How Bamford-Gordon abolished the income tax
It was Harrison’s master plan and he did it for a damned Naturally, it shook the country to its roots
Were the relationship between Ruth Ferguson and Harrison Bamiord-Gordon not of some historical note it would be embarrassing to talk about it, for it’s closer to farce than to high political intrigue. But since the nation now seems damned, defrauded or disgraced (depending on one’s point ot view) because of the ephemeral attraction felt by these two middle-aged persons, it is best we have the authentic details.
It is fair to say that Ruth Ferguson assumed the proportions of a difficult problem in the monochromatic Hie of Harrison Bamford-Gordon. As a matter of fact. BamfordGordon put it to himself in much this way as he settled into his tub one evening.
“A difficult problem,” he said bluntly.
The water was very hot: wispy tendrils of steam rose above its glassy surface. Harrison sighed as he felt the heat leaking into his tired bones, unknotting muscles and unsticking cartilage. He slid farther down, until the water washed the lobes of his cars, wetting the lowest inch of his stone-grey hair.
Harrison Bamford-Gordon was tired. 'I his was not surprising for that was his customary state. But, to be fair, Harrison worked conscientiously, long hours, driving himself to the rather well-defined limits of his endurance. He believed that he believed in work as other men do in God, as an act of blind unreasoning faith: in fact, he believed in work because it was the easiest escape from a monolithic boredom that had dogged him from youth.
Harrison rose promptly at six each morning. He claimed he did this in order to get a good start in the day, but he actually kept it up because he couldn't sleep. His ablutions were precise and efficient and by six twentyseven each day Harrison was at his desk, studying. He studied until it was time to go
to work. That two-hour period, each morning through several decades, almost turned Harrison Bamford-Gordon into a savant, a fate he escaped only through a kind ol atavistic sloth.
The object of his study shifted over the years. In his earliest days he pursued languages, until he became proficient in French, Italian. German, Arabic, Hindustani, Sanskrit and Erse. Eventually languages palled and he turned from a catholic philology to a patriotic bibliography, compiling in the short space of eighteen months the standard Carman and a remarkably complete Service. When bibliography also palled he experimented with palindromic verses, but found them unsatisfying. Eventually he began to shun the esoteric and relaxed into a broad, if occasionally middle-class, study of economics, ranging freely in the field as fancy directed.
He worked for the Department of Internal Revenue in Ottawa in a job he considered somewhat degrading but to which he brought meticulous talents. He was one of that anonymous army of clerks who scan income-tax returns, picking to tatters the hopes of optimistic citizens. Mistakes in addition, multiplication, division and subtraction had a way of sticking in his eye. He quoted the Income Tax Act and its many amendments as he quoted Carman, with facility and relish, and delighted in applying its labyrinthine clauses, noting their gloomy message on reassessment sheets in a fine italic script. He never rounded off a figure, and on those rare occasions when he discovered someone who had overpaid his tax would bend every effort to find some discrepancy in the return, priding himself on his success at reducing credits to debits.
But as Harrison continued on page 46
He’d never seen love so attractively packaged. “Withal a desirable woman,” he said miserably
sat soaking solace in his bath that night the thought uppermost in his mind was not the flagellative value of the T1 form, or the futility of palindromic verse, or even the discount rate. It was Ruth Ferguson.
“Ruthless Ruth,” Harrison muttered in the manner of one suffering acute indigestion. He thought of drowning himself, and even slipped a fraction of an inch lower in the bath but stopped abruptly when hot water began seeping into his ears. “Rude Ruth; Ruth rued; and withal, a desirable woman,” he intoned.
HARRISON had met her quite incidentally. He was walking along the Driveway one evening in June—a very dangerous month in Ottawa from an emotional point of view—and had just passed the grey Victorian mass of Fisgar Collegiate when he first spied Miss Ferguson, sprawled ungracefully on a bench.
There was no doubt the woman was in some kind of distress. She was uttering a moan.
"It’s terrible, simply terrible,” she said between moans. Harrison looked around to see if he could retire unobtrusively, but found himself trapped.
“Terrible,” Ferguson said, waving her arms wildly in some kind of semaphoric symbolism whose significance escaped Harrison.
He blanched, but plunged nevertheless.
“Is there anything I can do to help?” he enquired in a voice framed in fatalism.
Ferguson sat bolt upright and looked at him.
“Perhaps I could get a taxi and escort you home,” Harrison said, reassured by this positive activity.
“That won’t be necessary,” Ferguson said archly. “I live there.” The arm waved again in the direction of the houses on the other side of the road. She began looking around anxiously, cooing in a low voice.
