Commentary – What will they think of next?

Chris Clegg

Let it be said no one gets elected to public office and enjoys increasing taxes. We all want low taxes but as demands for “nice things” like indoor pools and arenas increases they must be paid for somehow.
The question arises for elected people is, “How do we pay for it?”
The answer is easy. Raise taxes. Even the so-called provincial or federal grants local municipalities apply for is tax money. It’s just nice to pretend John Q. Taxpayer isn’t footing the bill when it’s sent from Edmonton or Ottawa. In reality, it is not the case.
Former M.D. of Big Lakes and later Town of High Prairie CAO John Eriksson liked to use the term “fresh money” when tax season arrived. It was the annual tax grab from local government to begin a new year of operation.
Rarely, do taxes decrease. The Town of McLennan pulled it off last year when they did not install ice in the H.W. Fish Arena. By eliminating a deficit, they were actually able to decrease taxes. The result? Not one complaint about the arena closing.
To fuel the ever-increasing demand for more money, governments tax everything and anything they can think of. Dogs, permit fees, buildings, user fees, etc. are all essentially taxes.
Before you jump all over the local politician for the latest decision think of some examples in history where government went overboard in their thirst to add “fresh money” into their coffers.
During the first century, Roman emperor Vaspasian placed a tax on urine. Yes, urine! The buyer[s] of the urine paid the tax. The urine from public urinals was sold as an essential ingredient for several chemical processes, e.g. it was used in tanning [not exactly sure how] and also by launderers as a source of ammonia to clean and whiten woolen togas, etc.
Slaves in ancient Rome were required to pay a tax for their freedom and did so to free themselves and provide an opportunity to work elsewhere.
During the Middle Ages, European governments placed a tax on soap. It remained in effect a very long time. Great Britain did not repeal its soap tax until 1835.
In 1705, Russian Emperor Peter the Great placed a tax on beards, hoping to force men to adopt the clean-shaven look that was common in Western Europe.
The French had a salt tax called the gabelle, which angered many and was one of the contributing factors to the French Revolution.
Japan imposed a tax on whiskey which is based on the percentage of alcohol by volume, so Japanese whiskey manufacturers began diluting their product with water to avoid the tax. European whiskey manufacturers were prohibited from doing so; therefore, Japanese whiskey had an advantage in Japan.
In England, King Henry I allowed knights to opt out of their duties to fight in wars by paying a tax called a cowardice tax.
Oliver Cromwell placed a tax on royalists, who were his political opponents, taking one-tenth of their property. He then used that money to fund his activities that were aimed against the very people he taxed.
In 1660, England placed a tax on fireplaces. The tax led to people covering their fireplaces with bricks to conceal them and avoid paying tax. It was repealed in 1689.
In 1696, England implemented a window tax, taxing houses based on the number of windows they had. That led to many houses having very few windows in order to avoid paying the tax. Eventually, the tax was repealed in 1851.
The English have also placed taxes on bricks, printed wallpaper, hats, candles, and more.
Reading this list may make one laugh but how little do we realize we are all paying the same tax on these items and more. It is called the federal GST or in many Canadian provinces, a sales tax.
How little history has changed in thousand of years!

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