Editorial: Taxes must be fair

  • October 1, 2017

Pay unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, said Jesus, yet few topics rankle people more than taxes.

So it’s no wonder proposals to amend the federal tax code for small, incorporated businesses have people worried. Many of these enterprises are run by moms and dads who are anything but wealthy. Thus there is understandable trepidation as the finance minister sharpens his scythe for a broad swipe at tax laws that now benefit owners of small businesses.

An objective of government should be fair taxation so it can meet its moral obligation to provide a range of public services and advance the common good of society. Fair taxation means that those who make more money should pay more taxes, and it implies that this is done in order to reduce the gap in living standard between the rich and the poor. If there are loopholes that create true inequities, they should be closed. If there are cheaters, they should be prosecuted.

Catholic tradition and teaching is clear in this regard. In 1961 Pope John XXIII said tax assessment “according to the ability to pay is fundamental to a just and equitable system.” The Catechism states our “co-responsibility for the common good make it morally obligatory to pay taxes.” The Vatican II document Gaudium et Spes cautioned against an “individualistic morality” that leads many to “resort to various frauds and deceptions in avoiding just taxes or other debts due to society.”

Governments, therefore, have not only a right to tax citizens, but have a moral duty to do so in order to generate the revenue required to shape just societies. This shaping occurs in countless ways but, ultimately, the moral rationale for taxation boils down to what an American priest once called a way for sophisticated societies to care for one another.

When it comes to amendments to Canadian tax laws, it’s hard to dispute change is needed. But the current proposals raise legitimate questions about whether the government has taken aim at the proper targets — or at enough targets. Any serious tax reform should also consider the wealthy class and its millions squirrelled away in various tax-avoidance shelters which are legally sound but morally suspect.

Just as governments should feel obligated to distribute tax revenue justly and equitably through policies and programs for society, so too should politicians ensure all classes of society pay their fair share. Taxes that go uncollected due to regulations that give high earners advantages represent money unavailable for social programs that, for starters, might go towards First Nations projects or ending child poverty.

So by all means review tax regulations. But do so ever mindful of the principle of fairness. Taxation exists to improve the lot of ordinary people, not to serve the whims of government.

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