The word “freedom” is banded about a lot these days: freedom from government regulations; freedom from Public Health Orders; freedom to block roads and make noise; freedom from taxes. A leadership candidate for one of Canada’s main political parties is trying to capitalize on this desire for “freedom” by running on a platform to make Canada the “freeist country in the world!”
If we had “freedom” the way the word is being thrown around today, our society would devolve to mob rule, where “might is right” and vulnerable populations are put at risk. The chaos we saw in downtown Ottawa would become the norm in every community, as unfettered freedom is anarchy.
In order for society to work there has to be organized decision-making (government), ground rules (laws and regulations); enforcement of the ground rules (policing); consequences for breaking the ground rules (justice system); and the collection of fees (taxes) to build and maintain the physical infrastructure we share in common (roads, bridges, water and sewer systems, etc.), build and maintain shared amenities (arenas and pools, parks and playgrounds, trails, etc.); create and sustain shared services (health care, education, social services, fire protection and police, etc.).
Unfortunately, decades of political rhetoric about how government is “bad” and taxes are “wasteful” is largely to blame for the current misunderstanding of how society works. Politicians of all stripes have made promises to voters that they’ll “put their money back in their pockets” by reducing or eliminating taxes and “get government off their back” by reducing or eliminating “red tape.” As a result, we now have massive infrastructure deficits and underfunded health care and education systems but still have “big government” and have to pay more and more taxes each year.
It’s little wonder many people are mad and acting out … the disingenuous way politicians have engaged in political debate for decades has led to unrealistic expectations by citizens on so many fronts it’s hard for people to trust anything their elected leaders tell them.
The distortion of what government can and can’t do and how much it costs to meet people’s expectations occurs at the local government level too. Take for example the news report last week that Williams Lake is reducing residential “taxes” by 10% when in fact all they are doing is adjusting the residential tax rate because of the substantial increase in assessments this year (Quesnel’s residential rate was reduced by 15% this year). The actual taxes collected by the City of Williams Lake will go up by 8.5% this year compared to 6.9% in Quesnel.
The failure of politicians to correct misrepresentations of the real impact of their budget decisions on ratepayers is another reason for people to distrust “government.”
Over the past seven years Quesnel City Council has taken the position that we’ll ask people what they want from the City and then create a budget to meet those needs as best as possible (e.g. more RCMP/Bylaw, better snow removal, maintaining high quality infrastructure). Each year the operating costs of the City are also examined to ensure there are no areas of overspending and that all costs incurred reflect current demands and needs.
Whatever incremental taxes are needed to meet current needs (including inflation) is the tax increase imposed each year, not some political number based on what some Council members may think is a politically palatable number.
If this level of honesty about the true costs of creating and maintaining a livable and sustainable community are not palatable to the public, then the one unfettered freedom all citizens enjoy is the ability to cast their vote in the next election.