Taxation without taxes

The B.C and Canadian governments certainly don’t like raising taxes but that doesn’t mean they haven’t lost their appetite for our money. They just find ways of taking additional dollars from us without calling what they’re doing taxes.

The federal government might not have raised income taxes but it will take a bigger bite out of our paycheques none the less through higher employment insurance premiums. It is also introducing a new airport security “user fee” and appears to have tried to quietly impose the GST on financial services, though now it says that is just a case of bad wording in a government document which will be clarified shortly.

B.C. meanwhile, is allowing a giant casino to go up next to B.C. Place in exchange for a significant piece of the action, estimated at $130 million a year.

The problem is our governments won’t have an honest conversation with us about how the economy works and the choices we have to make. It’s as if they think the only way they can get elected is to continually promise us we can have it all, all the time: low taxes, high quality services like education and health care and a strong social safety net, despite the fact that everything in our life experience has shown us time and time again that the world doesn’t work this way.

Our governments dug themselves a big hole when they used the recent boom years (when the economy was artificially inflated by the smoke and mirrors games played in the global financial sector) to cut taxes, especially corporate taxes, down to their current historically low levels. The premise of this strategy seemed to be if we cut taxes low enough then the boom will keep growing forever. But of course that didn’t happen and revenue fell while the need for government services increased.

Now, because our governments weren’t frank with us about the boom and bust nature of our capitalist economy and didn’t put money away during the last boom to deal with the inevitable bust, they need to pick between raising taxes, cutting programs and/or borrowing more money.

But both the B.C. Liberals and the Federal Conservatives fancy themselves tax cutters and deficit slayers, so they’ve got themselves in a bind. That’s why Stephen Harper and his gang are calling a lot of tax-like measures something other than taxes while Gordon Campbell and company -who way back in 2001 promised to “Stop the expansion of gambling that has increased gambling addiction and put new strains on families”– keep coming up with ways to expand gambling. And government sponsored gambling is in part a tax on people’s desperation.

Sometimes the way public policy gets done strikes me as a little insane.

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