Give and Take
The Citizen-Taxpayer and the Rise of Canadian Democracy
Can a book about tax history be a page-turner? You wouldn’t think so. But Give and Take is full of surprises. A Canadian millionaire who embraced the new federal income tax in 1917. A socialist hero, J.S. Woodsworth, who deplored the burden of big government. Most surprising of all, Give and Take reveals that taxes deliver something more than armies and schools. They build democracy.
Tillotson launches her story with the 1917 war income tax, takes us through the tumultuous tax fights of the interwar years, proceeds to the remaking of income taxation in the 1940s and onwards, and finishes by offering a fresh angle on the fierce conflicts surrounding tax reform in the 1960s.
Taxes show us the power of the state, and Canadians often resisted that power, disproving the myth that we have all been good loyalists. But Give and Take is neither a simple tale of tax rebels nor a tirade against the taxman. Canadians also made real contributions to democracy when they taxed wisely and paid willingly.
When citizens confront taxation, it is a sign of a vigorously democratic political life. Our unruly tax history should be better known, and perhaps even celebrated.
This book will appeal to those interested in Canadian history and the evolution of our political institutions and cultures, including students and scholars of political science, public policy, taxation, social movements, and governance.
Rather than relying on ministerial statements and Department of Finance documents, Tillotson delves into the archives and studies “the conversation” between tax authorities and tax payers, revealing emotion as well as logic. In other words, this is a very human history.
Canadians urgently need “good tax talk,” and Shirley Tillotson delivers in this brilliant and deeply researched history of taxation, society, and democracy in Canada. This important book raises the level of an old and continuing conversation about taxation, citizenship, and the nation-state – a conversation that resounds through the many chambers of the nation’s past and embraces all of us.
Shirley Tillotson’s brilliant book rescues the history of taxation from the grip of technical, abstract detail and gives it a human face. Here is cultural and social history at its best, written in an engaging style. She shows how tax payers and collectors held conversations over whether to comply or resist and how they debated the nature of democracy and citizenship. This book is a major contribution to the history of Canada with wider implications for understanding other twentieth-century societies.
Oliver Wendell Holmes said, “I like to pay taxes. With them, I buy civilization.” Shirley Tillotson says, “With taxes, we try to buy democracy, too.” In Give and Take, she documents the what and when of twentieth-century-Canadian income tax, but she also explores how taxes redefined Canadians’ relationship with government and with citizenship. The results? “Well,” she says, “mixed.”
This colourful and convincing portrait of Canadian tax culture masterfully illustrates how tax policy decisions reflected larger political and social currents of change and the power of taxation to define citizenship and the role of government. Shirley Tillotson has a talent for drawing the key characters and conveying the emotions aroused by debates over taxation and government more generally, bringing a delightful humour and wit to the telling of these stories.
An outstanding achievement. Tillotson’s book is a full-scale treatment of modern taxation in Canada. Her findings and methodology bring tax history onto a new plane. Not many books generate the intellectual force to reshape a subject. Give and Take is one that does.
Taxes are the price we pay for civilization. But the social contract underpinning our (sometimes grudging) willingness to pay them is complex, fragile, and should never be taken for granted. Shirley Tillotson’s rollicking history of Canadian tax debates reveals precisely how that social contract was constructed – and why Canada is a much better place for it.
Give and Take is the very best history we have of Canadian taxation in the twentieth century, one that provides a wonderful model for studying the relationship between public finance and society in a modern liberal democracy. Tillotson’s brilliant use of primary sources sets a high bar for future explorations of the complex and intertwined roles of civic culture and class identity in shaping tax policy.
Those interested in future reform will welcome this detailed and fascinating history of the Canadian tax system from the introduction of the national income tax in 1917 to the Carter Commission and the 1971 federal budget.
Shirley Tillotson has taken a leading role in the writing of Canada’s new political history. She is the author of The Public at Play: Gender and the Politics of Recreation in Post-War Ontario and Contributing Citizens: Modern Charitable Fundraising and the Making of the Welfare State, 1920–66.
1 Talking Tax
2 We, the Taxpayers
3 Our Conservative Tax Structure
4 Resistance in the Interwar Years
5 Taxation at the Edges of Citizenship
6 Honour, Confidence, and Federalism during the Depression
7 Warfare, Welfare, and the Mass Income Tax Payer
8 New Publics and the Tax Man in the 1950s
9 Poverty, Bureaucracy, and Taxes
10 Reform, Populism, and the Presence of the Past in the 1960s
11 Self-Interest, Community, and the Evolution of the Citizen-Taxpayer
Notes; Bibliography; Index
Modern Charitable Fundraising and the Making of the Welfare State, 1920-66
The Terrific Engine
Income Taxation and the Modernization of the Canadian Political Imaginary
By David Tough
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