Poorer...but it smells better!

web posted February 1999

When not working on Enter Stage Right, I make my living in the real world as an on-line journalist. Something that I've always found interesting is not how people respond to a news story, but which news stories they respond to.

On January 18, Canada's media reported two different stories, but only one received real attention from Canadians.

The first set of stories dealt with how much tax Canadians pay. According to the Canadian Press version, we're paying more in federal income taxes despite much heralded (and very small) tax cuts by Finance Minister Paul Martin.

The reason for this is a phenomenon known as "bracket creep." Though tax rates have largely remained stable during the 1990s, so has the average person's income. While you might think that you're paying the same amount of tax now as you did in 1991, you're actually paying more because of our old friend inflation.

In real dollars, Canadian's incomes have shrunk, meaning a greater portion is going to taxes. Finance Department figures show that unless Martin fully indexes taxes against inflation, Canadians will pay about C$840 million more this year in taxes and an additional C$3.4 billion by 2004. The feds can't be blamed for raising taxes but still enjoy increased "revenue."

That same day the federal government announced a major campaign against the evils of smoking. New warning labels will take up to 60 per cent of the front of cigarette packages with new blunt warnings and more detailed information on the content of cigarette smoke. That was followed up over the next several days with stories how the government was meeting with U.S. experts on how to smear legitimate businesses, non-governmental organizations who doubtless receive federal funding, reports linking smoking to male sexual dysfunction and a new television ad campaign.

Now I'm not one to suggest conspiracy at the timing of these two stories. Jihads against smoking by our governments have been carried out for years while "bracket creep" has been a popular Canadian Taxpayers Federation theme for the past several years, but if the government did want to bury the tax story, then the hot button issue of smoking is the one to do it with.

Led by the media, my nation's willing thralls eagerly embraced the tobacco story -- probably on the strength of the impotence angle -- and forgot all about the erosion of their standard of living.

Oh well.

As I sat at my desk digesting how these stories were being reported and received, I tried to figure out whether there was a common thread. If you accept my supposition that a philosophical belief underlies all actions, whether or not the person making that action realizes that, then there must be a deeper reason why people latched onto one story over the other.

The best I could come up with was that as much as Canadians gripe about their taxes, the idea of poking their noses into other people's business is more important to them. A Canadian has enough time to throw stones at other people as long as their Employment Insurance cheque is coming in.

It is a sad commentary on my nation that in an era of increasing prosperity around the world, Canadians are actually becoming poorer. It may be even sadder to realize that Canadian's don't care...just as long as the air doesn't have tobacco smoke.

Thanks for reading,

Gord Gekko

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