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Jeffrey Simpson (Bill Grimshaw)
Jeffrey Simpson (Bill Grimshaw)

Jeffrey Simpson

A very scary PM: 'I don't believe <br/>that any taxes are good taxes' Add to ...

You know, there's two schools in economics on this. One is that there are some good taxes and the other is that no taxes are good taxes. I'm in the latter category. I don't believe that any taxes are good taxes.

- Stephen Harper, July 10

This assertion, from an interview the Prime Minister gave The Globe and Mail after the G8 summit in Italy, is one of the most stunning, revealing and, frankly, ignorant statements ever made by a prime minister, let alone one who keeps purporting to be an economist, despite doing so many things that economists deplore.

Think about it: The prime minister of a country is saying, "I don't believe that any taxes are good taxes."

There is no "school," to use Stephen Harper's word, anywhere in economics that says "no taxes are good taxes." Not even Milton Friedman and the Chicago school think that. Nor do Mr. Harper's former mentors at the University of Calgary.

They, like right-wing politicians, might think taxes are too high, maybe way too high. They might think the private sector can do lots of things better than the public sector. They might believe taxes should be lower. But anyone who says "no taxes are good taxes" and "I don't believe that any taxes are good taxes" is wrong economically, and very, very scary socially and politically.

Only libertarian anarchists believe that all taxes are bad, and that society can get along without them. But who will pay, if not citizens, for the military on which the Harper government is lavishing billions of dollars? Who will pay for the police, the courts?

Who will provide, if not the taxpayers, the revenues to pay for the two services that even the most right-wing ideologues agree only public authorities can provide: the defence of the realm, and law and order?

Maybe the Prime Minister misspoke. Maybe he was just using a figure of speech, although he could have said something like "all taxes are a necessary evil." But even that "necessary evil" idea is different from saying all taxes are bad, because the "evil" of taxation is "necessary," as indeed it is in any civilized society.

Presumably, there lurks inside the Prime Minister an anger about much of contemporary society that has been built with taxpayers' money, an anger contained by the political reality that the Prime Minister can't do much about this state of affairs.

Indeed, the comment harkens back to Mr. Harper's days shilling for the National Citizens Coalition and early years with the Reform Party, when he believed that just about everything governments were doing was bad and wasteful and led to huge deficits. Since then, and especially as Prime Minister, Mr. Harper has shelved many of those views, since a distinguishing characteristic of his government has been a reluctance to cut government spending.

Not a single major government program has been eliminated since he took office, perhaps because of minority governments, or perhaps because political reality has shackled Mr. Harper's deep instincts that all taxes and, by extension, the programs for which taxes pay, are bad.

His governments cut taxes, which is in line with the Prime Minister's ideology, the problem being that the GST was the wrong tax to cut, as almost every qualified economist in the country has underscored.

Now, with deficits burgeoning, Mr. Harper insists again (the ideology returns) that he will never raise taxes, even though future deficits are going to be much larger than his government has forecast.

The Parliamentary Budget Officer and TD Economics have both destroyed the government's rosy deficit projections (and much else) in recent reports that show deficits stretching well beyond 2013-2014, when the government insists the budget will be balanced.

By ruling out tax increases, and refusing to indicate that big spending cuts will be needed, the government is shackling Canada with deficits stretching into the distance, with more accumulated debt - a strange state of affairs for a nominally conservative government.

Politically, of course, this aversion to tax from a prime minister who believes "no taxes are good taxes" has terrified the Liberals, who are afraid of being honest by telling Canadians that resumed economic growth alone will not restore Canada's balanced budget.

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