October 13, 2017 1:29 pm

COMMENTARY: Employee discount tax flip-flop a chicken bone in the voter’s throat

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau rises during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Wednesday, Sept.27, 2017.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
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“Let me be blunt: we are not going to tax anyone’s employee discounts. Minister @DiLebouthillier has asked the CRA to fix this.”

That’s a tweet from the prime minister after a frustrating couple of news cycles for the Liberals.

The tweet followed two million Canadians, among them sales clerks and school bus drivers, hotel staff and flight attendants, learning that the various employee discount perks they had been enjoying could be either taxed or taken away from them.

The Trudeau government’s gluttony for revenue seemed to know no end.

Like the typical glutton, it got to a point where it didn’t matter whether it was peanut butter or buttered lobster: the gluttony just wanted to devour everything.

It started with things like taxing the very top-tier in society, in the interests of fairness.

That didn’t bring in any more revenue.

LISTEN: Liberals backing off employee benefit/discounts taxation

Then the government began flailing around with its trainload of tax reforms targeting small businesses, professionals and farmers.

It’s a fiscal train wreck and a political nightmare.

But close to 50 per cent of the public didn’t care about either.

The employee discount story created an earthquake reaction among regular Canadians, all of whom were either enjoying the discount or had friends, neighbours or family members who did.

WATCH: Should employee discounts be taxed as income?

This was a story where no spinner could possibly convince the majority of Canadians that the government had a shred of empathy for real people.

Rather, it was one where the government did, once again, look like the glutton who didn’t care whether he was dining in a five-star hotel or the dumpster behind it.

I tried to be a little more subtle than that in my response to the prime minister’s tweet.

I said, “Let me be blunt. Canadians who work for a living are tired of being seen as cows to be milked because your gov refuses to reign in spending.”

Based on the reaction I received, there is not a sliver of doubt in my mind the government is now flailing and flip-flopping.

Explanations on the various polite talking-head panels don’t matter.

It’s easy to get some Liberal lobbyist to say this was an administrative decision on the part of Canada Revenue Agency (CRA).

The spinners can say that the civil service made the decision and the government overruled it days later.

And some huge fans of the government may buy that.

WATCH: Ottawa wants to tax employee discounts

But the majority of Canadians don’t think there’s a dime’s worth of difference between those in charge of government and those who are paid to execute policy.

An NHL coach can always say “I didn’t order Johnny to dice Jimmy’s melon like an onion.

“It was just a heat of the moment hockey thing and manure happens.”

And he can say that all day long.

But everyone knows that the reason Johnny’s doing his cannibal act is because that’s earning him brownie points with the coach.

LISTEN: The federal government’s tax flip flop continued

So when the revenue department tries to saw off an employee’s opportunity to save a few loonies on underwear or socks or a bag of nails, it doesn’t matter what Trudeau tweets or bleats

The citizens know the revenue people are doing this because they know the government is tapped out and needs to find new money.

I am not writing any of this in nuanced language for two reasons.

I hate the word nuance and there is nothing nuanced about this kind of political behaviour.

The government spends many billions of dollars on things that bring no benefit to the overwhelming majority of citizens and so, naturally, those citizens get angry when every time they look around they have to pony up more.

When I was a kid and my mom worked in the bakery she received a giant perk.

Twice a week she was allowed to take home a day-old loaf of bread.

It meant a lot to us paycheque-to-paycheque working class folk.

Those two loaves went a long way to making every bowl of soup and every plate of meatloaf taste a bit better.

Yes, it was filler. But while this concept may be just theoretical to the Trudeau and Morneau trust fund kids, for those of us who grew up only dreaming of being middle class, full beats empty every day of the week.

WATCH: Trudeau vague on details of proposed tax reforms

A couple of Octobers from now, Canadians will get the opportunity to re-sign the Trudeau government for another four-year term.

The smart money says they’ll do that, but it won’t be another majority.

The reason for that is what happened this week. The employee discount issue was a chicken bone in the voter’s throat.

Even though the policy that never got implemented has now been reversed, the symbolism of it is politically self-destructive.

Citizens do not want targets on their backs.

They don’t want to be seen as the property of the government, cows to be milked frequently.

Politics 101: Keep the voter feeling like a cow and she’ll kick the stools out of you.

© 2017 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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