"Reason is always a kind of brute force; those who appeal to the head rather than the heart, however pallid and polite, are necessarily men of violence. We speak of 'touching' a man's heart, but we can do nothing to his head but hit it." --G.K. Chesterton

Friday, April 26, 2013

The truth about taxes

Graphic from FraserInstitute.org
It's only natural for people to "want to have it all." Looking at it from the viewpoint of city government, wanting it all would mean providing more and better services to the public while also cutting taxes. The problem, of course, is that the circle cannot be squared.
The mayor noted at last weekend's E-Town Hall meeting that an equal number of participants seemed to be calling for more expenditures as were calling for cuts to spending. He did not express surprise.
Indeed, my colleagues on council and I often find ourselves performing a balancing act, trying to figure out how much we can control spending before the  "we want more services" public gets restless, and/or trying to determine how many new services we can provide before the "we want lower taxes" sector makes its concerns known.
Often when these issues arise, I find myself going back to the basic issue of affordability; that is, whether a cash-strapped, mortgaged family really can afford what is being proposed. I keep reminding my colleagues and the public that the government does not necessarily have to play such a large role in everyone's life.
This is why I have decided to share with you recent news from the Fraser Institute--news about the large percentage of people's income that goes to government. It's important stuff, and I would urge readers to click here to visit the FI site to access to the full report.
Here's the summary, as recently released by the FI (the bold-faced emphasis, below, is mine):

The Canadian Consumer Tax Index 2013

The Canadian tax system is complex and no single number can give us a complete idea of who pays how much tax. This Alert examines what has happened to the tax bill of the average Canadian family over the past 51 years. To do this, we have constructed an index of the tax bill, the Canadian Consumer Tax Index, for the period 1961 to 2012.
The Canadian Consumer Tax Index reveals that there has been a dramatic increase in the average family’s tax bill from 1961 to 2012. Among those factors is a sizeable increase in incomes over the period: 1,382 percent since 1961. Even with no changes in tax rates, the family’s tax bill would have increased substantially; growth in family income alone would have produced an increase in the tax bill from $1,675 in 1961 to $24,828 in 2012. Second, the average family faced a tax rate increase from 33.5 percent in 1961 to 42.7 percent in 2012. It is clear that taxes have become the most significant item in family budgets, and that taxes have grown more rapidly than any other single item.
In 1961, the average family spent 56.5 percent of its cash income to pay for shelter, food, and clothing. In the same year, 33.5 percent of the family’s income went to governments as tax. By 2012, the situation was reversed: the average family spent 36.9 percent of its income on the necessities of life while 42.7 percent of its income went to taxes.
The results show that the tax burden faced by the average Canadian family has risen compared with 51 years earlier. The total tax bill, which includes all types of taxes, has increased by 1,787 percent since 1961, and the tax bill has grown more rapidly than any other single expenditure item.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Coquitlam Happy with E-Town Hall Turnout

The City has issued a news release about Saturday's successful E-Town Hall meeting,  Here's the full text, below:

COQUITLAM, BC, Monday, April 22, 2013 – Coquitlam's first E-Town Hall Meeting went off without a hitch over the weekend. The meeting, which went an extra half hour to answer all the questions, saw about half its inquiries come from online participants.
"By all accounts, the E-Town Hall went very well," said Coquitlam Mayor Richard Stewart. "Engaging the public is a challenge in every city. By adding electronic and internet-based outreach, we can engage more residents, and can get higher levels of public input into important issues. People have busy lives, and we need to adapt to make sure that we can engage them where they are, and on their schedules."
The initiative, which was brought forward by Councillor Terry O'Neill, allowed Coquitlam residents to submit questions through email, Twitter or Facebook. The answers were then presented to Council in the meeting and answered via the webcast online.
"I am very pleased the public responded so positively to Council’s E-Town Hall meeting. As our population grows and becomes increasingly diverse, it is vital that we continue to seek new and better ways to facilitate such two-way communication with voters," said Councillor O'Neill. "We all want a healthy democracy, but democracy cannot thrive without the nourishment of meaningful citizen engagement."
Coquitlam residents who were unable to watch or attend the meeting on Saturday can watch the archived footage from the webcast online at coquitlam.ca/webcasts. Moving forward, City staff will be reviewing the process to determine whether additional changes or adjustments could be made to the process for future Town Hall Meetings.
For more information, contact:
Dan McDonald
Manager Corporate Communications

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

E-Town Hall Meeting on Saturday

Staff at City Hall are in the final stages of preparing for this weekend's E-Town Hall meeting at City Hall, and have just issued a detailed note reminding Coquitlam residents how they can participate. Here's the full text, following. I hope to see you there -- or at least hear from you on Saturday.

E-Town Hall Meeting
Your Views Are Important To Us
The City of Coquitlam is hosting its first ever E-Town Hall Meeting!

