Municipal Taxation in Nova Scotia

“PRACTICALLY, the General Property Tax as actually administered is beyond all doubt one of the worst taxes known in the civilized world. Because of its attempt to tax intangible as well as tangible things it sins against the cardinal rules of uniformity, of equality, and of universality of taxation. It puts a premium on dishonesty and debauches the public conscience; it reduces deception to a system, and makes a science of knavery; it presses hardest on those least able to pay; it imposes double taxation on one man and grants entire immunity to the next. In short, the General Property Tax is so flagrantly inequitable that its retention can be explained only through ignorance or inertia. It is the cause of such crying injustice that its alteration or its abolition must become the battle cry of every statesman and reformer.” I. Seligman, Essays on Taxation, p. 61.

A quarter of a century has passed since Professor Seligman of Columbia University, probably the greatest living authority on municipal taxation, wrote the tremendous indictment of the General Property Tax which is placed at the head of this article. Twenty years before that the Assessor of New York used respecting the same tax the following language:

“The General Property Tax is a reproach to the state, an outrage upon the people, a disgrace to the civilization of the nineteenth century, and worthy only of an age of mental and moral darkness and degradation, when the ‘only equal rights were those of the equal robber.’ ” Seligman, p. 36.”

“A municipality has little or no means of ascertaining incomes or anticipating them at their source, as is done in England and now in Canada by intercepting the dividends of companies or profits of partnerships before reaching their participants. In practice, I understand, these difficulties are met by the usual Nova Scotian way of dealing with a troublesome law, namely by not enforcing it or doing so only perfunctorily. The only incomes actually reached are those that are fairly thrust under the noses of the assessor-such as salaries of clerks and other officials whose incomes are known or can be ascertained by enquiry. All other persons either escape entirely or are left to make such return as their consciences prompt them. In one town (Dartmouth) the results of attempting to collect the tax were so meagre, unsatisfactory, and unjust, that a special act was obtained dispensing with the tax there.”

Bell, F.H. “Municipal Taxation in Nova Scotia” Dalhousie Review, Volume 01, Number 3, 1921