Many Canadians complain about government, especially after tax time. Nearly half – 45 per cent – say that government laws, services and programs are irrelevant to their well-being and quality of life. This is according to a national poll by McAllister Opinion Research on issues studied by UBC public policy professor Paul Kershaw.
“These results are ironic,” says Kershaw, “because Canadians use public schools, universities, medical care, pensions, unemployment insurance and many more programs and services on a daily basis.” Despite claiming that government policy doesn’t matter, around 90 per cent of Canadians reject spending less on almost all aspects of social policy, the poll indicates. In fact, it shows most of them want governments to spend as much, if not more, on a broad range of issues such as families with kids, seniors, medical care, the environment and poverty reduction.
“It has become trendy for Canadians to say that government doesn’t matter,” says Kershaw, “but nine in 10 Canadians want as much, if not more, spending on a variety of priorities.” Despite this, 47 per cent also indicate they would vote against any politician who wanted to increase taxes for any reason.
Kershaw’s research shows that since 1976, spending on these social programs increased four times faster than the taxes that pay for them. “Canadians haven’t always been so unwilling to balance the country’s chequebook,” says Kershaw, noting that just 10 years ago, taxes were $80 billion higher. “But since 2000, we’ve prioritized tax cuts to ‘pay ourselves’ first and foremost, while continuing spending.”
According to Kershaw, individual income tax is down nearly $38 billion a year, and we slashed sales taxes by nearly $19 billion to a level far below a generation ago. Corporate taxes also dropped substantially, down nearly $18 billion.
Kershaw’s research shows that the dramatic pattern of tax cuts over the last decade does not play out neutrally across generations. Since expenditures on medical care and pensions grew while taxes declined, there are far fewer resources with which to adapt to the declining standard of living for today’s generations under age 45.
“Policy solutions need to be paid for; otherwise we squeeze generations that follow with larger debts,” says Kershaw. We can make room to pay for them by spending less on other things or we have to pony up ourselves, as we did before the year 2000.”