Canadians contradict themselves on gov't spending: prof
The Canada Revenue Agency headquarters in Ottawa is shown on Friday, Nov. 4, 2011. (Sean Kilpatrick / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Published Wednesday, May 2, 2012 12:32PM PDT
Canadians' desire for government-provided social services is contradicted by their distaste for taxes, according to a public policy expert from the University of British Columbia.
Paul Kershaw says Canucks' priorities and their political rhetoric are inconsistent, sending mixed messages to their elected officials.
"We are fueling a culture of mistrust. Canadians need to look in the mirror; it is our own inconsistency which makes it difficult for politicians to make decisions."
A national poll conducted by McAllister Opinion Research last fall found 45 percent of respondents felt government laws, services and programs were irrelevant to their well-being and quality of life – yet 90 per cent said they rejected spending cuts on almost all aspects of social policy.
Most said they want the government to spend as much, if not more, on a broad range of issues such as health care and pensions, but roughly half said they wouldn't vote for any politician who wanted to raise taxes for any reason.
"This is an odd cultural dynamic," said Kershaw, who has analyzed spending and taxation trends at the provincial and federal levels since 1976.
According to his research, spending on medical care and pensions is $80 billion higher today than it would be under 1976 budgetary policy, but taxes haven't kept up pace; spending actually went up four times faster than the taxes that pay for them over the same period.
Canadians haven't always been as unwilling to balance the country's books, however. Taxes were $80 billion higher in 2002, Kershaw said, but both the provincial and federal governments have since severely cut individual income and sales tax to cater to a "pay-ourselves" attitude.
Kershaw said the implications are high, and won't play out evenly across generational lines. With spending on medical care and pensions growing and taxes declining, there are fewer resources to compensate for the decreasing standard of living that is hitting today's generations of under 45, he said.
Kershaw says there are policy solutions to these challenges, such as a generational dividend. However, financing is a problem if Canadians do not change their attitudes.