Toronto Politics Definition of the Week: “Taxation”

This is the first installment of a series where we will examine words that have become part of the Toronto political lexicon. We will first read the Dictionary.com definition, then put the word’s use into context via the issues of the day.

“I can’t support taxing the taxpayer.”

Mayor Rob Ford, on the One City transit proposal, July 9th 2012.

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tax·a·tion [tak-sey-shuhn]

noun

1. the act of taxing.
2. the fact of being taxed.
3. a tax imposed.
4. the revenue raised by taxes.
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In September 2008, shortly before Barack Obama won the U.S presidential election, his Vice Presidential running mate, then Senator Joe Biden suggested that raising taxes on wealthy people who made over $250,000 a year was “patriotic.”

In the time since Mr. Biden’s debatably prescient statement, North Americans have seen themselves embroiled in a debate about the efficacy of taxation, with the more far-right contingent in both the U.S and Canada effectively creating a meme from the idea that taxation, in all its shapes and forms, is far from a necessary evil, but an actual one.

In the run up to the 2010 Toronto Mayoral election then-candidate Rob Ford had been increasingly described as a “Tea Party” candidate, with some commentators going as far as to label Ford as reminicent of American ex-governor Sarah Palin in his rampant anti-tax, small government political platform.

Many voters in the Megacity, to the initial awe of many progressives living in the city’s core, identified with this message and to this day, still identify with the Fordian ideal of taxation as a wholly futile means of generating revenue and providing a variety of municipal services to Torontonians.

Ah yes, revenue; now we come to the crux of this week’s definition. The word revenue, as included in the fourth meaning of the definition of taxation, is probably the most salient in the analysis of the Mayor’s words and the implications of his political agenda. What is the budgetary lifeblood of all private business, non-profit organizations and governments? Revenue.

It seems Toronto is on the precipice of the narrative arc of how it views taxation (evil), versus revenue (good). Even Mayor Ford would agree that generating revenue is an important part of his administration and developing the city as he sees fit, since revenue doesn’t just come in through property taxes, but via user fees (which saw an increase in the Mayor’s 2012 budget), development charges and other tools as stipulated in the City of Toronto act.

A majority of Torontonians favoured Councillor and TTC chair Karen Stintz’s “One City” transit plan (now heavily revised) that proposed a massive property tax increase, especially upon homeowners, in the name of generating revenue, creating, as Stintz put it on the floor of Council today, a “city expansion plan”. Here, Councillor Stintz effectively frames generating revenue as an irrefutably important act of citizenship and is reaping enormous political capital because of it.

It can be argued that Mayor Ford, for all his passion and conviction, sought to divide Toronto on the mantle of the dreaded “tax.” But he’s got a good point: Nobody wants to “tax the taxpayers;” it connotates imposing a wasteful, abhorrently fultile policy upon Torontonians. Unfortunately, now the people of the city have woken to the idea that to justify a political battle to fund a “city expansion plan”, they must be prepared to dole out bit more out of their pockets into the coffers of government. The worst part is that it is not the Chief Magistrate of the city leading the charge.

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