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Tax Is Not a Four-Letter Word

A Different Take on Taxes in Canada

Alex Himelfarb and Jordan Himelfarb, editors

Canadian Commentaries Series


Order online and receive a 25% discount

$29.99 Paper, 304 pp.

ISBN13: 978-1-55458-832-9

Release Date: October 2013



This book is about taxes in Canada: who pays what, and who gets what. Taxes connect us to one another, to the common good, and to the future. In many respects, then, this is a book about the Canada we want, about citizenship and the common good, and about the role of government. The contributors, leading practitioners and scholars on taxation and public policy in Canada, explore how taxes have become a political “no-go zone” and how changes in taxation are changing Canada. They challenge the view that “any tax is a bad tax” and provide broad directions for fairer and smarter approaches.

Tax Is Not a Four-Letter Word provides new information on how taxation, and our thinking about it, has evolved. The contributors present data that set out what we get for what we pay and what we lose when we pay less. They seek to capture how citizens came to think of tax cuts as the “last free lunch” and propose ways to generate a public discussion on the subject despite the political reluctance.

This is a book that will be of interest to students of public policy and public affairs, economics, and political science and to anyone interested in challenging the conventional wisdom that ever-lower taxes and smaller government are the answers to what ails us.

Alex Himelfarb is the director of the Glendon School of Public and International Affairs and the Centre for Global Challenges at York University. A federal public servant for twenty-eight years before his retirement in 2009, he served as Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to Cabinet for three prime ministers, as Canada’s Ambassador to Italy, as Deputy Minister of Canadian Heritage, and in senior positions in numerous ministries and agencies. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Toronto and holds several domestic and international honours, including an Honourary Doctor of Law from Memorial University. He has published numerous books and articles on various aspects of Canadian society.

Jordan Himelfarb is an opinion editor at The Toronto Star. Previously he was editor of The Mark and Arts and Ideas editor of This Magazine. His writing has appeared in many of Canada’s foremost newspapers and magazines. He is also co-editor of the music website Said the Gramophone, one of Time magazine’s top blogs of 2009.


“How much are we willing to pay to live in a good and prosperous country? Do we have a tax system that is fair and efficient? What public goods and services do we want our governments to provide? If democracies exist only by the virtue of the engagement of citizens, then we need to have the courage to have a new conversation about taxation. Read this book. Get informed by experts on the politics, economics, and social dimensions of taxation. Tell your friends to read it. Then have a conversation with your member of parliament. The future of Canada will be better for it.”

— Kevin Page, Canada’s first parliamentary budget officer; Jean-Luc Pepin Research Chair, University of Ottawa

“What happened to the Canada that could solve national problems, support people in hard times, and improve life for each successive generation? This book provides the answer: twenty years of cumulative tax cuts have undermined the can-do Canada our parents and grandparents built. Better still it points the way out of this cul-de-sac, beginning with an honest conversation about how we pay for the nation we want to be. It can’t start soon enough.”

— Carol Goar, The Toronto Star