Money, even for government, is a finite resource. There is only so much of it to go around. And every dollar of government money comes from somewhere – a taxpayer, often scrimping to get by, or a business paying its share.
That’s why we consider tax dollars to be a sacred trust between a government and the people. If a taxpayer doesn’t meet his or her tax obligations, government can put them in jail or seize their assets. We have no choice but to pay; the least our elected politicians should be expected to do is spend that money wisely and efficiently.
Sadly, that doesn’t always happen.
Every spring in Ottawa, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation host its annual Teddy Waste Awards, recognizing the worst of government waste. We point out various ways that Canadian governments, agencies and politicians have let the public down by wasting our tax dollars. We never lack for nominees.
Employment and Social Development Canada once wasted $2.5 million advertising a Canada jobs grant program during the Stanley Cup playoffs. One big problem: the grant program didn’t exist. Step back and consider that for a second. The average Canadian family made roughly $80,000 last year, and paid $10,616 of that in income tax (that’s just income tax – generally 42% of a family’s income ends up in government coffers once every tax is added up).
That $2.5 million waste of money meant 235 Canadian families worked all year, paid their income taxes, and saw it completely wasted by their government. This should hurt.
That $2.5 million should have been spent on surgeries or schools or parks or left in taxpayers’ pockets. It’s $2.5 million that wasn’t spent on something tangible that could have actually helped someone. And that’s the tragedy of government waste.
We could list hundreds of examples of bad government priorities here. When the City of Calgary spent $236,000 to put decorative lights on a sewage pump station – which change colour depending on how much sewage is being pumped at that moment – it’s a clear waste of money. That’s $236,000 in taxpayer dollars that could have been spent by Calgary to house the homeless in their struggling downtown core.
TransLink won a lifetime achievement award in 2015 for its record of waste. During the 2015 TransLink sales tax referendum, we highlighted more than 80 specific instances of how the Lower Mainland’s transit authority had wasted money. For example, TransLink executives collected hundreds of thousands of dollars to lease and park vehicles. That’s money that could have gone directly to maintain SkyTrain better.
Taxpayers do not simply demand efficiency from government for efficiency’s sake. We ask for wise, prudent care of our tax dollars so they can be stretched further, so they can help more people and contribute more to society. When those dollars are wasted, it’s corrosive to that trust between taxpayer and government.
W.A.C. Bennett, the BC premier who led this province for more than 20 years, once had a cabinet minister boldly tell him he would treat taxpayers’ money as if it were his own.
“Oh, no, you won’t,” Bennett said, “not as long as I’m premier. That money is tax money, it’s trust money, and I want 110 cents worth of value out of every dollar.” Bennett knew that tax money had to be treated even more carefully that one’s own money – that’s what the people deserved.
This is the standard we should set for our politicians. Our tax dollars are trust money, and we should ask for 110 cents of value from every single dollar.
Director of BC Canadian Federation of Taxpayers
BC Director - Canadian Taxpayers Federation (http://www.taxpayer.com ), Author, Husband, Dad. Plus an unapologetic Canucks, Packers & BC Lions fan.