Tax evasion slight of hand tarnishes hard work and success

When did hard work and success become such a public service sin?

The recent pile-on to public figures by the media (and opposition parties on to those entrepreneurs who have chosen to go into public service) over revelations that wealthy individuals have used perfectly legal means to reduce their tax bill is reaching hysteric proportions that previous generations would have found puzzling, if not downright unseemly.

But such is the age we live in. While in the past it was de rigour for successful entrepreneurs to devote their lives to public service once they had made their pile, now a successful businessperson would have to be nigh onto mad to consider entering the gladiatorial pit that politics has become.

Now this isn’t to defend the odious practice of the wealthy evading their fair share of the burden of the public purse by slippery accounting legerdemain or downright offshore chicanery, but it seems that we greet even legal means of reducing one’s tax burden as odious. Odd, given that so many of we poor lesser souls pour over the arcane minutiae of Revenue Canada’s tax forms hoping for a magic eraser to reduce our own tax bite.

Perhaps it is envy that fuels the scale of the vitriol and our appetite for seeing the mighty brought low—even if only in the court of public opinion, since most of what is finagled by the sharp pencil brigade is, of course, perfectly legal. Still, it is taken as a given by a large segment of the population that anyone who has amassed substantial means must be engaged in some kind of criminal activity and/or that every business person has the resources of a Croesus with a pot of gold a mere touch away.

The truth is that many successful businesspeople, and plenty of less than successful ones, have put in many years of hard work and suffered lighter larders than those of many of their employees to get where they are. We should be celebrating these people’s successes, not vilifying them—as seems to be the public’s go to reaction these days.

There has always been an element of the crab bucket (that old saw about those below in the bucket clawing back those whose rise to the top threatens to allow them to escape the boiling pot), but the level of knee jerk vitriol we are seeing these days should be concerning in a free and democratic society where business drives a dominant portion of our overall economic wellbeing.

Now there may well be too smooth a legal path for the wealthy to shelter treasure they have amassed thanks to the Canadian economy, but that is a different discussion and one that every government should be reviewing to ensure a level playing field. Cheating is abhorrent and ripping off hard working Canadians should be pursued with a vengeance, but playing by the rules should not be treated as a crime in the public eye.

If the rules are broken it is the responsibility of governments at all levels to fix those rules—and politicians must be diligently on guard against putting the fix in.