Thursday, 18 July 2013

Why Taxpayers and Not Citizens?

I was watching the news yesterday and I noticed that Stephen Harper, my country's Prime Minister, said that his cabinet members would continue "working for Canadian taxpayers," despite recent scandals. It's not the scandals I want to talk about--largely because I think that the current scandals are unsurprising and really not that important compared to the other really disconcerting stuff Harper has been up to (censorship of environmental scientists and national archivists and librarians, for instance)--but about the language of the excerpt. Specifically, I'm wondering why the cabinet members are working for tax payers rather than citizens.

My understanding of government is that it is supposed to represent all of its citizens, not just those who pay taxes. I'm not naive enough to have missed how people de-humanize the unemployed, let alone disenfranchise them, but at least in theory the government represents every Canadian citizen, regardless of their annual income. If you were going to limit who the goverment works for to a group more select than citizens, I would expect it to be the electorate: if I'm voting for you to represent me, you should be representing me regardless of how much I pay each April, right? While I think the switch from all citizens to the electorate is still a mistake, it's one I think I understand. So why the switch to taxpayer?

Does it have to do with the verb "work"? Normally you work for the people paying you. Taxpayers pay for the government, so then bureaucrats and politicians are our employees? I feel like this is probably why taxpayer was chosen over citizen or voter, but I think it makes a poor arguement: again, we don't get votes according to how much we pay in taxes, so the relationship between the electorate/citizenry and the government is not analogous, really, to the relationship between an employer and employee. (Nor has it ever been.)

Why am I worried about this? Well, 1. it suggests that political and bureaucratic authority, representation, etc. resides in money and economic status, not constitutional structure or the electoral system or something (anything) less crass than capital, and 2. this sort of language isn't just Harper's, or the Conservative Party's, but every politician's, and no one seems to have noticed what's wrong with it. I didn't notice until yesterday and I care about this sort of thing.

So, politicians of Canada, here's my ten cents (oh my goodness, the idea that my voice has a financial value has colonized my language more thoroughly than I'd thought): please stop talking like the citizens you represent are only the ones who pay taxes. You are accountable to all of us, even those who don't make enough each year to owe the government any money. (Unless, of course, you decide you aren't accountable to any of us, which would be reprehensible and unsurprising.)

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