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Saturday, January 4, 2014

On playing fair

Growing up, I was regularly told to play fair, be fair, deal fairly with others, and so on. I was British so was expected to have a “sense of fair play.” One never cheated nor did one “run up the score” or be too vocal in a victory celebration. In sum, being a good winner was more important than being a good loser.

Life, though, cynics will tell you, is not at all fair. And I agree that “life”—to the extent it is generally ruled by chance—can hardly be considered fair. I do believe, however, that humans can, and should, be fair in their dealings with one another. Moreover, I believe that there is a moral imperative for governments to deal fairly with those they govern. And it is with these latter that I now take issue.

My city, Burlington, Ontario and the Regional Municipality of Halton to which it belongs has in place a plan to force certain residents on our “beach strip” to sell their homes so a park can be expanded. And, although there is mounting evidence that Burlington residents in general and most of our City councillors do not favour this course, the Halton Region has apparently voted in favour of moving forward with the plan. This is all very legal, of course, but is it fundamentally fair? I do not believe it is.

Taxes, one would think, should be levied fairly. Yet the Province of Ontario and federal government single out alcohol as a “sin” and try to tax it out of existence—or, at least, control its distribution and consumption. On some alcoholic beverages the taxing and profit-taking of governments exceeds the underlying (real) cost of the product. How can this be fair to the millions of Ontarians who drink responsibly, don’t drive when drunk, and see wine as a form of food and beer as an afternoon refreshment—the perfect ending to a perfectly mowed lawn, for example?

To many, the end (control of alcohol) justifies the means. To me, however, even the noblest of ends cannot ennoble unfair means to that end. Take motor vehicles: they are involved in thousands of deaths, but no one is suggesting we double or triple their price to curb ownership or use—or, at least, I haven’t heard of any such plans and hope this won’t give Premier Kathleen Wynne any ideas to do so. In my view, fairness dictates that taxes should never equal or exceed the the real cost of a product.

As to our federal government, they tax food, books, clothing, fuel, transportation and housing—as, of course, does the province—pretty much the necessities of life. Fairness must be an expletive to be deleted at the Canada Revenue Agency.

Not satisfied, the government has also set up what is known as supply management to control the availability and price of milk, cheese, and other dairy products plus eggs and poultry in Canada. The system benefits 13,000 to 20,000 farmers, while the rest of us 32+ millions of Canadians pay twice or more for these important dietary staples. And, to support this cruel system, our federal government levies external tariffs to prevent foreign imports from undercutting domestic production. To quote Andrew Coyne, “These range from 168 per cent for eggs, to 238 per cent for chicken, 246 per cent for cheese, all the way to 299 per cent for butter.”

What manner of moral compass would one use to condone such gross unfairness? Isn’t it time we demanded our governments play fair with us—all of us, all the time?

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