Our social safety net isn’t some magic self-healing mesh.
It stretches and tears. It takes stitching and patching. Sometimes, it needs to be washed.
Yellowknife city council seems to have threaded quite a needle with its eight-per-cent disappearing act.
Dip into the general fund and abracadabra: Poof, your unimaginable 13.44 per cent property tax increase deflates by more than half. It’s a wise use of the general fund, which had the benefit of some federal Covid-19 support within. So be it. Let the doughnut and unleash the jelly. On the one hand, residents aren’t faced with a tax increase that may have forced them into making material changes in their finances, either in terms of money on paper or their real-world purchases.
But on the other, this isn’t exactly a badge of honour-worthy increase, either. Councillors were able to chisel about two per cent off the tax increase via cuts before reaching for the cookie jar, which is a worthwhile process. It’s also an exercise expected of elected officials acting in the best interests of the city corporation and their constituents. But lump two years of those together, and suddenly one of your most important bills – the one tied to your shelter, something not to be taken for granted in these days of pandemic-driven, record-breaking inflation – is 10 per cent higher than it was when your kids’ shoes were only just a bit smaller.
A more cynical observer might point out that the mayor and council have the additional incentive of next year’s municipal election. But the same factors that would compel a politician to appeal to their base would compel them to make tempered decisions at budget time. These individuals didn’t invent our democracy or design how it works, and there’s no evidence they front-weighted the tax increases within their term in office, meaning they didn’t give themselves a friendly tax increase in the election year.
Nor did they leave much of a gift for the next council, effectively saying with their multi-year budget projection that those individuals, who may end up being the same people or not, are starting from about an eight-per-cent tax increase for 2023 without any of 2022 occurring yet.
Yellowknifers are also Northerners, and are also Canadians. We’re subject to a whole host of forces, market forces, including what the federal government does with its powers of taxation and the effect of inflation, which at a 30-year high of five per cent looms over 2022 like the Sword of Damocles.
Erin O’Toole, the leader of the Conservative Party of Canada, on Dec. 14 related the experiences of Canadians who are looking at the costs of fuel increasing nearly a third, just in time for interest rate jumps and an increase in federal taxes starting on Jan. 1.
Those kids’ shoes aren’t getting any cheaper for any of us. Finding a way to afford them for the rest of this year, let alone the next four, is going to be a challenge every Yellowknifer will have to face. It appears council made it through the 2022 budget process without having to cut very deep into the social safety net, or the social fabric, that they’re responsible for. But as the cycle starts back up again this time next year, Yellowknifers may have to ask themselves what they’re willing to go without.