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Huh? We don't like tax hikes - but aren't keen on spending cuts: poll

People attend the 'We Are Ontario' rally organised by the Ontario Federation of Labour at Queen's Park in Toronto, April 21, 2012


We Canadians are a tough lot to please.

We whine about government spending – especially at tax time – even as we fight service cuts tooth and nail, says public policy professor Paul Kershaw at the University of British Columbia.

Nearly half of Canadians – 45 per cent – say government laws, services and programs are irrelevant to their well-being and quality of life, according to a national poll by McAllister Opinion Research.

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Nevertheless, the same poll found that 90 per cent of Canadians are against cuts to services that support families with children, seniors, medical care, the environment and the poor.

The numbers show the disconnect between Canadians' political rhetoric and social spending priorities, Dr. Kershaw says.

"It has become trendy for Canadians to say that government doesn't matter," he says. "But nine in 10 Canadians want as much, if not more, spending on a variety of priorities."

Pity the politician who tries to give Canadians what they really want. Of 1,325 Canadians polled, 47 per cent say they would vote against any politician who wanted to increase taxes for any reason.

"Canadians haven't always been so unwilling to balance the country's chequebook," Dr. Kershaw says. "But since 2000, we've prioritized tax cuts to 'pay ourselves' first and foremost, while continuing spending."

On his blog, Dr. Kershaw refers to Canada as a "relatively low tax country by international standards." According to his analysis, Canadians pay $22-billion more now than we would if 1976 tax laws applied today. But he notes that over the same period, spending on medical care and pensions has increased by more than $80-billion a year – four times faster than the taxes that pay for them.

Meanwhile, south of the border, blockbuster author Stephen King is begging Uncle Sam to raise taxes to 50 from 28 per cent of his income – and do the same for the rest of the superrich.

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There is, of course, a vast difference between government spending and gross misuse of taxpayer funds. (Minister of International Co-operation Bev Oda will be regretting that Savoy hotel bill and $16 glass of orange for some time to come.)

But the next time you crunch the numbers for Revenue Canada, it might help to remind yourself that the tax man giveth as well as taketh away.

Do you think Canadians pay too many taxes? If so, which areas of government spending would you cut?

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About the Author

Adriana Barton is based in The Globe and Mail’s Vancouver bureau. Her article on growing up with counterculture parents is published in a McGraw-Hill anthology, right after an essay by Margaret Atwood. She wishes her last name didn’t start with B. More

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