Late last year the Vector Poll asked Canadians about whether they supported a 5-cents a drink tax to fund mental health programs.
This is an idea that has floated around for a while. In 2007 Senator Michael Kirby suggested a five cent tax on booze would raise $500 million a year that could help revamp Canada’s woeful mental health services.
To put that in perspective, the provincial initiative to improve mental health services for children and youth is spending about $70 million per year.
The Vector Poll has shown that of all health services, Canadians have the least faith in the present mental health system. If there is anything close to consensus, it is on the necessity for new investment in these services.
The connection between mental health, addictions and alcohol is about as clear as it gets.
In the end, 58 per cent of Canadians said they would support the five cent levy. That means 42 per cent didn’t.
What does this say, especially when most of us would likely shrug if the price of our favorite drink normally went up by a nickel? Everything else is going up, right?
Clearly there is an irrational anti-tax sentiment out there at a time when we are at danger of losing many of our cherished public services, including health care.
Right-wing politicians have done an incredible job of dissociating taxes from the value of public services. People will oppose these taxes even in cases where they would overwhelmingly benefit from them.
According to a study done by economists Hugh MacKenzie and Richard Shillington, the average person gets $17,000 in benefit from the taxes they pay each year. For the average family, that looks more like $41,000. The economists study would suggest the vast majority of Canadian families receive greater value from public services than what they pay in.
The other factor is the sense that taxes are not fair. And they aren’t. We have all heard the stories about how millionaires pay a much smaller percentage of their income in taxes than their secretaries. What would surprise most people is that this is even truer in Canada than the United States.
Last year the province struggled with a record deficit, but it still implemented tax cuts for corporations while asking the rest of us to continue to ante up.
If you believe taxes are unfair, then you are less likely to support them.
Isn’t it in our present culture to think someone smart if they can find a way to avoid paying taxes? Why don’t we consider these individuals to be shirkers, people willing to live off of the contributions of others?
The interesting thing about the poll on the nickel tax is what happens when you start breaking out the respondents.
When you look at the response from non-drinkers, support for the tax goes up to 82 per cent. When you break out drinkers, support goes down to 51 per cent.
In other words, Canadians support taxes as long as somebody else pays.
Earlier this week CBC radio conducted an interview with a former Scarborough Conservative candidate. She was arguing that the city should be spending money on expensive subways as opposed to more cost-effective surface light rail.
When host Matt Galloway asked if she was willing to pay higher taxes for it, she started skating. She said her community would be willing to pay taxes for services they valued, but that there was far too much waste at present – this even though the Conservative Mayor has yet to actually uncover any of his much touted “gravy.”
She then quickly added that subways could be funded by the private sector through public-private partnerships, as if for-profit corporations were willing to do this all for free.
Most telling, she suggested that underground cities could be built with the subways as a means to pay for them.
You might call this the “let the Mole-people pay” option.
Conservative regularly repeat the mantra that ‘there is only one taxpayer.’
But when it comes to their own special projects, they are a little less consistent.
We need to have a constructive dialogue on taxes.
Clearly, they need to be fair.
But we also need to realize that this is the price we pay for a civilized society, with or without mole people.
Next time somebody trashes taxes, ask them how they would like to live in a place with no public services?
We’re proud to pay our share. We hope you are too.
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