How often do you hear politicians in the media talk about the needs of taxpayers? Too often argues Daphne Bramham, in an editorial I read in Monday’s Vancouver Sun, “We need citizens, not just taxpayers and bookeepers.” Bramham traces the deliberate replacement of citizen with taxpayer, which began in the 1980s with the American anti-tax movement that has since spread to Canada. Along with that change, she says that politicians began talking more about how much governments spend, and less about the wide range of services that money provides — including health care, courts, policing, environmental protection, roads, transit, funding for the arts, and education.
This article struck a chord because too often I find there is pressure to frame the value of community-based programs in terms of whether it can save taxpayers money. Will a program reduce policing costs, ambulance costs, emergency shelter cost etc.? While I certainly do want my hard earned money collected through taxes spent effectively, what I care about is how my taxes create value in the community. First and foremost, this is whether and how a program creates the value for the person(s) it is directed at serving. How are we creating that ‘just society’, as Trudeau would put it, or creating the ‘greatest happiness for the greatest number’ as Bentham would?
As a citizen, and not just a taxpayer, I want to hear more about how we can move forward to create a better community, and not just in big, vague terms, but really specific ways. During the recent labour dispute, the teachers here in British Columbia were quite successful in bringing attention and discussion to the issue of classroom size and composition, and more broadly the quality of public education, rather than just issue of the ‘affordability zone’ the government kept on about. I hope that in the future more politicians can lead with this.
As community-based organizations, we need to show and celebrate the value we create, and to communicate this in all kinds of ways. When this is better understood, recognized and valued, discussion about cost should be a matter of matter cost -effectiveness rather than cost reduction.