Thursday, March 18, 2010

Of premiums, surtaxes and income taxes in Ontario

Since joining the ranks of the gainfully employed, my days of tax-free living as a postdoctoral fellow have come to seem like hazy distant memories. Not that I mind paying my taxes. Indeed, I'm very fond of the tax-and-spend approach to government services. Tax me heavily, but provide me with top notch health care, education, transportation infrastructure and other services in return.

With those socialistic bona fides established, I feel compelled to observe that even my tax-loving self recoils a little bit every year as I complete my Ontario income taxes. It's not that the tax rates are particularly high - they aren't. It's the fact that after I calculate my basic tax rates, I then have to perform two additional calculations to establish my health premium surtax and my Ontario surtax, and then add these amounts onto the basic tax. I have no illusions that the collective health premiums paid by Ontario taxpayers cover the full cost of our health care services (even when the government isn't running a deficit) and I can't imagine that other taxpayers think this is the case, and so I wonder about the optics of this approach.

Have there been studies done of how taxpayers react to these additional tax calculations? Because my gut feeling is that there is a negative psychological impact attached to performing additional surtax and premium calculations, and that perhaps a significant proportion of the taxpaying electorate might be happier just calculating the lump sum at tax time. With the benefit of hindsight, I wonder if the short term benefits of Dalton McGuinty's technical keeping of a promise not to raise income taxes are annually offset by taxpayers grumbling as they figure out the amount of their additional premiums and surtaxes.

Of course, I could be completely wrong about this, but it might be something that future tax policy-makers might want to consider.

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Monday, March 08, 2010

Ontario Budget: "A whole new University of Guelph!" What about the existing one?

You'll forgive me if I'm not branding Dalton McGuinty the "Post-secondary Education Premier" after today's throne speech. Lt-Governor David Onley's throne speech made reference to a commitment to increase university and college spaces by 20,000 this year, likening this to "a whole new University of Guelph".

Meanwhile, the actual University of Guelph, where I work, is suffering from the last few years of Ontario budget cuts, which failed to deliver on promised inflation-matching funding increases, and turned off the taps on graduate funding, after encouraging the university (and others province-wide) to hire new faculty. What we're faced with now is a non-existent budget for sessional instructors, curtailed funding for graduate students, growing undergraduate class sizes, and faculty retirements that there is no budget to replace.

Here's an idea, Dalton: how about restoring core operating funding to Ontario's colleges and universities so that they can deliver quality education to the existing student base, rather than pumping more undergraduates into overcrowded classrooms?

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Wednesday, March 03, 2010

An international broadcasting of Canada's insecurities: The closing ceremonies of the Vancouver Olympics

I'd better get this post up about the closing ceremonies of the Vancouver Olympics before my prescribed course of medications and therapy allow me to blot it forever from my mind. Because, let's be frank here, that was perhaps the most appalling display of Canadian kitsch and insecurity that I've ever seen. And I've watched 50 years worth of Canada Day ceremonies. I've seen Patsy Gallant croon "Sugar Daddy" to Joe Clark. I've seen the Calgary Safety Patrol Jamboree sing "I've Got a Dog Named Leroy" on Parliament Hill. I've seen the Spirit of a Nation tour. They all pale next to the travesty that occurred on Sunday night. That, my friends, was a national disgrace.

And it's a real shame, because the evening started off reasonably well. I thought it was a nice bit of self-mocking Canadian humour to acknowledge the torch malfunction. But really, it could have stopped right there. Because it wasn't long before things headed downhill. I will give credit where credit is due. There was a token effort to "bilingualize" the closing ceremonies. The opening number did feature singers from Canada's anglophone, francophone and aboriginal communities. The Canadian anthem was performed in its bilingual version. The cultural performance for the Sochi Olympics was dramatic.


In the two weeks between the opening and closing ceremony, could someone not have phonetically written out the French portion of John Furlong's agonizingly turgid speech? Not that the English portions were riveting, but the French portions were so badly mangled that it almost would have been better not to include them at all.

