Politics and its Discontents: Groaning Beneath The Yoke

Last week, that paragon of rectitude, impartiality and righteousness (irony alert!), The Fraser Institute, performed its annual service to all Canadian by reminding us of the tax yoke under which we all groan:

This non-profit, tax-payer subsidized ‘independent’ think tank without a political agenda was keen to share details of our collective burden:

The Fraser Institute calculates that the average Canadian family paid $34,154 in taxes of all sort last year, including “hidden” business taxes that are passed along in the price of goods and services purchased.

The study’s authors conclude that visible and hidden taxes would have been equal to 42.4 per cent of the cash income for an average Canadian family in 2015, estimated at $80,593.

By comparison, the study estimates the average Canadian family spent $30,293 on housing, food and clothing last year — about 37.6 per cent of the family’s total cash income.

Thanks to a largely compliant and/or lazy mainstream media, this is now being accepted as a factual and grievous injustice. However, leave it to Press Progress to provide some much-needed balance and perspective:

Although the Fraser Institute claims the average family spends 42% of its income on taxes, less than one-third of that number actually refers to federal and provincial income tax.

The Fraser Institute inflates its numbers by tacking on average costs for health insurance, pensions and employment insurance (as if they’re all one in the same thing) and further pads their numbers by including corporate taxes and oil and gas royalties for some reason.

Fraser Institute defends their curious methodological choices by arguing “the cost of business taxation is ultimately passed onto ordinary Canadians.”

Is that true? To the extent that taxes on corporate profits are passed along to anyone, a US study shows four-fifths of the corporate tax burden would be passed onto income earners in the top 20% – in other words, even by the Fraser Institute’s own logic, it’s not being passed on to the “average Canadian family.”

In a similar vein, that outlier of the mainstream media, The Toronto Star, offers offers this counsel about the alarmist report:

– it deceptively includes corporate taxes, which are largely shouldered by richer Canadians.

– as a share of Canada’s economy, taxes are now at a low rarely seen over the last three decades.

– the portion of income going to taxes has increased by only 7 per cent since 1961.

The biggest flaw in the Fraser report, typical of the kind of right-wing propaganda it regularly disseminates, is the glaring omission of what we get for those tax dollars:

A 2009 report from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives found that middle-income Canadians enjoy public services, from education to health insurance to pensions, worth about $41,000 annually per family – or roughly 63 per cent of their income. Conversely, we have watched as decades of tax cuts have led to eroding public services, but also to rising inequality, persistent homelessness, traffic gridlock and crumbling schools.

So clearly, that yoke under which the Fraser Institute would have us believe we all slave isn’t quite the burden they have presented. Indeed, many would not call it a yoke at all, but rather a representation of the values we hold dear as a society. But I guess the Fraser Institute lacks both the will and the tools to measure such vital intangibles.

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