Setting priorities in the ever-changing municipal environment presents both opportunities and challenges - making it more important than ever that we hear from members of the community regarding the changes taking place in our city.
With this in mind, Mayor and Council invite interested Coquitlam residents to share their ideas and views and provide input at a Town Hall Meeting to be held on:
Date: Saturday, April 20, 2013
Time: 1:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Place: Council Chambers, Coquitlam City Hall, 3000 Guildford Way
How to Participate
In Person
You can attend the meeting in person and pose your questions to Council at a microphone set up in Council Chambers.
Watch the Town Hall meeting online and submit your questions through one of these online methods. The online webcast of the meeting can be accessed on the City’s website at coquitlam.ca/webcasts, but the live webcast will not be accessible until 15 minutes prior to the meeting.
Note: Council will be responding to questions on the live webcast, not in direct response via Twitter, Facebook or Email.
·         Email - submit questions for Council via email (townhall@coquitlam.ca), Council will answer questions via the web broadcast for those submitting questions online.
·         Facebook - Residents can submit questions via Facebook. A Facebook event will be set up, residents can register with the event to participate. 15 minutes before the meeting begins, the wall will open for comments to be submitted. Council will answer these questions via the web broadcast (not directly on the Facebook page).
·         Twitter - Residents can submit questions via Twitter using a hashtag that will be posted one hour before the event. Council will answer these questions via the web broadcast (not directly in response to Twitter postings).
More information on this new Town Hall Meeting format and guidelines regarding creating a respectful conversation may be found online at coquitlam.ca/townhall or by contacting the City Clerks Office at 604-927-3010 or email clerks@coquitlam.ca.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Coffee, Tea, Milk Bone?

I was especially interested when I noticed a few hours ago that Maclean's had just published a big story on how Canada has quietly become a world-leading destination for unwanted dogs. The reason for my interest was twofold: 
First, while the story's headline, "How Canada became a haven for the world's unwanted dogs," is rather straightforward, the web address for the story, "macleans.ca/2013/03/28/give-us-your-mangy-masses/," is quite comical; and
Second, the Maclean's piece provides a nice bookend to an op-ed I wrote in January 2011 for the National Post after I noticed the first ripples of news coverage regarding this doggie-rescue phenomenon. The Post published my column, which I'm reproducing below, under the headline "Coffee, Tea, Milk Bone?," and provided a memorable graphic, also reproduced below, to illustrate the piece.

Brace yourself. A newspaper in Colombo, Sri Lanka recently reported that two smuggling syndicates in that
Andrew Barr's brilliant illustration for my National Post op-ed.
country are organizing a couple of boatloads of Tamils planning to set sail for Canada in order to claim refugee status. Canadians can look forward to another round of immigration debate similar to that sparked by the MV Sun Sea's arrival on Vancouver Island last summer.
Not to take anything away from these Sri Lankans, but there's another migration issue -- this one involving the sponsored transportation of alleged persecution victims from Taiwan -- which raises even more vexing questions about the duty that prosperous Westerners owe to less-fortunate inhabitants of far-away nations.
According to a little-noticed news report published late last year, volunteer workers "rescued" more than a dozen sick and abandoned youngsters from Kaohsiung City in December, took them by train to Taipei and then flew them and their escorts to Seattle. Kindred Souls Foundation, an organization based in Washington State, claims to have found loving homes for over 60 of these specimens in just one year.
North of the border, a trans-Pacific "rescue" organization in Richmond, B.C., is involved in similar work. All in all, volunteers have saved some 1,470 suffering souls from Taiwan since 2004 and placed them in new homes in Canada and the United States. Many of those rescued were in such poor condition that they needed specialized psychological and medical treatment.
Did I mention that the Richmond organization is called Ocean Dog Rescue and that, as with the Kindred Souls group, all the "individuals" it rescues are stray dogs? Bet you didn't see that coming. (You did? Oh well, I guess the illustration gave it away.)
I've got nothing against dogs and their owners, but devoting thousands of hours and spending tens of thousands of dollars on transportation, medical and other services to fly some mutts half way around the world strikes me as a massive misuse of resources. And just think of the global-warming paw-print!
Yes, it does appear that Taiwan very poorly enforces its relatively new animal-protection laws, with one result being that the average lifespan of a stray is just two years. And, yes, dogs there are routinely slaughtered for their meat -- all of which gives PR-savvy dog-protection groups, including PETA, plenty of grist for their rescue campaigns.
But, at a time when there is still so much human misery in the world, this strikes me as a blatant example of misplaced priorities.
Humane treatment of animals is one thing, but it is another to take extravagant measures to save the lives of homeless dogs so they can "regain a sense of self," as the Kindred Souls folks would have it.
Somewhat disturbingly, I find myself in agreement with otherwise unhinged Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who made a valid point when he declared -- in reaction to news that West Germans were feting an octopus that correctly predicted the outcome of last summer's World Cup games -- that the clamour over such a creature was a symbol of cultural decadence and decay.
The transoceanic canine airlift might not be so disconcerting were it not for other recent instances of squishiness in our thinking about animals, especially the cute kind. We learned a few days ago, for example, that a Vancouver outfit called A Better Life Dog Rescue is on the receiving end of an undoubtedly expensive bi-monthly shipment of unwanted dogs from California.
And who in B.C. can forget the interminable debate over how best to rid the campus of the University of Victoria of a plague of feral rabbits? In that case, protesters succeeded in preventing the use of traditional pest-eradication measures, leading to the deployment of several relocation efforts. According to one report late last month, the final 75 of the rabbits to be "rescued" were being held in a livestock barn in Vancouver, awaiting shipment to an outfit called "the Precious Life Animal Sanctuary" in Washington State, where they will presumably pass the rest of their lives in hare heaven.
To which my only response is to quote the great G.K. Chesterton. "There are some desires," he wrote, "that are not desirable."