Monday, April 29, 2019

What Taxes Buy

Buying anything in Toronto comes with a moment of surprise. I think I’m paying $2 to scan my artwork, but the clerk turns to me and says, “$2.26.” I ready $3 to pay for my $2.99 beverage, and the clerk says, “$3.42,” and then I have to fuss around in my wallet again.

It’s called tax, something tax-less Alaskans are not used to.

Now I’m going to describe a sample day – yesterday – in Toronto. First, I walk out to catch the 506 streetcar on the corner. Within a minute, it shows up. There are seats available – red plush upholstered seats – and I can tell when my stop comes up because the recorded announcement is clear and the sign showing “next stop” works at the front.

[This was so shocking at first: in New York City, the public recorded announcements sound like this: “ssshhhhXXXchchchhsssdsttt.” Here they say, “The next stop is Yonge Street, College Station subway.”]

So I get out at College Station and switch to the 1 subway at no extra charge. It comes within a minute, too, but that’s because it runs every 2-3 minutes. Every 2-3 minutes! I am in transit heaven – with more plush seats!

I’m going to the Deer Park Branch of the public library. I’ve never been there before, but Joanna Goodman, author of The Home for Unwanted Girls is speaking. There are 100 branches of the public library, and I have three within blocks of my apartment. I am always stumbling over yet another branch library in my wanderings.

Every few feet, I pass a litter/recycling box. All the litter boxes include recycling. At first, I thought people were just throwing litter in the recycling hole, not separating their recyclables, and it annoyed the daylights out of me. But then I discovered that here they recycle EVERYthing: any rigid plastic like plates and cups and containers (as long as they’re not black), juice boxes, milk cartons, pizza boxes, foam coffee cups and takeout boxes. So it’s not messing up the recycling; it’s DOING the recycling.

The compost bin even takes my dirty, food-covered napkins!

After the author talk – where every seat is taken and we’re all impressed and enthralled – I dawdle around downtown. I pass a homeless person asleep on the sidewalk, and two community service women are talking with him, asking him to stand. Yes, I’ve seen homeless people in this city of three million, but not to the numbers I’ve seen in Anchorage (one-tenth the size). I have also passed many clinics, social service buildings, detox centers. One storefront had a sign that it was a Sewing Repair Hub offering classes in sewing repair and then helping the women set up mending businesses (while keeping textiles out of the waste stream). They are addressing their social ills.

I stop at Soufi’s restaurant because I see that it’s a Syrian restaurant and I can have manakeesh, which I’d loved in London. Then I head to the main Toronto Reference Library where about 500 of us have been lucky enough to reserve a space to hear Sally Rooney, author of Normal People. (Did I mention that all this is free?) I pass the Newcomer Services Desk, where a woman is helping a new immigrant. Many of the libraries have those desks.

I’m sitting next to Joan, who turns out to be a major theater-goer, seeing two plays every weekend! Two plays every weekend! She turns me on to a play I hadn’t heard about, and when I get home, I immediately buy a ticket for it.

I could have waited till Saturday morning, when I go to my branch library and get a free MAP, Museum + Arts Pass. That’s how I’ve been to the Art Gallery of Ontario, for example. I can get one pass a week, but I didn’t want to take a chance the performance would sell out.
Heading home is no problem because even at night, the buses and streetcars and subways still come frequently and there are nice shelters that say when the next one is due.

A friend of mine lives here and says the taxes are very high, but his husband is very sick, and they can receive many, many services and quality care.

That’s what taxes pay for. This is what a community looks like when its citizens and businesses contribute financially to its operation. This is what a government can provide when it has financial resources. Only Alaskans believe it has to come free.


  1. Barbara, the solution is simple: more people who like what we like!

    1. ...and who are willing to pay to get it. But there are plenty of things other people like (shooting ranges, single-track bike trails) that I'm still willing to pay for; some from Column A, some from Column B...

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