A statue of Norman Bethune, close to Concordia University, in Montreal is pictured on June 7, 2012.
Credits: PHILIPPE-OLIVIER CONTANT/QMI Agency
The recent do-da over $2.5 million federal tax dollars going to celebrate Norman Bethune is the best possible argument for small government and local decision making.
Here's what we know about Bethune. He was a skilled battlefield surgeon who also happened to have, shall we say, poor taste in friends. When it came to political judgment Bethune turned out to be a loon. He was a communist and a dupe for the greatest mass murderer in history, Mao Zedong.
Of course it wouldn't matter what I thought if the money for his memorialization had come from private donors, but it didn't. It came from the proletariats of Canada, or as we call them today "taxpayers."
But this isn't the first time the workers of Canada were tapped to support the memory of Brother Bethune.
It may not surprise you that in 1973 the Trudeau government bought the house Bethune was born in and a few years later established a memorial to him. The same year, Trudeau went to China where he again met Chairman Mao.
They had met once before in 1960 when Trudeau traipsed off to China as a private citizen. Of course he and Mao hit it off immediately, despite all the skeletons in Mao's closet, all 60 million of them.
Finally, in 1977, the CBC produced a movie about Bethune starring another darling of the far left, Donald Sutherland.
In other words Bethune's controversial memory has been propped up by tax dollars because long ago Pierre Trudeau had a fetish for China and dictators.
Given the 40-year dust-up over Bethune, perhaps it's time to ask if there isn't a better way to decide how federal money gets spent on local priorities.
The ideal would be to keep the feds mostly out of it. Sure, they should have a role in creating national parks and preserving battlefields, but once you get beyond that it gets tricky. The same applies to federal funding of municipal infrastructure.
The ideal scenario would be to never tax away the money in the first place. It would then be up to local municipalities to decide if they wanted to tax local citizens to erect statues to honour local Communist heroes as opposed to, say, buying a new Zamboni for the arena or fixing potholes.
The other option would be for local Communists to pass the Chairman Mao hat and raise the money themselves. Local decisions. Local accountability. That's the dream scenario for taxpayers.
Of course the problem with my dream scenario is that it's a dream. Property taxes are a notoriously inefficient and unfair way of raising revenue. The municipalities would need provincial approval to find other ways to raise revenues, a bracing prospect given the record of some municipalities.
That said, I'm not convinced we can't do better than having the federal government deciding which municipal priorities to fund. Put another way, if local taxpayers were spending local tax dollars on local priorities, I'd put my money on the Zamboni, potholes and a new garbage truck over Norman Bethune any day.