A Few Words on Taxes in Quebec

(note: I’ve got a Saskatchewan report coming, but Carrie’s got the camera in Vancouver, so it’ll be delayed)

For those of you who don’t follow Canadian politics, the new Quebec minority government almost fell last week. The liberal party, who has a plurality, introduced a budget with a massive income tax cut for the middle class. The two opposition parties both said that they would vote against the budget because of the tax cut, but at the last minute the Parti Québécois decided to sit only three representatives at the vote, effectively allowing the budget to pass even though they opposed it.

The thing that has commentators talking is that a poll conducted by Leger Marketing (which appears to have an effective monopoly on polls in Quebec) showed a vast majority of Quebec residents opposed to any tax cut. The story is a little more complex than that: for one thing, the question asked pitted a tax cut against putting the money toward healthcare. For another, countless commentators have noted that the tax cut only affects the top tax bracket in Quebec (which kicks in a $57,430), and that the majority of people polled wouldn’t be affected by it. The people in the top tax bracket were more favorably disposed to the tax cut, but I haven’t actually seen the numbers there.

Commentators have been going on at great length around a few propositions:

1. the payouts from the federal government to the provinces are “our money” and therefore we are due a tax cut
2. Ontario has lower taxes and better services
3. the people unaffected by the tax cut effective shouldn’t count in the poll
4. the poll question was biased because it posed an attractive alternative to a tax cut

The latest is a column by Lysiane Gagnon in today’s Globe and Mail though it would be fair to say that last week the Gazette devoted the better part of a day’s A section to defending the tax cut.

All four propositions are complete bullshit.

1. Given Quebec’s massive provincial debt, if the money “belongs” to anyone, it is to our creditors and our children (well, not mine, I don’t have any, but the children who live in the province) and therefore the ADQ (one of the opposition parties) was right that debt service would be a more valid use than a tax cut for the most well-off in the province.

2. There are lots of reasons why Ontario has better services, but the comparison isn’t exactly fair. It is a more prosperous province, and to take one example — higher education — tuition in Ontario is much much higher than in Quebec.

3. The claim that people who don’t pay taxes or pay less tax shouldn’t have a say in the tax cut (or that their voices count less) is simply ludicrous. If they have a right to vote in the province, they have a right to their positions on the tax code, and frankly, why wouldn’t an historically socialistic province believe that its wealthiest members should shoulder a larger share of the burden for paying for stuff?

4. There is no unbiased discussion of a tax cut. If a poll simply asked people whether or not they wanted a tax cut, it would be equally dishonest, as it obfuscates the fact that money not used for tax cuts could go to other things. Tax cuts are a favorite campaign ploy of politicians because they work like bribery: “vote for me and you’ll have more money in your pocket.” Except that it rarely works out that way for any but the most well-off voters.

When Quebec pays down its debt, improves its services, and insures its future welfare, this taxpayer will consider a tax cut (though preferably on a regressive, rather than a progressive tax). Until then, use the money for the greater good and I’ll shell out.

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