Like most everything interesting that Michael Ignatieff ever said, he probably should not have said it.
“I never want to raise your taxes; I pay them (the same way) as you do,” the former Liberal leader told a crowd in Mississauga on a July day in 2010. “But we pay them to express fundamental social solidarity, one with the other. This is the contract that holds us together.”
He had actually gone on at some length about this in a speech to the Economic Club of Canada in the fall of 2009. “Back in July, after the G8 Summit in Italy, Mr. Harper gave an interview to The Globe and Mail, in which he said, and I quote: ‘I don’t believe that any taxes are good taxes.’ Think about that for a moment,” Mr. Ignatieff begged. “It’s an astonishing statement for a prime minister to make. We pay taxes, Mr. Harper, so that premature infants get nursing care when they’re born; so that policemen will be there to keep our streets safe; so that we have teachers to give our kids a good education. We pay taxes, Mr. Harper, because we’re all in this together. It costs us something, but it makes Canada the place it is: a place where we look out for each other. But Stephen Harper doesn’t think that way. Stephen Harper thinks no taxes are good taxes because he believes that the only good government is no government at all.”
In fairness, Mr. Harper does not appear to be an anarchist. And even Ron Paul allows that the government might be of some use. And for all Mr. Ignatieff’s willingness to defend the social contract, he would move to loudly proclaim his opposition to raising the GST after being caught musing about the possibility.
Even if one does not accept Mr. Ignatieff’s larger premise, rare is anyone willing to suggest that taxes might be applied in larger quantities to anyone other than the wealthy or the faceless (corporations). Because even if no one is seriously calling for taxes to be eliminated—even if the debate is basically, if quietly, about the size, shape and execution of our fundamental social solidarity, or at least the precise number of services we would lament if they suddenly disappeared—we have generally come to Mr. Harper’s position. Taxes are bad. Mr. Harper has sworn that, so long as he is prime minister, there will be no new taxes. Thomas Mulcair has said no to increasing taxes (even if he also advocates for a price on carbon). Justin Trudeau has said he would not increase the GST, nor the corporate tax rate and he would not implement a tax on the rich. Taxing the earnings of corporations is a tax on job creators. Taxing pollution is a tax on everything. Tax Freedom Day is something that is proudly celebrated.
Possibly this is all Bev Oda’s fault, she and her $16 glass of orange juice. And at least so long as we are never in need of more general revenue, perhaps we will be fine. But this now drives us to distraction. The abject awfulness of taxes apparently now so deeply felt that one cannot even bring oneself to admit that one is responsible for the imposition of such suffering.
“The NDP has made up all this fearmongering dialogue about tax increases in budget 2013,” Shelly Glover, the parliamentary secretary to the finance minister, informed the House on Monday. “There are no tax increases in budget 2013.”
But what of those increases in tariffs on bicycles, baby carriages and the like?
“Let me explain for Canadians exactly what the NDP has done,” Ms. Glover offered. “The general preferential tariff, which is what today is all about, is about tax fairness. This foreign aid program was created in the 1970s to give special treatment to help companies in poor countries. That was the crux of what that general preferential tariff was intended to do. However, this program had not been reviewed or thoroughly looked at since the 1970s. That meant that companies in countries such as China and South Korea, whose economies are booming, were receiving privileged access to our market when competing against our Canadian companies, our Canadian businesses. That clearly needed to change, and that is exactly what we did.”
So it is not that the taxes on imports have been increased, it is that they have been made more fair.
Quite unfairly, the New Democrats and Liberals seem to refuse to understand this.
“Mr. Speaker, last fall the Minister of Finance went into a bicycle shop to announce and promote measures related to his omnibus budget bill,” Marc Garneau recounted this afternoon, reenacting yesterday’s NDP photo op. “However, this spring in his budget he announced increases to the bicycle import taxes that would affect that very same shop owner. The Conservatives say this is not a tax, but yesterday the shop owner said that this is going to hurt his business. Do the Conservatives accuse this hard-working shop owner of lying?”
Of the noble man from Joe Momma, the Heritage Minister, standing in again for the Prime Minister this day, would do no such thing. He would, instead, mock the absent Liberal leader.
“Mr. Speaker, I know in the last couple of days the new Liberal leader has expressed an interest in getting to the root causes of things,” James Moore quipped. “The member opposite used the word ‘lying.’ Well what is clearly not true, is any attempt to suggest that this government has done anything other than lower taxes time and again for Canadians.”
Indeed, the alternative is apparently so horrifying that Conservatives seek to avert our eyes, lest we be forever scarred. Look away, children. The punitive taxation quality of tariffs, it is hideous.
The trick here is to mount an explanation for something that you otherwise refuse to acknowledge the existence of.
“Again, the hypocrisy of the Liberals is really quite something,” Mr. Moore sighed a few moments later. “They come to this House and say that we need to do something to support Canadian manufacturing, and then they beg the government to put in place a special deal for China to dump goods into this country. It is outrageous.”
The one exception to this outrageousness seeming to be hockey gloves.
Later, it was the NDP’s fantastically haired John Rafferty claiming to have discovered a “bass tax.”
“Mr. Speaker,” quipped Ted Menzies, “the real truth is he has it ‘bass ackwards’ because actually we are reducing taxes to Canadians.”
Even, somehow, if it will soon cost you more to purchase a hockey helmet. It is, after all, only fair.