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What is the right amount of tax?

It’s tax time again in Canada, which makes it a good time to think about politicians’ comments on taxes.

It’s tax time again in Canada, which makes it a good time to think about politicians’ comments on taxes. Many politicians, especially conservative ones, have talked about tax relief, offering all kinds of tax cuts and rebates for everything from fitness to children’s art programs. Oftentimes, they also guarantee that these tax cuts can be paid for without reducing frontline services or major programs. If anything, they also talk about other kinds of spending, whether taking the fight to ISIS in the Middle East, getting tougher on crime, and upgrading the military’s equipment.

In all the talk about taxes, though, nobody seems to ever want to discuss what an acceptable minimum for taxes might be. If conservative politicians think that taxes are too high, then what is an acceptable minimum tax rate that people should have to pay? Conservative political programs and goals cost tax dollars too.

Unfortunately, this never seems to come up. Author Alex Himmelfarb, in his book Tax Is Not A Four Letter Word, talks about the ‘free lunch’ mentality that has taken root in a lot of modern political talk. We can supposedly have all the tax credits and cuts we want, without ever having to give anything up in terms of essential services. Rob Ford exploited this with his claim of “no service cuts, guaranteed,” while Jim Flaherty claimed that the Harper Conservatives “did not balance the budget on the backs of Canadians.” Both these claims turned out to be lies, but they illustrate the point well.

Many of the conservative projects mentioned above are good and important ones. We should be contributing to the fight against ISIS, the army deserves better equipment than the antiquated junk they’re often stuck with, and the longer violent criminals stay behind bars, the better. However, they cost money, and it’s not always clear where the money will come from if the tax base is constantly and endlessly reduced.

Say what you will about progressive politicians and parties, but they at least have some sort of idea where the money to finance programs and projects will come from when they talk about tax increases. On the other hand, when conservatives continually promise more tax cuts and spending on their own programs, all while promising to keep the books balanced, one is left to wonder where the breaking point is.

Back in the 1990s, conservative politicians like Ralph Klein, Mike Harris and Preston Manning showed a lot of courage with the blunt honesty they gave to Canadians. They were up front about the fact that the results of the cuts needed to keep Canada and the provinces from going broke were not going to be pretty. Politicians like Rob Ford and Stephen Harper lack much of the same courage, having played to the ‘free lunch’ mentality described above.

There’s obviously a limit to how high taxes should go, and that limit will change from time to time. But doesn’t that also mean that there should be a minimum level of taxation?

And if so, what is it?

Jared Milne is a St. Albert resident with a passion for Canadian history and politics.