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McDONALD: Tax fairness or tax grab; Trudeau's changes will hit close to home

September 08, 2017 - 12:00 PM

OPINION


Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the federal Liberals aren’t the only politicians hearing about their proposed tax changes.

Kelowna city councillor Gail Given says she’s been hearing about it ever since the Liberals announced it last week, not so much from the doctors and lawyers, but orchardists and farmers and other small business owners who say the changes will harm them greatly.

Of course, Given can only influence change to local property taxes, not the federal tax code but that hasn’t stopped the calls.

The irony is Given is quite sympathetic to their concerns, something I discovered as we waited for the arrival of Trudeau earlier this week at the Enterprise Way fire hall.

Given views small business as the job-generating backbone of the local economy and feels the risks small business and would-be entrepreneurs take with their capital earn them the tax breaks they get.

My own stance tilts toward the government on this one and our divergent views could be viewed as illustrating the wider debate.

It seems to me that when a particular business sector — and that’s what these private corporations are — grouse about tax changes, it’s because its members don’t like to see a loophole closing, rather than the broader concept of tax fairness for everyone.

Our friendly conversation was broken up by the arrival of Trudeau but we both left unswayed by each other’s arguments.

This won’t be the last and it isn’t the first time tax changes have set a particular group up in arms but the response is always similar: Jobs will be cut, investment stifled, prices will go up, on goes the warning.

(You hear the same thing from the same people when any suggestion is made to raise minimum wages.)

If you look through that, the message comes up very cold, essentially saying that whatever you do won’t really hurt me, Jack, I’ll pass the buck onto someone else, either employees or customers.

Where’s the risk in that?

I guess I’m a financial conservative as far as business goes, because I think if you want pure reward, then take pure risk, no tax shelters, no tax credits or subsidies.

You sure don’t see many corporations or small businesses clamouring to pay back those things back should they flourish. And many of them do.

I’ve never been prime minister (despite my name) and I’ve never been an engineer or doctor but I have run a small business.

I don’t recall bumping along with anything other than the usual write-offs for supplies and such.

That the business didn’t succeed despite my hard work is beside the point, although I don’t know if income sprinkling or any of the other accounting practices the Liberals are targeting would have saved me.

In any event, I don’t think I could have afforded to set up the corporate structure required, nor did I ever make enough to sprinkle money down to my relatives.

Media across the country are talking of a righteous groundswell of anger from small businesses and Conservative leader Andrew Scheer has jumped on it but I’ve seen just as strong defence of tax fairness on social media.

Simply put, a lot of people see the complainants as fat cats protecting their piles. The Liberals realize that which is why they are strongly defending the move.

— John McDonald is a long-time reporter, editor and photographer from the Central Okanagan with a strong curiosity about local affairs. You can reach him at jmcdonald@infonews.ca.


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