Citizen or Taxpayer

So here’s my take on the Mayor of Toronto situation.

I’m not going to add to the already copious commentary about the appropriateness of the actions he has taken or what should or should not be done – lots of people smarter than me have already written about that very clearly and articulately. Although I will say the whole affair, right from the moment he was elected, has been a fascinating study in leadership – as much for the bad lessons taught as for the good.

Many, many people have expressed a sympathetic view – realizing that the Mayor undoubtedly has a health problem and needs help. Many have said that if he were to take a leave and seek treatment, they might be willing to support him again.

What I’ve not been able to truly understand throughout all of this are the comments from the public, some of them quite bright, who say something to the effect of “I don’t care what he does in his private life, he has saved us/me a great deal of money and I will continue to support him.” For me, this is equivalent to putting a price tag on character: that morals and values become less important if the outcome of the action accomplishes something desirable (in this case, keeping taxes low).

And I believe this stems from the language we have used increasingly in recent years, whereby we who used to be “citizens” have been reduced to being “taxpayers”.

I am increasingly discouraged by the term taxpayer that politicians use with increasing frequency to justify their policies and decisions. In and of itself, it is a fairly innocuous term; but when you think about it and what it implies, and the word citizen that it replaces, I believe this represents a fairly significant shift in our view of our community, of our country and of our society. Before any of this mess in Toronto started, I already found it worrisome because I think it has reduced our ability to be visionary. Now with terrible behaviour that is being excused by the same term, I am even more concerned. In fact, as I write this, one of the last things the Mayor said, after a week of unmitigated disaster, was: “we will see what the taxpayers have to say on October 27th (2014).” That’s it!? Only the taxpayers matter.

But as I write this, I also think of the events in the Middle East over the last few years. Take, for example, the protests that occurred in Tahrir Square – people  exercising their rights, in spite of the fear of violence, incarceration or even death – because they were acting as citizens.  Imagine organizers attempting to inspire those same people by calling on them as taxpayers. It’s a completely different world view about our society.

I believe that if all we do is govern according to what the taxpayers want, it will be a very cruel world indeed: focused on the bottom line, self-interest and excusing behaving that is inexcusable. Where would health care be? Where would education be? Where would the environment be? Where would arts and culture and recreation all be?

At Pickering, our vision statement is to create citizens – determined to change the world. Not taxpayers! The Athenian Youth that hangs on the wall in our Meeting Room is a declaration of citizenship! Not taxpayership.

Here are the familiar words we know. They have inspired generations.

We will never bring disgrace to this, our City, by any act of dishonesty or cowardice, nor ever desert our suffering comrades in the ranks. We will fight for the ideals and sacred things of the City, both alone and with many; we will revere and obey the City’s laws and do our best to incite a like respect and reverence in those above us who are prone to annul or set them at nought; we will strive unceasingly to quicken the public’s sense of civic duty.

 

Thus, in all these ways, we will transmit this City not only not less, but greater, better and more beautiful than it was transmitted to us.

 

Think of those words and listen to their power. Now imagine if they were focused on the taxpayer.

I will never embarrass myself by knowingly underpaying or overpaying my taxes, while always seeking the most loopholes and concessions available to me. I will fight for the lowest possible tax rate while maximizing the services available to me; I will revere the principle that everyone is in it for themselves and that everyone, rich people, middle class or poor, should pay their own way for the services they use.

 

Thus, in all these ways, I will transmit this tax base not only not more, but lesser, more cost-effective, and more economically prudent, than it was transmitted to me.

That would be a sorry world indeed.