Friday, 11 April 2008

Department of "Taxes Are What We Pay for Civilized Society:" Don't "De-politicize" Rate Hikes

Another report commissioned by the Quebec government is in, and rather quickly dismissed. This one studied the fees charged for public services, ranging from roads through day car through electricity rates charged by Hydro Québec. In short, the commissioners were for higher rates, including indexation of increases for post-secondary education tuition, day care fees (Quebec has a large network of day care centers which charge $7 a day currently) and electricity rates. This would “de-politicize” setting rates, the commission said.

Of course, setting up the day care system, building a large and accessible higher education network and making Quebec’s hydroelectric resources a public good were all political decisions—and good ones. Any changes in them should be discussed, because programs like these lie at the heart of the enormous advances Quebec has made in the 45 years since the Quiet Revolution began.

But Finance Minister Monique Jérôme-Forget, who is noted for her rather conservative economic and social ideas, knows a hot potato when she sees one, and said this kind of massive change in rates for services was “not on her radar.” That’s good, but now that the report is in and the shock is registered, she may well come back with changes nevertheless. Raising day care and post-secondary fees sound a lot less drastic when they are all a government proposes in the face of recommendations that it do much more.

There are situations where “let the user pay” is a good principle, water use above a certain level, for example. But that’s an entirely different kind of discussion which we won’t get into today.

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