To achieve maximum personal enrichment, Conrad Black is alleged, among other things, to have arranged for millions of dollars in management fees to be paid to his private companies registered in Barbados, where they faced a minuscule 2 1/2 per cent corporate tax rate.

Reading about this last week, I realized for the first time that I was in the grip of a powerful emotion that could perhaps be described as “tax rage.”

Readers of the National Post — the organ that Black established as a right-wing bullhorn back in 1998 — will recognize this emotion. It is an anger we all supposedly feel toward government (or the “Taxstapo” as it’s been referred to in the Post) for imposing taxes on us.

Of course, the tax rage I experienced last week was quite different; the rage was directed at the way the rich manage to reduce their taxes, thereby sticking the rest of the population with higher taxes to make up the shortfall.

This isn’t at all the kind of tax rage that Black tried to foster in the Canadian public. Rather, following the path pioneered by Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, Black used the Post to spearhead a campaign in Canada to pressure governments to reduce taxes, particularly on the rich, and in the process leave the national treasury barely able to afford public programs badly wanted by the rest of us.

The Post soon became the de facto command centre of the anti-tax corporate lobby in Canada, exhorting the citizenry to abandon its “apparent capacity to absorb any degree of tax slavery,” as the Post put it.

The Post offered up a daily diet of anti-tax hysteria that soon came to be reflected in much of the rest of the media, creating an apparent cacophony of demands for tax cuts across the land — a tale well chronicled in Larry Patriquin’s perceptive new book, Inventing Tax Rage.

All this was happening in the late 1990s, when Ottawa was awash in budget surpluses after years of deficits.

Polls showed that Canadians strongly favoured directing those surpluses into social reinvestment, not tax cuts. But the business lobby was in full tax rage mode, with its every angry word captured by the microphone of a waiting Post reporter.

Paul Martin, who was then only finance minister but with ambitions for the top job, clearly felt the pain of the anti-tax lobbyists and readily succumbed to them.

In his February, 2000 budget, Martin handed them some red meat — $100 billion in tax cuts over the next five years, leaving little for the social reinvestment. Economist Jim Stanford has noted that between 1997 and 2001, $26 billion of Ottawa’s surpluses went to tax cuts, while only $2 billion went to social reinvestment.

Black, who sold his interest in the Post in 2001, has long been considered by many to be little more than a pompous blowhard — a sort of Mel Lastman in noble finery.

But Black also clearly played a pivotal role in setting back the cause of equality and social justice in Canada — a legacy likely to be at least as durable as that of the alleged corporate kleptomaniac.

Ironically, if the lengthy list of allegations against Black had surfaced earlier, he would have had a harder time lecturing Canadians (sometimes referred to in the Post as “tax serfs” or “cows to be milked”) on the need to provide greater tax relief for the successful among us, who, we were told, would otherwise relocate to the tax haven south of the border.

To listen to the Post tell it, taxes and taxes alone were driving the talented out of Canada. (If only the town of Timmins had been smart enough to reduce its municipal taxes, Shania Twain would no doubt still be there playing the local clubs.)

In fact, the “brain drain” constantly invoked by the Post was largely a figment of Black’s overheated imagination, perhaps brought on by too much lavish living.

The exodus of educated Canadians was, according to Statistics Canada, lower than it had been in decades, with Canada actually gaining many more such individuals through immigration each year than it lost to the U.S.

Hollinger International, the company formerly headed by Black, is hell-bent on retrieving some of the $400 million that it claims Black looted from the company till.

With ample resources, Hollinger may well end up taking a chunk out of the hide of the formerly high-flying media baron.

As for the billions drained from the Canadian national treasury following Black’s crusade for lower taxes for the rich, we can kiss that money goodbye.

Tax rage anyone?

Linda McQuaig

Journalist and best-selling author Linda McQuaig has developed a reputation for challenging the establishment. As a reporter for The Globe and Mail, she won a National Newspaper Award in 1989...