The Conservatives Are On Their Trolley

Credit where it’s due: the Conservative Party’s recently announced plan to grant tax rebates to those who take public transit is a long-overdue policy that should win the CPC considerable brownie points from urban voters.

In a comment on another blog, I said that the current tax situation promotes car commuting because companies tend to provide free parking to their employees, as a tax-free benefit, chewing up real-estate and encouraging driving. On the other hand free monthly passes provided to workers amounted to a taxable benefit. In the case of the City of Toronto, where the monthly Metropass is nearly $100, and a monthly pass on GO Transit can run as high as $350, this amounts to anywhere from $1200-$4200 or more per year that an individual has added to his taxible income.

A commentator pointed out out a flaw in my argument: free parking is, technically, a taxable benefit.

I found this strange, as I’ve worked for a number of companies which have offered free parking to their workers, and such benefits have not appeared on my tax bill. Is this the case for you people out there? Or are a number of companies milking the exception: calling their parking “scramble parking”, available on a first-come, first-served basis, even though they tend to offer enough parking for the workers in their company who use it.

Either way, the provision of free transit passes is a lot easier to quantify. The Canadian Urban Transit Association along with numerous groups with an interest in clean air and urban affairs have for years been calling for the federal government to make company-provided transit passes a tax-free benefit. And in the lead-up to at least a couple of budgets, the Liberals have mused on this suggestion, but ultimately ended up doing nothing — yet another example of the Liberals talking the urban talk, but failing to walk the urban walk.

Such has been the vulnerability of the Liberals on this issue, my only surprise with the Conservative announcement is that it took them so long. Providing tax benefits to employers for implementing desireable policies is consistent with the Conservative value of relying on the free market to achieve social goals — even if the free market has to be prodded into action on occasion.

As for the parking tax benefit issue, the commentator and I think that perhaps the provision of a parking space should also be a tax-free benefit to employees, if only to simplify the tax code (although the idea of a high-priced lawyer getting a space in downtown Toronto as a tax-free benefit gave us both pause). If, as I guess, this provision of the tax code isn’t being implemented as widely as it should be, it’s silly to keep it.

Oh, and Liberals: if you want to copy the Tory proposal in your next budget, feel free to do so. I don’t care who provides tax incentives for transit use, as long as it gets done. But right now, my kudos to the Conservative Party for this bit of common-sense thinking stands for all to see.

Further Reading

Further Thought on War of the Worlds

Talking with Dan and Cameron, I realize that there is one other movie after War of the Worlds and M. Night Shymalan’s works wherein the use of ambient sound stands out. And, intriguingly, it’s another Spielberg flick. Can you guess which one?

Yup. Jurassic Park. Didn’t the movie win a sound Oscar for the velociraptor scream? And, of course, who could forget the distant WHUMP! of the Tyrannasaurus Rex and the ripples in the glass of water?

Spielberg seems to like to play with sound. Anybody else got suggestions for other movies and other directors where sound is so well used?

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