In Praise of Taxes

Thanks to the Princess of Quitealot, I just rediscovered a favourite column that I thought I’d lost track of. It came just in time, because here in Ottawa, the city is going through its annual budget wrangle, this time under the leadership of a Mayor who promised to ban tax increases. Meanwhile, the dollar buys less and many fine social programs are on the chopping block, not to mention the rising costs of policing and an aging infrastructure that, like every city, Ottawa has in abundance and will someday have to pay for…

It all has me muttering about politicians, particularly the stripe whose popularity is mainly based on an appeal to our greed and sense of entitlement. You worked hard for that money and if you elect us we’re going to put an insignificant but apparently sweet portion of it back in your pocket. After all, why should you care about anyone else? Besides, government stinks, and that’s why I’m running for it. Um, so it’ll, ah, stink lots less or something. Drives me nuts, but I know who they’re talking to. There’s no shortage of folks complaining about having to pay taxes. I’ve heard so much grousing about not getting anything from all the taxes we pay, and I don’t even get out of the house that much.

Anyhow, my bride found me exactly what I was looking for, an answer to all those death-and-taxes and woe-is-me whiners. I’m with the hard-working immigrant Canadian – he was an entrepreneur, and good at it – who told me, “Hey, if I’m paying taxes, that means I’m making some money. And it also means that I can give something back to a country that has given me so much.” You go, guy. The rant in question came from a 2004 article by Heather Mallick in the Globe and Mail. (And where have you gone, Ms. Mallick?* I couldn’t always agree with her, but she was opinionated and strong and often funny. She likely still is.)

She argues that taxes are the price we pay for civilization, and that we should consider that price a privilege; after all, the opposite of civilization is no picnic. Here’s part of what Mallick wrote in 2004, seeing the effect that Stephen Harper was beginning to have on Canadian popular thought. (Mr. Harper had become Conservative Party leader after having led the anti-taxation National Citizens’ Coalition.) I’ll spare you most of her partisan commentary, but here’s a précis of her column:

 How I dislike that remark about the only sure thing being death and taxes. Death is a hateful dragnet, except when it’s a blessed release. But Canadian taxes are great….I’m a fan of civilization and, you see, taxes enable civilization. To put it another way, taxes grease the skids of living well.

Other people say loudly, endlessly, tediously that they hate taxes…. Mr. Harper has many obsessions, but his main one is taxes….To him, taxes are tapeworms — “double, double, toil and taxes,” as Shakespeare’s witches didn’t put it — sneaking into your home to steal all that is good….

This is absurd. I pay taxes. I love taxes. When you work, the government yanks them off your paycheque…The government uses it to do all the stuff I’d rather not think about….[T]ruly, the word “tax” trails clouds of glory. Taxes ease our daily lives in ways we take for granted.

 They pay for traffic lights, sewers, garbage pickup, nicely dressed diplomats so we don’t show up at the G8 in golfing shorts, ferries, fish in general, nuclear power plant inspection, protecting the provincial flower (“Leave that wild rose alone, ma’am”), libraries, white-coated people who spring into action when you contract flesh-eating disease, building codes, schools, dangerous-toy advisories, keeping cable companies in line, clean air, truck inspections for airborne wheels, loan forgiveness, autopsies, campgrounds, divorce, licence plates so you can track the guy on the cellphone in his Humvee who hit you, fluoridation, teacher training, privacy, universities, fair elections, fire trucks, child guardianship, hazardous-waste control, name changes, hostels, museums, protocol (see golfing shorts), trees, zoning, high-tech passports, standards in general, notaries public, noise control, organ donation, human rights, disability, drainage, bingo permits, boating safety, French-language services, neighbour encroachment, aboriginal business aid, art galleries, adoption, jury duty, cemeteries, soil quality, spills response, tattoo parlour inspection, bank deposit insurance, street lighting, commercial ship registry, victim assistance (“there, there”), social insurance numbers, joint rescue (water and land, nothing to do with knees), aerial mapping, pesticide disapproval and savings bonds.

Without taxes, you would have to do all of the above yourself…. Fine, cut my taxes, and I’ll pick a task. I’ll take “spills response” and use recycled paper towels. Oh, you say the spill covers 2,000 hectares and it’s sticky, oily and toxic? I thought you meant coffee. Somebody call the feds. I’m a taxpayer!

Here in Canada, we believe in the public good, as in “good for all the public.” We don’t believe in private affluence and public squalor. We like to balance those two things.

