Colin Craig, prairie director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, speaks to the crowd at the Brandon Chamber of Commerce luncheon at the Victoria Inn on Wednesday. (TIM SMITH/BRANDON SUN)
The Canadian Taxpayers Federation will offer assistance to set up a local group to serve as a watchdog on municipal taxation matters, the federation’s prairie director Colin Craig told the Brandon Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday.
The Brandon taxpayers meeting is scheduled for Oct. 2 at 7 p.m. at the Royal Oak Inn. It is being set up to respond to the city’s attempt in the 2012 budget to raise property taxes an average of 15 per cent in a year where private sector wage increases amounted to just one per cent. After a public outcry, the property tax increase amounted to an average of 4.9 per cent.
"Taxpayers in Brandon who are united have nothing to lose but another 15.6 per cent," Craig said. "What we have seen over the years is taxpayers can win a lot of great victories if we get people organized and speaking out. Politicians get worried if they hear enough people commenting on an issue that could lose them votes."
Brandon Chamber of Commerce president Nate Andrews said the existence of a local taxpayers’ watchdog group poses no threat to its group, which already serves as an advocate for business in the city.
"Like everyone, they are looking for more engagement in the process and today, you can see the taxpayers federation is looking for opportunities," Andrews said. "They do a lot of work on digging into taxation matters the average person would know never about."
Andrews said the greater local concerns include municipal taxes and the school division taxes, and there could be greater opportunities to learn about the development of those budgets with a second group active in the area.
"The chamber has always been known as a tax watchdog and we are trying to break that mould more with proactive things we do, such as networking in the business community and engaging them," Andrews said.
"It will always be up to us to pay attention to tax efficiencies. We all know taxes are a necessary evil and for the most part we want to know that the money is properly spent. The committees we have that deal with it could have some overlap with a Brandon taxpayers association, but they may cover a different demographic too that is not in the business community but may want to address their taxation issues."
As could be expected, Craig made note of spending by governments that he considered wasteful, such as $40,000 to a person who wanted to fly a banana over the state of Texas or $190,000 for a doughnut company in New Brunswick, a province with high obesity rates, Craig said.
Craig also took aim at the pension plans available for public sector workers and parliamentarians.
"There is no better pension plan that we know of that’s better than the pension plan our federal politicians have," Craig said.
"We constantly refer to it as golden for a reason. For every dollar an MP puts into their pension plan, taxpayers put in 24. It’s completely out of line."
Craig said the larger problem to address is the public sector employee pension plans, which present greater risks of deficits because they are defined benefit plans. But he added that until the politicians address their pension plan, they won’t have the moral authority to request changes to those negotiated with the public sector unions.
"The unions would just laugh at them and ask what are they attacking our plan for?" Craig said.
Some changes to that plan have already been discussed, in light of former Bloc Québécois leader Gilles Duceppe becoming eligible to collect his MP pension after losing his seat in the last federal election.
"This is a man who spent his entire career trying to get Quebec out of Canada, and now he’ll still be living in Canada and Canadians will be paying for his gold-plated pension for the rest of his life," Craig said.
"That really infuriated people. But then many people were looking at their RRSPs and they had taken an absolute bath in 2008 and people started saying they would have to work a few more years to make up for the losses."
Craig said the promised changes to the MP pension plan have not materialized and to protest that inaction, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation will fly a plane over Parliament Hill with a sign meant to ask when those promised changes will be implemented.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition September 13, 2012