Happy for taxes

And how lucky we are to be able to pay taxes and know that we live in a country where we actually care about one another.

Elizabeth Marsland’s letter (Taxes Are Just The Price of Society, The NEWS, Feb. 9) is right on the money.

I’m writing this letter from the Mayan community of San Antonio Palopo, on Lake Atitlan, in rural Guatemala, a country of extremes — 95 per cent of its wealth concentrated among less than two per cent of the population. I formerly lived in Qualicum Beach but when we return we will live in Kaslo. The wealthy here pay relatively low taxes and the extremely poor, who generally live in conditions matching those of 15th century Europe, of course pay none at all. Because the federal government collects low taxes, and because so many of the indigenous population are unemployed or under-employed, federal funds can’t provide even the teeniest bit of what we would expect from our political leaders.

San Antonio, with a population of 7,000-plus indigenous Mayans, is typical of a community that receives next to nothing from the taxes collected by their government. In 2010, a major hurricane (Agatha) killed many people, destroyed more than 100 homes, the elementary school (populated by 500 kids) and completely disabled the town’s water distribution system. Six years later there is still no school and still no water system. Through Rotary funding, we are working with local government to change that.

Both before and since that disaster, there has never been an effective health care facility. The government of Spain donated money to build a medical clinic here; completed last year, it now sits empty — no medicine, no equipment and no staff.

Our tax system takes from those who have had opportunity — by birth, by race, by privilege, and of course, by hard work — and gives to those less fortunate. Not here in Guatemala: are the hardest working people the wealthiest? Nope. Do the wealthy share with the workers who actually made their wealth possible? Not much. Is there a federal government here that works to re-balance this incredibly lopsided situation? Not yet.

Canadians should be both proud and grateful that our system tries to even out inequities like this.

If you really think you are over-taxed in Canada, visit this town. Sleep on a dirt floor, cook on an open fire, live in a five-foot-by-eight-foot house with your family of four or five, stay up until two in the morning because it’s your turn for two hours of running water. Feed your children boiled grass and coffee with sugar because it’s all you can afford, live in the dark because electricity is unaffordable, watch your family members sicken and die because necessary surgery costs more than your entire annual income.

It’s comforting to know that we will soon be home, back to health care, clean water, affordable housing, reliable and affordable electricity, and all the other benefits we take for granted. When we return to Guatemala in 10 months, we hope things will be a little better for the citizens of San Antonio Palopo.

Meanwhile, we count our blessings; how lucky we are to be Canadian. And how lucky we are to be able to pay taxes and know that we live in a country where we actually care about one another.

David SheppardKaslo, B.C.

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