The Terrific Engine
200 pages, 6 x 9
3 b&w photos, 7 illus.
Release Date:15 Jan 2019
Release Date:15 May 2018
Release Date:15 May 2018
Release Date:15 May 2018

The Terrific Engine

Income Taxation and the Modernization of the Canadian Political Imaginary

UBC Press

The Terrific Engine is the story of how the engine of income taxation profoundly transformed the way people talk and think about politics in Canada. What do we mean by left wing or right wing? This language of a political spectrum came into use in the early twentieth century, when political parties began to distinguish their platforms by offering different approaches to income distribution.

Drawing on heated debates that demonstrated the immense imaginative power of income taxation, David Tough traces the modernization of political language from the 1911 election through the Second World War. It was during this time that a new political imaginary was born, when political parties began to map themselves from left to right based on their ideas about the use of income taxation to fund equalizing social programs.

Countering a strongly held myth that income taxation was imposed on a reluctant public, Tough argues that its introduction is in fact a story of democracy. People first demanded that this new form of taxation replace existing ones, and then that it be used to address income inequality. And, in establishing a clear basis for party differences, income taxation made elections significantly more democratic.

This book will find its largest audience among scholars of Canadian political history, political rhetoric, taxation, social movements, and social inequality.

David Tough deftly connects changes in the party system to popular movements for social change to the seemingly dull world of taxation, demonstrating that the historic emergence of taxes as politics was anything but dull. Dennis M. Pilon, author of Wrestling with Democracy: Voting Systems as Politics in the Twentieth-Century West
The Terrific Engine is a terrific book on an overlooked but important topic: taxation! Who knew that income tax could be so interesting? David Tough’s book will be a go-to source for students of Canadian political history. Donald Wright, associate professor of political science, University of New Brunswick
The Terrific Engine is a worthwhile book on an often-overlooked subject. David Tough has taken what some would consider a dull topic regarding taxation and makes a strong and engaging case that this subject field needs to be brought back into our discussions regarding the history of the developing Canadian economy and political discourse. It is hoped that he is writing a sequel to The Terrific Engine. Christopher Adams, rector, St. Paul’s College, University of Manitoba, Prairie History
David Tough teaches in the School for the Study of Canada at Trent University. He is a historian of Canadian politics and of the rhetoric of inequality in twentieth-century Canada and has written numerous articles on Canadian politics for peer-reviewed publications.


Introduction: A Political History of Possibility

Part 1: The People’s Enlightenment and the Destruction of the Two-Party System

1 A Clear Line? The Great Deception and the Farmers’ Critique of the Tariff , 1910–11

2 The Brink of the Abyss: The “Conscription of Wealth” and the Party System, 1917–19

Part 2: The Citizenship of Contribution and the Construction of the Modern Political Imaginary

3 The Curve of Progressivity: “Fiscal Need” and the Constitution, 1921–39

4 A Modern Measure? The Income Tax Sublime and the Left–Right Spectrum, 1940–45

Conclusion: Income Taxation, Democracy, and the Modern Political Imaginary

Notes; Bibliography; Index

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