For the 43rd time in our nation’s history, Canadians are heading to the polls to elect our leaders. As the campaign trail winds on, the word ‘taxpayer’ is getting a real workout. You could be excused for thinking you need to bring your T1 to the polling station.
For a long time, some proof of wealth really was needed. Voting was restricted to white men who owned property for Canada’s first 12 elections. Some form of property requirement was still on the books as late as 1948, making politics the domain of the wealthy (in addition to excluding certain racial backgrounds, of course). Not anymore. Now you can vote no matter how much money is in your bank account.
We are citizens, but election rhetoric tends to lump us together as taxpayers. Technically, every consumer is a taxpayer, even if it’s just the few cents you owe the government for buying that bottle of pop. But in election speak, from all parts of the political spectrum, the term tends to refer only to the middle-class. Most speeches, policy proposals and photo ops are targeted at these elusive voters. But there is so much more to the electorate than our income brackets.
It might seem right to first consider voters as taxpayers. Taxes pay for roads and hospitals we all use and social services we all benefit from. So what if politicians use taxpayer as a shorthand for citizen?
It matters because not every citizen is a taxpayer in the sense that is usually invoked during the campaign. All of us go through stages—most of them monumental life events—before, after or during a hiatus from our time in the workforce. Income taxes don’t follow us for the duration of our lives, and so conflating people with their tax brackets excludes many constituents. Like the person who can’t find work because of a mental health crisis, or the full-time parent raising children at home. It doesn’t have room for the senior citizen who worked for decades to enjoy retirement or the student not yet contributing to the economy.
Yes, our elected leaders will decide where our tax money goes. But politicians are more than accountants. Shouldn’t their assessment of us voters include everyone?
It’s not just politicians conflating us with our wallets. As voters, we are often guilty of reacting to policy changes with, ‘What’s in it for me?’ or, ‘Why should I pay for that service I’m not using?’ If we react as citizens first, that perspective changes.
Citizenship is about service—what we can do for our country, not what it can do for us (thank you, JFK). A citizen thinks about the community and common good. They care about their neighbours. They want what’s best for their province and the country.
Beyond a breakdown of how to save or spend our cash, Canadians are owed a vision of this country that has space for everyone. We cast our ballots not just as members of a tax bracket but as citizens of Canada.
Craig Kielburger is co-founder of the WE Movement, which includes WE Charity, ME to WE Social Enterprise and WE Day.