One of my biggest irritations is reading or hearing the term ‘taxpayer.’ We have become quite accustomed now to hearing and understanding everything through the lens of the economy, haven’t we?
Successive neo-liberal governments (and that’s all governments since the 1980s onward, in varying degrees) have been effective in teaching us to use this language. It has trickled down to provincial and municipal levels. It’s the dominant way we speak to one another through our newspapers or in our conversations. Even those cranky letter-to-the-editor writers who exist in every community love to write in to comment how a new arena or a new social policy might affect them…as taxpayers.
Seeing everything through the lens of our economy is troubling. It suggests that the economy is on a pedestal – that we can’t do anything to disturb it in any way. It has a monstrous appetite and yet is apparently a fragile thing. We have been taught not to touch it too often in case we break it or cause it distress. Better to just leave it alone and let the big boys handle things (multinationals, leaders in commerce, big business).
The truth is, any decent nation does indeed need a well-functioning economy. There’s no doubt it’s important to manage it responsibly.
The economy, though, is a sub-set of Society, not the other way around. Canada should be first and foremost concerned with building a great Society, not a great economy.
What does a great Society need? A truly great Society will already have an economy that functions well – but it will also have many other things to its credit, such as fair social policies, an ecologically-conscious outlook, and a foreign policy outreach that at least does no harm and hopefully a little good. That’s just a snapshot of course. There are many things we could add to that list and my list won’t look just like yours.
Where I hope we’re all in agreement, though, is that a great Society won’t leave all the other things — like its people — far behind. If you believe Canada is more than the TSX, more than its mining operations and oil sands, and more than a fresh water supply for Nestle to buy up, then you might just be a citizen, first and foremost.
The next time you want to use the word taxpayer, try replacing it with citizen, even just in your mind. I honestly believe it will change the way each of us thinks about politics – and about political decisions that need to be made.
Let’s dare to dream about the kind of nation we want to build together. We know what we need to do to create a successful, fair, and equitable society. The only question that remains is how we feel about the fact that we haven’t yet done so.
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Roderick Benns

Roderick Benns