Review: The Usual Suspects

It is always fresh to view the nation from a different perspective. Calgarian Mark Milke explores Canada’s story without mentioning French explorers or the building of the Canadian Pacific Railway. His is a tax-eye view.

Who is not wiser on learning the first Canadian tax was a 50% export levy on beaver pelts for top hats? Or that Alberta – oh, irony – pioneered the gas tax, 2¢ a gallon, in 1922. Or that Ontario municipalities levied local income tax under the 1850 Assessment Act of Upper Canada. Or that tax brackets peaked at 98% on millionaires’ wartime income in 1944.

Tax Me I’m Canadian! at its best is a crisp accounting of revenue measures since the pre-Confederation era. Milke correctly notes the first federal income tax was never promised as temporary – Parliament was nearly broke at the time, 1917.  Nor is it unconstitutional as claimed by “bizarre” theorists and conspiracy buffs: “If I had a buck for every time that someone emailed or called to insist that ‘the federal government cannot legally collect income tax,’ I would have long ago retired to sip red wine in an expensive villa in southern Italy,” Milke writes.

Yet there is less.

Tax Me I’m Canadian! at its worst is a roundup of the usual suspects – Québecers, aboriginals, New Democrats, unions – who Milke blames for sponging off the middle-class. The author is a senior fellow at the Fraser Institute. The lament is tired, and panders to the Fraser Institute’s most enthusiastic advocates.

Does Canada really need a Farm Income Protection Act that pays growers a $22,500 annual grant when rising farm income is at a record high? Milke has no comment.

Does Imperial Oil really need free medicare for its 4,800 employees at taxpayers’ expense at the same time it pays dividends to shareholders? Milke is silent.

Does it really make sense to offer suburbanites toll-free roads when local governments complain the nation has a $171 billion infrastructure “deficit”? Milke, nyet.

Tax Me I’m Canadian! perpetuates an unfortunate myth that bloated governments conspire to steal from the many to reward a contemptible few. In truth, Canadian taxes are high because the majority of electors will not accept the alternative is exorbitant user fees that will hit ‘em where they live.

As the late Don Blenkarn, former chair of the Commons finance committee, once put it: “Everyone says they want to cut the deficit, but there was not an election I saw where somebody did not come out offering something.”

By Holly Doan

Tax Me I’m Canadian! By Mark Milke; Thomas & Black; 169 pages; ISBN 9780-9687-91523; $21.95

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