Few people want to pay the price - Keith Roulston editorial
The ongoing rancorous debate over the Ontario government’s budget demonstrates once again that everybody wants something from government – they just don’t want to pay for it.
Even those who claim they simply want government to get out of their way, still want government to protect their property through police and fire services and want things like good roads and garbage collection. Just the same, they resent every penny the government takes from them to pay for such essentials.
On the other side of the argument, there’s nothing wrong with most of the services the previous Liberal government delivered that the current Progressive Conservative government is cutting, it’s simply that people weren’t willing to pay for them through higher taxes. The solution for the previous government
was to give us good things for “nothing” – leaving it to future taxpayers to pick up the tab by paying off the deficit that paid for the goodies.
Governments at all levels will always seem the bad guys. Every time we get a paycheque and see the lump the government takes for income tax or the Canada Pension Plan, we see the cost of government. Every time we buy something and see the HST the federal and provincial governments add to the cost, we feel the resentment of how much less money we have to spend for the things we’d like to buy. When it comes time for an installment of our municipal taxes, we write a cheque of uncomfortable size to support our municipality, the county government or school boards.
But because there’s never a price tag attached so that we associate the services we receive from government with the taxes we pay, we tend to take all this for granted. When the snowplow goes down the road in winter, we don’t see a sign that says this piece of equipment cost so much to buy and costs so much every day to operate. Students don’t bring home a bill to parents at the end of the school day that says “Educating your child cost ‘so many dollars’ today”.
We take for granted most of the good things we get from government. The only time we don’t is when the government picks up the tab for something we used to pay for ourselves. When medicare was introduced in the 1960s, people knew how much they used to pay to visit a doctor or to go to the hospital to deliver a baby. We knew how vulnerable we were to being impoverished by some serious illness or accident that would send us to hospital for an extended stay. We were darned grateful to the government for paying these bills and guaranteeing that we’d get proper health care even if we couldn’t afford it.
But that was 50 years ago. Even those alive in those years mostly take our government-provided health care for granted by now. If we visit the doctor, we haven’t a clue how much that cost the system, let
alone if we need cancer treatments or heart surgery. Sometimes I think we should receive a statement at the end of each year saying “Your healthcare cost the government ‘so much’ this year”.
But that won’t work either. Take the example of those employer-provided benefit packages many people are fortunate to have covering everything from drug costs to dental care to even things like massages. These are an insurance plan but how many times have you heard someone say, “Well I wasn’t getting my buck’s worth so I decided to get some massages”. People whose employers grant them sick days to insure them against loss of income due to illness often say “Well I had sick days coming to me so I booked off to go shopping in the city for a day”.
We don’t seem to understand the concept of insurance. We want to be covered against catastrophic loss, but we also want to “get our money’s worth” in all the other years. For long periods of our lives my wife and I have paid far more towards healthcare than we got back, but there have been a few years when we couldn’t afford to pay the huge cost because some special illness hit us hard. Those tax dollars we’d “wasted” in our healthy years now saved our bacon.
In Ontario we’ve gone from one extreme to another – from a government that spent money it didn’t have to a government that gives tax breaks that cut its own revenue then claims it must cut important programs because it doesn’t have the money to pay for them. Our confused relationship between taxes and government services goes on and on.
Nobody likes to pay taxes and certainly we must be on constant guard to make sure our tax dollars are sensibly spent. On the other hand, so many things we depend on to enjoy our rich lives in Canada depend on taxes that support government. It’s stupid to hurt ourselves by not being willing to pay for these good things.