Friday 2 March 2012

Are taxes evil? Not so much.

Here I thought we were making so much progress. As the Ford brothers flail about trying to make their Sheppard subway proposal work, they inadvertently started an important conversation about taxation and revenue sources to invest in the city. When you have Norm Kelly talking about a sales tax and Rob Ford endorsing parking levies for the city, you've made legitimate progress in the conversation. 

Now, the Sheppard subway extension still won't happen for any number of reasons (funding, density and zoning among them) but at least we're going in the direction of talking about building infrastructure with the attached risk sacrifice applied to it. The Grid's Edward Keenan makes this explicit in this piece, where he shows what his family share of the various Sheppard subway plans would be: 
Put another way, the family capital cost for Ford's proposal is the equivalent of paying the VRT for 100 years. 
 This is the basis for a conversation about the value of a proposal and how much one is willing to contribute. To be fair, it's only the beginning of a conversation as it only looks at individual costs and not collective benefits, but it's a place to start thinking.

This, on the other hand, is not: 
 "We're against all taxes. All taxes are evil as far as I'm concerned." -Doug Ford on paying for the Sheppard extension
Whereas Keenan is willing to discuss the amount of taxation needed in real terms (and implicitly concludes it doesn't make much sense for him or his family) Ford rules out a conversation altogether. 

He uses loaded and emotional language to do so, calling taxes 'evil'. As Joe Mihevc said in this piece I did for The Grid, you can't begin to negotiate with something you think is evil. 

But there's a deeper thread here. Ford's sentiment speaks to a view of government that it can do nothing right and says that the social contract is only about individual freedoms and not collective responsibilities. 

We have shorthand sayings for these complex thoughts- Oliver Wendell Holmes's "Taxes are the price we pay for a civilized society" and Genesis' "I am my brother's keeper" come to mind. These sayings aren't fully fleshed out, but they capture the ethos that to belong to or to build something larger one must contribute to something larger than oneself. Without that underlying principle, there's no point in engaging with the likes of Edward Keenan or a conversation on civic discourse or policymaking in general. 

This is about more than just a subway or Doug's childish refusal to pay for something he wants (echoed by the Toronto Sun and real estate developers). The Doug Ford principle reduces citizens to islands where they struggle to defend themselves. 

And curiously, it's where the Ford administration finds itself politically. With an inability to make sacrifices and build bridges to collective interests, Team Ford is stuck playing in its own sandbox, kicking sand at those who pass by.

1 comment:

  1. You might be interested in some of Alex Himelfarb's pieces on taxation. Best place to start: