Are you happy working for the government until June 10?

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Appeared in the Calgary Sun

No one really thinks there shouldn’t be any taxes. After all, how would governments fund important public services that form the foundation of our economy? Think of services such as protecting property, building infrastructure, upholding the legal system, to name a few.

The real debate is about the amount of taxes governments extract from us given the services we get in return. Are we paying too much, too little, or just the right amount? In other words, are we getting good value for our tax dollars?

That’s up to you to decide.

But to make an informed assessment, you must have a complete understanding of all the taxes you pay. Unfortunately, it’s not so clear because the different levels of government levy a wide range of taxes—some visible, many hidden. This includes everything from income taxes, payroll taxes, health taxes, sales taxes, property taxes, fuel taxes, vehicle taxes, profit taxes, import taxes, to “sin” taxes on liquor and tobacco, and much more.

The Fraser Institute’s annual Tax Freedom Day calculation is a handy measure of the total tax burden imposed on Canadian families by the federal, provincial, and local governments. If you had to pay all your taxes in advance, you’d give government each and every dollar you earned before Tax Freedom Day.

In 2015, we estimate the average Canadian family (with two or more people) will pay $44,980 in total taxes. That works out to 43.7 per cent of annual income, which, on the calendar, represents more than five months of income—from January 1 to June 9. It’s not until June 10—Tax Freedom Day—when families finally start working for themselves, not the government.

Is working almost half the year to pay for government reasonable given the current mix of government programs and services? This is a question we don’t purport to answer here.

But it makes you think. Are governments doing too much? Can they do what they do now—but more efficiently and with fewer tax dollars? Would the income that goes to taxes be better used by you and your family for spending, saving, or paying down household debt?

With 43.7 per cent of our income going to taxes, it still isn’t enough to pay for what our governments do.

This year, the federal government and seven provincial governments (including Ontario) are planning deficits totalling $18.2 billion. When governments spend beyond their means, they borrow, incurring deficits, which are essentially deferred taxes.

According to our calculations, Tax Freedom Day would come four days later this year, on June 14, if Canadian governments covered their current spending with even greater tax increases instead of borrowing to cover the shortfall. If that happened, the percentage of income going to taxes would jump to 44.9 per cent.

In the end, it’s up to you and your family to decide whether you’re getting good bang for your tax buck. But we all need a complete understanding of the total tax bill to make an informed assessment. And therein lies the value of our Tax Freedom Day calculation.

So, are you happy with working until June 10 to pay for government?

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