The five stages of tax grief
It was the psychologist Elizabeth Kübler-Ross who first mapped out the five stages of grief, which we experience with the death of a loved one: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. As with death, so it goes with taxes. The loss of disposable income is its own trauma. When a new tax is introduced, citizens would rather pretend it’s not happening; when forced to confront it, we get angry, and we’ll rage, rage against any new tax until someone calmly ushers us through the rest of the grieving process. That, in a nutshell, is what Mayor David Miller did last night.
Miller finally attended a public meeting to discuss his tax plan last night in Etobicoke at the invitation of local councillor Peter Milczyn. Citizen after citizen, each mired at various stages of the grieving process, took the microphone to give His Worship a piece of their mind. It was at times emotional, heated and rancourous. Most people were mired in anger: Miller was called a bad manager, a coward and a union hack. Others had reached the bargaining stage, like Councillor Milczyn, who still hoped against hope that he could convince Miller to amend his tax proposal. Others were depressed at the futility of it all. Like a good therapist, Miller absorbed everything that was thrown his way, all while calmly laying out the necessity, the inevitability of new taxes and why in the end it’s all for the best. (Believe it or not, the reason he gave most often in support of his land-transfer tax was that it is the fairest solution for seniors living on fixed incomes, as if to say, “Let’s keep them comfortable for their final days on the ratepayer’s deathbed.”)
This is the mayor’s job. It is every politician’s job: to absorb voter frustration. People demand it of politicians, and there’s no hiding from it. It’s what makes politics exhausting as a career choice, but it is what it is. Dalton McGuinty understood this dynamic well. For three years he has absorbed public anger over the health premium, and now, with only a week to go until voting day, we’ve all reached acceptance. John Tory and Howard Hampton want to drag us back to the anger stage, but we’ve been there, and it’s not a happy place, and we’re past that stage anyway. Barring a miracle, McGuinty will be returned for another majority.
Anyway, back to Etobicoke last night. Denzil Minnan-Wong was in the crowd; as the ringleader of council’s opposition, he has a vested interest in keeping people angry. But as time goes on and as people continue to vent, the odds are increasingly stacked against him. By meeting’s end, you could feel it: the room was spent of its venom. It takes a lot out of you to stay angry or to bargain in futility; the audience got it off their chests until they had grown tired of listening to themselves.
They will all now go home and watch as the rest of the inevitability unfolds on TV and in the newspapers. It will culminate in the adoption of Miller’s new taxes on October 22. The difference is now they are mentally prepared for it, and they’ll accept it because the mayor listened. In the end, Miller walked out of the room with more respect than he had when he came in, which is why he should have appeared at the public consultations from the start.