The LRC Presents…

How did “Taxes” Become a Bad Word?

Dr. Alex Himelfarb asks how "taxes" became a bad word in Canada. Was it our loss of trust in the government or in one another, or does it run even deeper: a loss of trust in the future?

“Today, political leaders compete to demonstrate their bona fides as tax cutters committed to the new austerity,” observes Alex Himelfarb recently. “How can taxes be cut even more without consequences? ‘Greater efficiency, less waste, more innovative delivery’ is the customary answer. Well, nobody is fighting for more waste and less efficiency.”

Most government spending spending goes to transfers for health care, education, pensions, child benefits, welfare and vital infrastructure – public goods and services that Canadian want and need. And the combination of tax cuts and an aging population will mean less investment in the future and erosion in the quality of and access to these services, and even deeper inequality.

So how did “taxes” become a bad word in Canada? Was it our loss of trust in the government or, in one another, or does it run even deeper: a loss of trust in the future? “When we believe progress is not possible, we live in the present, and we loose out commitment in tomorrow,” Himelfarb said. “This is the first time in many generations that we worry our kids are probably not going to be better off than we are.”

He talks about what politicians – right, left, centre – refuse to tell us: We will have to pay more in taxes, but we’ll also have to change the way we think about what our future is worth.


Former clerk of the Privy Council


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An event co-produced with TVO's Big Ideas