“It’s a bird,” she said, in a fit of explanation, “and he’s flown the coop. I was chasing him and frankly I’m not as young as I used to be. I’m afraid he’s got away.”
“Free as a bird,” Harrison said, for no particular reason.
Ruth Ferguson eyed him as an angler may a lazy trout that has glided into view.
“It is very kind of you to help.” she said, the outline of her voice softening (though it was still quite apparent its core was steel).
“I did nothing,” Harrison said, with the air of a man who has just saved the crown jewels.
“True, but you had the intention, and that’s the important thing.”
Harrison looked at her severely but it seemed to have no effect, so he stopped.
“Budgie?” he said.
“Can’t be helped.”
“Perhaps I could see you to your door.”
Ruth Ferguson did not invite Harrison Bamford-Gordon in to tea that evening, but she did ask him to call—if it were convenient—on the following Sunday. It was and he did.
He ate her brownies, her angel cake, her fruit cake, her ice-box cookies and her brown molasses bread. He learned, inadvertently it seemed, that Ruth Ferguson was a widow of three years. She owned the home in which she lived, a rambling nine rooms in the discursive style of the late part of the nineteenth century. She had a private income. And she was (or so Harrison imagined) a lonely person, seeking company. There is no need to burden this narrative with detail. Bamford-Gordon fell with all the reticence of a stone dropped from the top of the Peace Tower.
It is worth noting that he had been in love before, but had avoided it, perhaps because he had never seen it so attractively packaged. He entertained a horror of marriage, because (he said) it embodied so many anomalies. But here (he told himself) was a woman who knew the ropes, whose public virtues were obvious, and who seemed to have picked him from a mass of available bachelors for special attention. Flattered from his rational world he began to court.
HE WAS a little clumsy. The events on the day he took Ruth to Dow’s Lake for an afternoon’s canoeing were typical of the bad luck that plagued him.
The bridge that intervenes
Two oldsters meet and chat of childhood days, But, when they tête-à-tête on current things,
One flaunts his golden touch . . . the other brags Of fame—their lives have gone in diverse ways. Each caustic answer holds a barb that stings;
A chasm yawns and conversation lags
Until they both recall a childhood scene—
In safety . . . they have bridged the gap between.
Mildred VV. Bradley
The Dow’s Lake episode arose from some small talk the couple exchanged one balmy evening in July while walking along the canal.
A lazy canoe of lovers went gliding by.
“How charming,” Ruth said.
“Beautiful craft, a canoe,” Harrison said.
“If you can handle it,” she added.
“Nothing to it.” Harrison said this with such authority that she was prompted to remark on it.
“1 used to do a little paddling.” Harrison said, blushing. “Almost made an Olympic team once — but that's many years back now,” he added cautiously.
“Did you?” Ruth said. “You must take me canoeing.”
Harrison protested but eventually, inevitably, he gave in. On the appointed day he performed splendidly for a time. But unfortunately when they were in the middle of Dow’s Lake the discussion drifted to Italian proverbs, a subject on which they both considered themselves expert, and when Ruth corrected him for the third time in his rendering of an Italian proverb he forgot where he was and stood up in a state of high excitement, brandishing a paddle. In this way Harrison became a one-day hero in the Ottawa papers by saving Ruth Ferguson from a watery grave. (“Mr. BamfordGordon displayed a thorough knowledge of the rules of water safety . . .”)
Miss Ferguson, who professed to be unable to swim, has not publicly recorded her opinion of the exploit.
But in spite, or because, of incidents like the Dow’s Lake rescue, the two grew close, one thing led to another, Harrison Bamford-Gordon reached his point of no return, recognized the situation, and one evening in the early autumn, as the leaves were beginning to turn, proposed.
Ruth Ferguson was not confused. “I don’t think so. Harry,” she said. “I married once for love, and I can assure you that it’s a great mistake.”
It was such a flattering refusal that Harrison plunged on, hardly recognizing the unequivocal tone in her voice.
“Why?” he said.
That was his mistake.
And the country’s misfortune.
“I meant,” Ruth said, pouring another cup of strong black tea, “that I just couldn’t marry again for the sake of marrying. If I were going to marry again I'd want to marry someone.”
"But surely . . . ,” Harrison began.
"I don’t want to be unkind," Ruth said, “but if you’d really done something, something outstanding. Like climbing Everest . . .”
“That’s been done.”
“Or inventing the universal solvent. . .”
“Or defeating the government — or something.”
"It’s positively medieval,” Harrison
said. “It’s like one of those fairy tales in which the prince has to eat dragons and catch nonexistent insects and chop off giants' heads before he gets the princess.” Harrison said this with a charm that in no way prejudiced his case, for Ruth, while hard as nails, had a romantic streak that ran through her like a band of rust, and dragons, princes and princesses appealed to her.