And then, the so-called comedy. Three anglophone "comedians," all of whom have made their careers in the United States, were trotted out to deliver unfunny monologues that were vaguely in the tradition of the Molson "I am Canadian" advertisements. If only any of them had "Joe"'s talent for delivery. And perhaps a humourous script. And the good sense to deliver the monologue when only Canadians are watching. The rest of the world neither cares, nor needs to know about Canada's collective psychological insecurities about how we are perceived. It made us appear whiny and pathetic, which is hardly appropriate for one of the longest-established federations in the world.

Following the "comedy", the travesty... I believe it was Kelly Nestruck who tweeted that the "Maple Leaf Forever" number looked like it had been produced by Max Bialystock (of the Producers). "Springtime for Hitler" had nothing on this monstrosity of bad taste, which featured a Mountie-clad Michael Bublé crooning away while gigantic beavers, floating moose and a procession of antiquated Canadian clichés were paraded around the stadium. It was as if all of Canada's capacity for camp, bad taste and self-mockery was being sucked into a quantum singularity located in Bublé's vocal chords, with each element tripping over the next in its haste to flood onto the stage. You know that a performance is horrendous when the appearance of Nickelback on the stage comes as a relief!

The final segment, the "rock concert" was problematic, but for its own set of reasons. Although there are reasons to question the specific choices of the acts (see: Nickelback), I'm more concerned by how they represented Canadian culture. All but the final two were white, anglophone, mainstream rock-pop acts, widely known in the United States. I got the strong impression that the concert was being performed for the NBC audience, and that the rule was to "play it safe". The single francophone act and the only visible minority were held back until the very end of the concert, which to my mind smacked of tokenism. That being said, I loved Alanis Morissette's performance. But this was an opportunity not only to showcase the diversity of Canada's musical talent, but perhaps to broaden the international audience's awareness of great Canadian music beyond the best-known acts. I'm not suggesting (as Paul Wells quipped), that the entire short list for the Polaris Prize had to be featured. But perhaps something from our alternative music scene?

All in all, it was a schizophrenic and ill-conceived ceremony, which to my mind did little to correct for the flaws of the opening ceremonies. French-language and multicultural content was minimal, and clearly an afterthought. Moreover, the "fun" aspects were largely embarrassing, and perhaps better kept for Canada Day ceremonies, when only Canadians are watching. Indeed, given the bland, mainstream content of the rock concert which was so clearly targeted at the United States, it's surprising that the "comic" sections which preceded it were included. Or perhaps the producers of the ceremony want the United States to continue to think of Canada as an insecure, pathetic nation worthy of scorn. We are capable of so much better.

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Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Thank god for Gay Olympians /or/ Kenney the homophobe

Today's post was originally going to be a reflection on the Olympics, their place in Canada's national consciousness, and the problematic elements of how Canadian identity was portrayed in the closing ceremonies.

Instead, let me take a moment to say how glad I am that Olympic gold medal swimmer Mark Tewksbury came out of the closet after the Sydney Olympics. You see, the Conservative government which oversaw Canada's latest citizenship guide thinks that touting Canada's sporting accomplishments is really important. So much so that you'll find images of at least 5 Olympic and Paralympic athletes in the new Discover Canada guide. What you won't find, however, is any reference to Canada's acceptance of same-sex marriage, or mention of the fact that homosexuality was decriminalized forty years ago. That's because Immigration Minister Jason Kenney overrode the advice of his officials, and explicitly removed those sections from the guide.

Indeed, the only time you'll find the word "gay" in the citizenship guide is in the caption under Tewksbury's smiling face. Because in the eyes of our Conservative overlords, the fact that Canada wins medals at the Olympics matters. The fact that Canada treats our gay and lesbian citizens with respect and dignity should be hidden from prospective immigrants.

Perhaps later this week I'll feel up to comment on the mass parading of our national insecurities that passed for the closing ceremonies. Right now, I'm just too pissed off.

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