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Thursday, May 07, 2009

Alberta Venture Column on Business Ethics - May Edition

The May issue of Alberta Venture magazine is out. The business ethics column I participate in "The Right Call" tackled the question "Should a good corporate citizen go to any lengths to avoid taxes?" Leveraging loopholes and lax enforcement versus stepping up to the plate for the common good.

The Canadian Income Tax Act started about a century ago as a"temporary measure" to help pay for World War I. Things were simple them but now it is so complicated that mere mortals can't comprehend the tax laws.

The larger question is what are we paying for when the taxman take his chunk out of our hard earned dollars? Are we getting value for money. I scoff at the "self-made man" types who think they are the masters of the universe and their success is a result of their time, talent and risk taking.

All that is true but only part of the story. They are able to succeed because the public sector is there doing its job and that provides a stable society, with some serious certainty they tend to take for granted. I am talking things like a quality public education system that generates skilled talent they can lever but we all pay for. A justice system and the rule of law with an effective policy and fire protection system assures that private property can be expanded and protected and we all pay for that.

The free market system is a function of these universally provided public goods, not the other way around. The economy is there to serve the society, not the other way around. Enterprises have duties beyond the bottom line. Those in regulated industries like energy, forestry, telecommunications and broadcasting must earn public trust to continue with the all important "social license to operate."

There is more but you get my point. Paying taxes is no fun but it is necessary. As citizens our job is to be vigilant to make sure we get value for the money we pay.