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Reviewed by:
  • Tax, Order, and Good Government: A New Political History of Canada, 1867-1917 by E. A. Heaman
  • Douglas McCalla
Heaman, E. A. – Tax, Order, and Good Government: A New Political History of Canada, 1867-1917, Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press, 2017. Pp. 600.

E. A. Heaman's Tax, Order, and Good Government has a very ambitious agenda, covering all three levels of government, the whole country, and a long period; and it rests on a massive body of research, particularly in the newspapers of the period and in numerous inquiries about taxation. With the partial exception of its chapters on Montreal, Toronto, and the single tax movement, its narrative covers familiar episodes, including the Confederation settlement, Nova Scotia's quest for better terms, the politics of racialization in British Columbia, the national policy of tariff protection, the Liberals' victory in 1896, the Reciprocity election of 1911, and conscription and the adoption of a federal tax on incomes in 1917. The main justification for calling it a "new political history" is its sustained focus on taxation, all but one chapter being addressed to what Heaman calls a "tax revolt." The exception, "Income Tax: Progressivism Triumphant," pictures the decision to establish a federal income tax as the outcome of a debate over, and campaign for, fairness in taxation, begun long before the war at the municipal level and working its way upward.

To understand what was actually taxed, how, and by whom, Heaman refers readers to J. Harvey Perry's classic Taxes, Tariffs, and Subsidies (1955). What she aims at is "a cultural history of taxation" addressed to "the people's reply to those [tax] demands: their desperate pleas and angry complaints, and their moments of [End Page 236] resistance and revolt" (pp. 6, 7). She also excludes systematic consideration of how taxes were spent, arguing that "debates over taxing priorities were prior" (p. 5). Yet taxes would have been unnecessary without expenditures, and sequences matter: at key points, as in the late 1850s, during the First World War, and in fast-growing cities, the latter clearly came first. Moreover, expenditure patterns are fundamental to her argument, as when she writes that "both the municipal and the provincial state worked to transfer wealth from the people to the propertied classes" (p. 35) or that "tax dollars were transferred to the investing classes" (p. 127).

Exactly who constituted "the people" and "the propertied" (or the "investing classes," for that matter) is rarely spelled out; and the same can be said for other dichotomies, including "the patrician and the plebeian" (p. 38), the poor and the rich (e.g., pp. 120, 216, 333, 433, 461), the poor and big business (e.g., p. 393), crowds and vested elites (e.g., p. 126), and the many and the few (e.g., p. 141). Between the extremes, many other groups make appearances, among them the "petty bourgeois" (p. 12); "the middling people" (p. 60); "wealthy, conservative, landed classes" in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick (p. 59); "Protestant yeomen" in Ontario (p. 59); a "beleaguered middle class" in British Columbia (p. 117); "fulminating ratepayers" (p. 126); "the middling and working classes" (p. 333), and those participating in "middle-class ratepayer movements" (p. 421). The size and composition of these and other categories, and how they differed from one another, are often unclear, and they are sometimes used confusingly. Ratepayers, for example, were municipal voters, as the book's helpful glossary explains, yet Heaman regularly refers to them in federal contexts as well.

At Confederation, Canada was overwhelmingly rural; just 12% of the population lived in places of 5,000 or more in 1871, a figure that would rise to 33% on the eve of the First World War. In an argument heavily oriented to the urban, this basic dimension of society is insufficiently recognized. A case in point is Heaman's claim that the $4,000 property qualification for Senate membership was "astronomically high" (p. 39), although even in the 1860s there were many farms with this value. By 1900, as she recognizes, that was a normal valuation for a well-established farm. In effect, the "propertied" were more numerous and less urban...


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