Sometimes it takes an American perspective to drive home how lucky Canadians are.
So let’s provide one.
Last week, the Americans we met were slightly envious.
There were three of them, all sitting in the Westmark Whitehorse drinking Yukon beer.
They were astounded at the Canada Games Centre. And universal health care. And employment insurance. And state-supported maternity/paternity leave.
They had nothing comparable. In fact, one had just been told her company health benefits had been cut back.
She’d spent decades working for the same company because it had a decent health package. Now she had to pay a fairly steep monthly fee for the benefits. She’d just retired, and the company had retroactively changed the retirement benefits for anyone who’d left since 2005.
The others cited the Canada Games Centre. None of their municipalities had anything close to it. Most of the money they paid in taxes was going to armour and air support in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.
They rarely see any benefits back home. Nothing like a Canada Games Centre.
These perks Canadians enjoy don’t come for free. We pay quite a bit to our governments.
But do we pay too much?
There is often a disconnect between what we fork over to our governments and what we get for the money.
And we’re hearing it in the current municipal election.
But residents’ perception doesn’t match reality.
Despite the widespread grumbling, Whitehorse citizens pay comparatively little in property taxes.
We live in a city with a vibrant arts scene, which is supported, in part, by our municipality. Take a look at the sculptures and other art around town.
Seen through Google Earth, the wilderness trails that stretch from our widely scattered subdivisions resemble a ball of yarn.
The number of paved bike trails through our city is growing every year. There are unusual, sometimes weird-looking bike stands all over the place. And now metal lock-boxes to protect our bikes.
There’s a fantastic children’s play apparatus in Rotary Park, which has just been improved with a water park. Rotary Park is currently under construction with more improvements coming.
The waterfront is slowly being developed into a community focal point.
The city has planters on every corner and an enormous flower display at its entrances.
And there’s the Canada Games Centre, a beautiful facility that is a winter refuge for thousands of residents.
We have a sophisticated garbage- and compost-collection service. And a mature recycling service, run by a nonprofit society with support from the city.
Our water is, currently, not metered. We can use all we want. And it’s cool, clean and fresh, coming from underwater aquifers tapped by the city.
We have a meagre, some might say broken, transit system. But there are buses available to citizens six days a week.
For all this, the average city property owner pays $1,328 a year, once the $450 homeowner grant is automatically deducted from the bill.
That’s $322 less than the national average. And only $475 a year more than Burnaby, BC, which currently has the nation’s lowest property taxes. Of course, to benefit from that low tax rate you have to live in Burnaby. But we digress.
A fellow recently talked up Yellowknife as an efficient, well-run municipality.
That may be, but it doesn’t come cheap. Compared to Yellowknife, Whitehorse is a bargain.
There, residents pay an average of $2,330 a year in property taxes, more than $1,000 a year higher than Whitehorse.
It’s hard to figure out where the money is going.
The city only has 180 full-time employees, 140 fewer than Whitehorse. But the number is deceiving because it contracts out its transit and solid-waste management duties to private firms.
Its recreation services aren’t as developed. It has no Canada Games Centre. It has no curbside compost program. In fact, its meagre compost drop-off program only began in September, and is only for institutions and large businesses.
Yellowknife is not known for its arts community, unlike Whitehorse. Its council has been criticized recently for not supporting the arts.
Turn to Fort St. John, BC, a similar-size community as Whitehorse flush with cash from the oil patch. Its citizens pay $2,916 a year, on average, in property taxes.
In Barrie, Ontario, the average in 2005 to 2007 was $1,738, according to Maclean’s magazine. In the same period, Whitehorse’s was $1,123.
Kingston, Ontario, residents were paying an average of $3,061.
Ottawa, Ontario, residents were paying an average of $2,827.
Vancouver, BC, residents were paying an average of $1,873.
Gatineau, Quebec, residents were paying an average of $1,638.
Reviewing the list, only Surrey, BC, came close to Whitehorse’s average tax rate in that period, and it was still $57 higher.
This is not to say that Whitehorse doesn’t have its problems, and it’s not to say that finances don’t have to be watched and expenses questioned.
But Whitehorse residents who grumble about the city’s high taxes have clearly lived in the territory too long. They don’t know what people in the real world are paying.
That is, they don’t know how good they have it.
They’d be well advised to share a pint with a Yank. Or someone from Yellowknife. (Richard Mostyn)