THE BLOG

Don't Call Me a 'Taxpayer' - I Am More Than Just My Wallet

12/06/2013 08:23 EST | Updated 02/05/2014 05:59 EST

Please, don't call me a taxpayer.

Yes, I pay taxes -- both as a person and for the business I run. But that's not who I am.

Let me explain what I mean: my identity is not wrapped up in the amount of money I make, or the amount of money the government collects from me. I am not defined by one thing, and government for me isn't some transactional exercise.

In other words, I am not a piggy bank. (Except to my kids, maybe.)

I'm not sure when we allowed Conservatives to shove all individuals under the banner of "taxpayers," but I don't like it one bit.

"Saving taxpayers money" has become the Conservative brand (and the saving grace of Mayor Rob Ford, who prides himself on being cheap).

When did we become cheap ourselves? When did we accept the idea that political leaders are just unpleasant accountants? When did we start talking about Canada like it's a corporation and not a country?

When I got my first paycheque, my grandfather said, "You should be proud of yourself. Now you're contributing to society." Is that ethos dead and gone?

Now, don't get me wrong: I don't love paying taxes. No one does.

But I do like elementary schools. And I'm a big fan of healthcare. I can't say enough good things about sewage -- specifically, the infrastructure that whisks it away. Libraries are wonderful places. Hockey rinks, too (except for the screaming parents). I'll be a cheerleader for the brave souls who investigate cockroach-ridden restaurants, and I'm very okay with shelling out dollars so our homeless survive the winter.

I don't like when tax dollars are wasted -- whether at the provincial level by relocating gas plants, or at City Hall by tearing up LRT contracts willy-nilly, or even by the federal government straight up losing $3.1 billion (whatever happened to that scandal, by the way?).

And I get that times are tough. Saving pennies matters to a lot of people these days, and it should to our governments, too.

But there's a difference between being smart with our money and just being cheap.

Conservatives are fond of saying they wish government ran more like a business. Well, sometimes it's better business to invest in R&D, in new technology, in a new employee. You can't cut your way to success in business, and the same is true in government.

Our government needs to invest in transit and education. It's the best way to stay competitive.

It's dangerous to reduce my citizenship to a shopping trip, where I only fork out cash for things I personally benefit from. That's not how a society works. We build society through give and take, doing what is in the public interest.

Now, I get the branding genius of calling everyone "taxpayers": it means we focus on how much we pay in taxes, and for the right-wing politician, keeping the focus on taxes rather than services is the perfect linguistic Trojan horse to advance their narrow-minded fatwa against government itself.

But progressives have a responsibility to fight back. It's our job to tell the truth about taxes. It's our job to be responsible grownups, not cheapskates. And "taxpayers" creates a culture of resentment, not responsibility.

So please, don't call me a taxpayer.

I am more than my wallet.

So are you.

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