Rebuilding a fair national tax regime

Rebuilding the tax system is the smartest idea that has come out of B.C.’s current political turmoil.

The author of the idea is John Horgan, MLA for Juan de Fuca. He urges a tax-enquiry commission. This is a platform plank in his campaign for NDP leadership.

Horgan is a thoughtful pathfinder. Millions of people will thank him if his recommendation leads to fair tax reform.

Widespread anger over the B.C. Liberals’ clumsy and deceitful introduction of the harmonised sales tax suggests voters are ready for a strategy that will discourage such betrayals in future.

Tax redesign through public consensus could be a key element in that strategy.

The optimistic scenario is that a Horgan-inspired B.C. tax enquiry will be followed by a national soul-search into raising money by methods based on fairness, ability to pay and the struggle for human/environmental well-being, all of it in the spirit of Roy Romanow’s landmark health care study.

Carrying hopeful thinking to an even higher level, I dream that the government might obey the wishes of the majority in redesigning the tax system.

For this to happen, a Romanow-like tax enquiry will need to focus high-pressure public discontent on legislatures to translate the commission’s findings into law.

In the case of health care, governments controlled by Liberal-Conservatives (arguably one party with two faces) refuse to follow or even acknowledge the public will.

Rejection of health care privatization, and majority citizen support for public health care — sharpened up to make it more efficient and sensitive — were the main principles that emerged during and after the Romanow enquiry.

In defiance of this popular mandate (which is supported by mainstream expert analysis) Prime Minister Stephen Harper gave us an advance glimpse of his contrary health care policy in 2002, when he was leader of the right-wing Canadian Alliance at the time of the release of the final Romanow report.

In a Toronto Star interview, Harper accused Romanow of failing to cope with what Harper saw as escalating health care costs and declining service.

“Romanow virtually ruled out any new ideas for the provision of private-sector services within the public system, and even talked about expanding the existing system,’’ Harper said.

“He fails to recognize that the existing system is at the breaking point, and the talk of expansion raises the spectre of huge tax increases to pay for it.”

Contrary to Harper’s views and Liberal-Conservative tolerance of privatization, health care analyst Dr. Michael Rachlis and other experts showed with real-life examples that costs are controllable:

1. Innovative publicly owned clinics and day surgery centres can and do save money and lives and reduce waiting times.

2. User fees and for-profit medical centres drain away scarce medical talent and reduce health care access for poorer people.

3. Doctor co-ordinated health care teams that include nurse-practitioners, nurses, technicians and social workers, paid by methods other than fee-for service, can deliver excellent results.

4. Money and lives can be saved by national pharmaceutical-drug purchasing, national pharmacare, and nationwide kindergarten-to-university education.

Governments ignore these facts. They continue to trash citizen and expert demand for a strengthened public health care system.

In Ottawa and Victoria, it is clear that the fox is in charge of the henhouse.

But the electronic revolution may enable an organized, informed and critically empowered public to dramatize anger about political and bureaucratic dysfunction, prod reluctant politicians into health care improvement and tax reform, and replace elite-controlled governments with wiser and more responsive regimes.

Currently, election campaigns are sloganeering putdown tournaments in which rival contenders play fractions of the electorate like a pipe organ.

Policy-making is a separate process. When a tax enquiry begins within our new “direct democracy” branch of the political system, we should hear evidence for and against Harper’s corporate tax cuts and move toward a poverty-reducing “Tobin plus” tax on financial transactions.

—G.E. Mortimore is a Langford-based writer.. Think About It runs every second week in the Gazette.



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