“His taxes now prove, His great love for people,
So wisely they're managed, They starve our poor souls.”
~ Charles Morris on William Pitt the Younger
“The power to tax involves the power to destroy.”
~ U.S. Chief Justice John Marshall
Jean-Baptiste Colbert once advised a French court that the art of taxation consists in so plucking the goose as to obtain the largest possible amount of feathers with the smallest possible amount of hissing. Well, the time may have come for some serious hissing.
Revenue Quebec has recently released statements indicating its pride in collecting some $35 million of extra monies through a radically draconian, and egregiously invasive, “net worth” program that allows for sharing of information on all citizens horizontally between provincial departments and vertically with municipalities. In its violation of privacy rights, waste of government resources and preferred treatment of the privileged, it should be roundly condemned.
The extra monies raised is a pittance in an approximately $60 billion budget. The extra costs of bureaucrats to enforce it and send out the 10,000 added assessments eats up a lot of the gains. But more than anything else, the violation of the fifty year status quo of privacy protection of taxpayers’ files should not be forgiven come election time.
When Maurice Duplessis instituted revenue collection by this province following the1954 election, it was based on a flat 15% rate that was to be credited against transfer payments from Ottawa. Those credits were never effected. And that initial 15% rate has now become so inflated that Quebecers are not only the highest taxed people in North America, but their Quebec taxes are higher than those they pay to Ottawa. What we have to show for it is questionable.
Quebec’s recent statements point with pride to the fact that “every additional dollar collected will go straight into the health care and education systems.” That is patently false. We know from past experience under the PQ that $500 million dollars slated for health care sat in Toronto banks earning interest. And not much has changed. Just before the recent federal-provincial summit on health, Premier Charest said quite clearly that any additional dollars from Ottawa will go where he wants them to…in this case to fatten the budgets of the departments he had previously cut.
And Quebec is not going after the big money. Those vested interests are too important to this government. There is no attempt made whatever to rollback the loopholes that allow 30% of Quebec corporations that declare profits of at least $1 million a year from paying any tax whatever. The Revenuers, in classic fashion, go only after the individual. The little guy. In the past two years Revenue Québec has established “Directoires”, sections, for textile workers, construction trades and restaurants. They hit the waitresses, the taxi drivers and the gyprock guys because its easy.
Our tax privacy rights were not acquired through the altruism of governors. It was the price for the tolerance of the governed for a tax system that was instituted as a temporary measure to finance World War I and stayed permanent even though no enabling legislation was ever passed to cover its inherent legal deficiencies.
Instead of trying to collect more taxes, the government would serve us better if it cut back on the wild program spending in cultural, social, artistic and athletic endeavours that have come under state fiat and are nothing more than cheap pork-barrel vote grabbing schemes that we foot the bill for. We live under the yoke of a political culture reminiscent of Huey Long who once shrieked, “We will tax and tax, spend and spend, elect and elect”.
An end to the pandering to corporate welfare would be an even better way to free tax dollars for essential services. Bleating and whining, business floods our capital with all manner of rationalizations for state supports. The rationalizations are always followed by none too subtle threats. The annual ritual of corporate executives mouthing platitudes about free markets and laissez-faire economics in front of the cameras, and then turning around behind the closed doors of government committees and demanding grants, subsidies and supports.
Quebec has systematically compromised the people’s trust. It has not kept faith with the people, rending asunder notions of equity and replacing them with expediency. The enforcement powers in Quebec border on the criminal. Aside from the privacy infringements of the new information sharing policies, we have lived through a year that has seen Quebec’s Revenue Department utilize over a dozen police cruisers to invade five restaurants in broad daylight and seize their cash registers because of suspicions that they were using zappers. Quebec has not seen coercive measures of this nature since Duplessis.
While all Canadians have been drafted to be tax collectors under the GST Provisions, in Quebec, citizens are now forced to become Stalinist informers having to file monthly reports on any subcontractors they use. The information is then used to track the sales tax remittances of the subcontractors. This has hit small businesspeople in the textile and construction industries particularly hard because the penalty for forgetting to file a monthly report is $2500.
Quebec Revenue has begun to use seizures on bank accounts with alarming regularity even for small amounts owed. The prejudice caused to credit reputations and banking relationships is rarely taken into account.
Bureaucrats will tell you that they can exercise all these powers under the broad sweep of the infamous Sec.15 of the tax law. In so doing they choose to ignore a very important safeguard. Since the introduction of the Canadian and Quebec Charters of Rights and Freedoms all legislation is subject to the principles of “...fundamental justice…”. Jurisprudence has defined this to mean that due process must be followed at every stage of the enforcement process. This means the application of proper notice and equitable procedure among other requirements.
We can survive without the funding of dance festivals and cooking weeks and boating regattas. We can succeed without corporate handouts. We can conduct our lives without cultural and societal dictates from the state. We can organize ourselves successfully without a bureaucracy bigger than California’s for a population one-fifth the size.
What we can never abide is the loss of personal dignity. What we must never acquiesce to is the subornation of our inherent supremacy as individuals over the whims of the state. What we should never acknowledge as possible is the co-opting of our national will to complicity with an assault on our own rights. What we will never accept as legitimate is the notion that our status as free citizens is negotiable to the corporate interests of bureaucratic tyranny.
Without equality of consideration as its guiding spirit the system itself, unchecked by any restraint of consequence, is doomed to fail the ordinary citizen.
Though we are a society of laws and not of men we must keep our sense of outrage and steel the courage of our resolve to act on Gandhi’s injunction that,
“When bad men make bad laws and when unprincipled officials compromise good ones, then it is time to be a man and to exercise responsible agitation to prevent governments from staggering drunkenly from wrong to wrong in order to preserve their own immortality.”