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Journey to Justice

By Joe Gunn

06/03/2015
Tom Ryan, CSP
Taxes for the common good

Canadian politicians are now watching the polls more closely than my kitten watches her food bowl. 2015 is a federal election year, and political parties are hungrily attempting to offer tax cuts as the solution to all the world’s problems — and to winning power.

The Conservative budget, released April 21 and furiously advertised on TV at our expense ever since, did not even mention the word “poverty.” It highlighted income splitting and almost doubling tax-free savings account limits (i.e., tax benefits that predominantly benefit the well-off). NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair has committed his party to no tax increases on personal income (a right-wing position), while promising to increase corporate taxes (which have indeed been drastically cut 13 per cent since the year 2000). Liberal leader Justin Trudeau has promised to increase income taxes for wealthy Canadians, but use that money to cut taxes for a relatively narrow section of the middle class (thus offering little reduction of inequality between the richest, the poorest, and the rest of us).

It is fascinating to watch the politicians vie as suitors of “middle class families.” Both the Conservatives and Liberals have offered enhanced child benefits to Canadians, while the NDP has promised a national daycare plan. Many families seem to find it difficult (if not confusing) to sort through the various tax proposals and decide what is best for them, and our country.

What is a Christian perspective on taxes?

Citizens for Public Justice has just released an aid to reflection on this important aspect of our communal lives. The six short, easy-to-read fact sheets include topics like the high cost of low taxes, how taxes provide good value for our money, corporate taxation debates and analysis of whether our tax system really is progressive. “Taxes for the Common Good: A Public Justice Primer on Taxation” is available for free on our website.

CPJ contends that a public justice approach would support a progressive distribution of taxes as well as transparent and accountable decisions from governments on taxation and spending. Importantly, our tax system should function as a way to decrease the inevitable inequalities of the free market economy. Research shows that more equal societies enjoy improved economic performance, as well as improved social well-being. And Christians are well aware of the need for social investments for poverty reduction, environmental protection, education, health care and social security in our communities.

Canadians have a sophisticated view of taxes and government spending. The biggest obstacle to seeing taxes as the price we pay for a humane civilization is poor control of spending by governments. (Canadians need look no further than their Senate for confirmation of this reality.) Governments can retain more financial resources by closing unjust tax loopholes. The group Canadians for Tax Fairness lists ending stock option deductions, capital gains deductions and business entertainment deductions as targets for saving almost $10 billion yearly.

When Canadians are asked if they’d agree to spend more for better health care, assistance to the poor or other social goods, their answers are resoundingly affirmative. It would be refreshing to see an end to the relentless assault on the value of public programs. Individual families could never pay for the services we receive if we did not pool our resources to provide police and fire fighters, income security for the elderly and to maintain our democratic institutions. Christians should see paying taxes as a contribution to the common good.

Some taxes on societal “bads” are good policy — like taxing tobacco. To build a better future for our children, we should support a price on our burning of fossil fuels and releasing carbon into the atmosphere. Once seen as Stephane Dion’s 2008 election platform of political suicide, a carbon tax has been successful in British Columbia and is needed if Ottawa is to meet our greenhouse gas reduction targets.

According to the most recent Update of Economic and Fiscal Projections, federal government revenues as a share of Gross Domestic Product are the lowest in 70 years. Those of us who recognize that we are not solely responsible for the wealth we generate, and who agree that our riches do not belong to ourselves alone, must begin to change the societal discourse on the taxes we pay.

Gunn is the Ottawa-based executive director of Citizens for Public Justice, www.cpj.ca, a member-driven, faith-based public policy organization in Ottawa focused on ecological justice, refugee rights and poverty elimination.