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Making the Case for Higher Taxes

Group calls for tax rates on the rich to be returned to pre-2000 levels

by Ben Sichel

John Christensen of the Tax Justice network says trillions of dollars are funneled away in tax havens each year by the corporate sector.
John Christensen of the Tax Justice network says trillions of dollars are funneled away in tax havens each year by the corporate sector.

A forum this Sunday put on by a new local group, Nova Scotians for Tax Fairness, is premised on one simple idea: the rich should pay more in taxes.

“When you start to look at people who are in the top 10 per cent of income earners, they’ve been doing very, very well…in terms of diminished taxation in the past dozen years,” says spokesperson Brian O’Neill.

“It’s not really going to hurt that much” to re-raise those taxation levels, O’Neill says.

The forum will feature John Christensen, director of the U.K.-based Tax Justice International Network; Murray Dobbin, veteran journalist and president of Canadians for Tax Fairness; Lars Osberg, chair of the Economics Department at Dalhousie University, and Alvin Mosioma, coordinator of the Tax Justice Network’s Africa secretariat.

Topics of discussion will range from the meaning of “fair” taxation to the problem with tax havens around the world.

Though any proposition to raise taxes is generally considered politically toxic, O’Neill thinks there is potential for the message to resonate with the public.

“This is a sleeper social justice kind of issue,” O’Neill says. “It’s always struck me that this is a fundamental kind of issue that we need to get our heads around.

“A lot of us, the majority I believe, don’t like the idea of the rich getting richer.”

O’Neill points to a recent Environics poll which indicated that 75 per cent of Canadians agree with the statement that “taxes are a good thing because they pay for important things that contribute to a positive quality of life,” as opposed to just 19 per cent who said they are “a bad thing…because they take money out of people’s pockets and hold back economic growth.” (In Conservative-friendly Alberta, 82 per cent said taxes were fundamentally positive.)

In the recent federal budget, however, few were surprised to hear finance minister Jim Flaherty state that the Conservative government would “not raise taxes.” In Ontario, Liberal premier Dalton McGuinty dismissed the idea out of hand when he commissioned the Drummond Report blueprint for cuts to public services in that province.

And in Nova Scotia, despite ongoing deep and controversial cuts to education, among other public sectors, the NDP government is considering lowering taxes.

(It is worth noting that in its first budget in 2010, the Dexter government implemented a fifth income tax bracket of 21 per cent for Nova Scotians earning over $150,000 per year.)

On the topic of corporate taxes, O’Neill is somewhat intrigued with recent and current governments’ proactive approach to slashing tax rates.

“I never really read much about corporations railing against the high corporate tax rate,” O’Neill says, adding that there is little proven correlation between corporate tax cuts and economic activity.

The strategy seems to be “part of the global capitalist race to the bottom. How low can we put the wages?” says O’Neill.

Fundamentally, a more egalitarian society is beneficial to all, argues O’Neill.

“The more unequal the society, the less tranquility, the less peace, the more conflict, the more stress, and that emanates throughout society,” O’Neill says.

“The indicators are clearly there, that the bottom 20, if not the bottom 40 per cent of the population is worse off now than 20 or 30 years ago.”

The Forum on Tax Fairness will be held Sunday, April 1st from 1:00 to 5:00 p.m. in the McInnis Room of the Student Union Building, Dalhousie University. The forum is free and open to the public.

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Topics: Governance
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