The Current

Should elected officials have to make their tax returns public?

The British Prime Minister David Cameron admits he owned shares but sold them off. It's the kind of admission political leaders are being forced to make in the wake of the Panama Papers. What if politicians' tax returns were put on public display automatically?
Manitoba NDP leader Greg Selinger made his tax return public, and called on other leaders to do the same. (CBC)

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Pressure had been mounting on British Prime Minister David Cameron to reveal more about his finances since a trove of offshore banking records became public with the epic leak of the Panama Papers. He is the first U.K. prime minister to release a summary of his tax returns to the public. 

Though, in Britain, not everyone in the political class was in favour of disclosure ... 

As the debate rages in the U.K. and elsewhere, one country whose tax reporting system deserves a closer look is Norway. There's no question there about just how much tax their politicians have paid, because in Norway everyone's tax returns are available online. There's no private tax return in Norway. If you pay taxes in the country, it's public to anyone. 

And filing taxes in Norway require very little effort.  It's so simple, many people don't even fill out a form, they just answer a text from the government to agree to the information provided.

The government essentially sends you a text message saying according to our records you have earned, x,y or z, and your taxes were d or f, if you have any other information fill out a form, otherwise press yes.- Sven  Steinmo , political economist at the European University Institute

In Canada, the issue of politicians and public tax returns has gained some currency in Manitoba's provincial election. NDP leader Greg Selinger made his tax return public, and called on other leaders to do the same. Selinger says if re-elected, he would require all MLAs to make their tax returns public, along with any offshore holdings. Progressive Conservatives' Brian Pallister refuses to make his tax returns public, calling this "desperation" politics.

So the question remains — should elected officials have to make their tax returns public?

Guests in this segment:

  • Sven Steinmo, political economist at the Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies at the European University Institute. 
  • Paul Thomas, professor emeritus in political studies at the University of Manitoba. 
  • Duff Conacher, co-founder of Democracy Watch and visiting professor in political science at the University of Ottawa. 

This segment was produced by The Current's Karin Marley.

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