not sure what you're demonstrating with that link. Are you saying that Harper has increased taxes by implementing HST?

  46. Don't call it an "air tax," that's no fun…


  47. There is nothing to debate. Taxes are user fees. Anyone who goes to hospital, has children in school, drives on the highways, is protected by the army and police benefits from the"user fees" which are the GST, income tax etc. taxes are the price of civilization. It is reasonable to expect value for your taxes and to keep them to a minimum necessary to maintain civilized amenities. Only barbarians seek to avoid taxes completely. From them should be withdrawn all the benefits paid for by the taxpayer.