Whenever you get upset by taxation, egged on by HelmetHead [Harper], think of an ill-considered purchase. Then figure out what that cash could have contributed to, had it been in government hands. A gleaming new hip for my mother? An extra season of Da Vinci’s Inquest? An ice rink for kids on the reserve?

Paying taxes is a means to a good end. Can we do it with a lighter heart, please?

(* Good ol’ Wikipedia informs me that Ms. Mallick is writing a book, and still knocking out columns for Chatelaine and writing commentaries on the CBC website.)

Over-Parenting Anonymous

Sixth Birthday Fever is running rampant in our household, mostly infecting the five-year-old. However, there is recent evidence that the contagion has spread to my bride. An otherwise fairly sane person (marital decisions notwithstanding), she sent me the following. (I have mercilessly pruned it, ’cause it went ON and ON…)

“Sounds pretty cool, eh?” my wife wrote in attaching this piece of HyperMom Frenzy. It IS full of ideas, but my goodness! What’s the kid going to expect for his seventh birthday party? And then grade 8 grad will have to top that. And prom. And university graduation, if just learning and studying isn’t far too much boring effort by then. I figure that this kid will fully expect to literally go into orbit on his wedding night (ceremony on the space shuttle, honeymoon around Uranus…)

Anyhow, take a listen. Maybe it’s the materialism, maybe it’s the manic effort on the part of all to make this kid’s party the Top of the Charts, maybe it’s the selfishness (who is this FOR, really?), but I find this bloody alarming. (Perhaps you’ll find it superb and think of me ever after as a pinch-faced pessimist. The risks I take!)

For my son’s 6th birthday party, I threw him a Super Hero Training Party. I called each of the parents and asked them questions about their sons: weight, height, distinguishing features, brief personal history, enemies, etc. I then wrote up a dossier on each kid, with TOP SECRET watermarked on the paper. I paper-clipped the dossier, a headshot of the boy, and a cover letter into a manilla folder marked “Top Secret” on the outside. We hand delivered the invitations…’Please come in your Super Hero uniform [scrambling parents make sure their son has an adequate costume; somehow, I’m thinking this isn’t happening in the low-rent district] and be prepared to work hard….We hope you decide to become a part of the…CRIME FIGHTING SUPER HERO LEAGUE.  Regards, Justice Forall.’ 

As the kids entered we had a sign that said ‘Entering Restricted Area, please proceed to handprint recognition and retinal scanning.’ We had two boxes that my brother rigged up with flashlights to check handprints and retinas….When all kids arrived, I handed out their ‘Crime Fighting Super Hero League Training Manual.’ made them in Print Shop using the 1/4 card template. Inside there was three sections: Endurance, Agility, and Marksmanship….[Olympic-type events with stickers for successful completion ensued. Here’s a taste of *Marksmanship\*] I had 50 water balloons ready and a piece of plywood covered in plastic with a bullseye. The manual stated, ‘Hitting the target you are aiming for is an essential skill to fight crime…’ The boys took turns throwing one water balloon at a time at the target…they stood at the back door and threw them out at the target. We handed out their stickers for their training manuals when they had used up all the balloons. When they finished all the events we went back to the ‘Welcome Center’ and had a graduation party….

After the ceremony we had a reception in which I brought in cupcakes decorated with the emblems of Spiderman, Batman and Superman. Right when I brought them in I had my husband (dressed as Dr. Zogie the evil scientist) and my brother (dressed as the Emperor from Star Wars) attack the party, steal the cupcakes and run away. Then I told the boys, ‘You are all now Super Heroes! Remember everything you have learned! Go get the bad guys and save our cupcakes!’ The boys needed no further instruction. They all went running after Dr. Zogie and the Emperor…

FOOD – We served cupcakes decorated with superhero emblems, homemade ice cream and juice. FAVORS – After we were done with food, we proceded with present opening. When the guests would give my son his present, he would hand them a little canvas bag that I had painted their names on. There was candy and more super hero stickers inside. While we waited for the parents, they just ran around the obstacle course, attacked the pillows and ran around like crazy boys do. It was loads of fun and we were all exhausted by the end… 

 So, yes, no question, it’s a deeply admirable effort, and surely the kids had a great time. And if they didn’t already  think the sun rose and set on their wee arses, surely they must by now! Whew! MISSION ACCOMPLISHED! (But sorry, love. We ain’t goin’ there. The Little Prince will live, and more. Trust me.)