“And if I do something, as you put it?” Harrison said.
“Well, we’d have to see,” Ruth purred. But she left him with the distinct impression it would all work out.
“I'll not call again until I’ve rendered myself worthy,” Harrison said, almost choking on the last phrase.
When he got home that night he sank himself into that same tub in which we originally found him and thought up schemes. Parliament, he decided, was too uncertain and would require too much time. A trip around the world in a canoe: no. Perhaps a day’s sitting on the flagpole on top of the Peace Tower: undignified. Ideas came, and went. Harrison went to bed and was long in getting to sleep, rejecting plans to assassinate the Russian premier, found a new religious sect or take up Art as a Career. Next morning’s two-hour study period was completely wasted: all Harrison could study were fleeting proposals to divert the course of the Great Lakes and corner the market in ambergris. He went to work, but work was slow. And then, with lunch approaching, it came to him.
HE HAD just finished a reassessment of a particularly difficult taxpayer, a writer, one of those small creatures who seek deductions as they seek adjectives and insist on trying to cheat the government of its pound (figuratively speaking) of flesh. Harrison had managed to double the man’s tax when The Idea flooded his brain like a hemorrhage.
The Bamford-Gordon Tax Proposals iid not emerge in their completed form in a moment. The first idea was simple: “A nonconsumption tax,” Harrison mused, inking his initials on the form. ''That would do it.”
He was so excited he couldn’t eat his lunch. By midafternoon the outlines were clear, and before he went to bed that night Harrison already had on paper the bold outline of that bold plan that was to revolutionize taxation in Canada—and later in the world—and make the name of Bamford-Gordon the most odious of those commonly on the tongues of men.
The next day Harrison went to see the Deputy Minister of Finance.
“Absurd,” Edward Finley Macpherson said when Harrison had outlined the nonconsumption tax. “Not suitable for Canada.”
But Harrison wasn’t giving up that easily. The place to go was the top. That
night he looked up the telephone number of the Minister of Finance. Lawrence McPartney, the Newfoundland Newt, boasted he was a man of the people, had his telephone number listed and often answered that instrument personally. But on this particular evening he wasn’t home; he was at a cabinet meeting.
The Government, well known for its philanthropy, had, by using closure sparingly (forty-four times in three weeks), managed to put through a bill to lend money to the City of Toronto to build a tunnel from the mainland to Toronto Island. The Opposition, in a more truculent mood than usual, was howling for blood, particularly that from the veins of Chester Duncan Whye, the Minister of Tunnels and Construction. They had embarrassed the Speaker of the House to the point where he forced himself to resign. (His ruling on this matter threatens to become a Parliamentary Classic: mint copies of Hansard for the relevant date are already worth a dollar and ten cents.)
While the situation could hardly be called a crisis the Prime Minister was in the awkward position of having to call an election within a few months, and he urged on the cabinet the necessity of finding an issue to replace the Toronto Tunnel. The cabinet wasn’t very helpful and the meeting broke up in some confusion, although not before it was impressed on the ministers that they might well face defeat unless somebody came up with something. As the Prime Minister pointed out, the country was—as ever— unpredictable. They would stand gifts to pipeline builders, to public corporations charged with disseminating news and entertainment, to subsidize railway workers and for similar patriotic purposes— but using tax money to build Toronto a tunnel, that was too much.
It also became clear to McPartney, as to others at that meeting, that the Prime Minister was getting old and must soon retire, or be retired. McPartney wondered, idly, what kind of issue a man could generate that would make him prime minister.
Harrison had left his number at McPartney’s home and when the Minister of Finance finally returned he noted the name of Bamford-Gordon on the Messages Received pad and mistook it for that of an English financier who had once shown an interest in some choice moose pasture north of Corner Brook that McPartney had been peddling. The Minister rang the number.
“Yes?” Harrison had gotten out of bed but his mind was clear.
“McPartney here. You rang earlier.”
“Mr. McPartney. I didn’t expect you to call—at least, not tonight.”
“McPartney’s always on the job. I didn’t know you were in town.”
“I’m always in town.”
McPartney caught the unmistakable inflections of Harrison’s Ottawa Valley background and suddenly remembered his English contact’s name had been Sperry-Heppelthwaite.
“Perhaps I’ve made a mistake,” McPartney said.
“Harrison Bamford-Gordon,” Harrison said. “I had an idea 1 wanted to talk to you about.”
“Always glad to talk to a man about ideas—but perhaps another time. If you’ll make an appointment.”
. “It’s about abolishing the income Pax,” Harrison said.
“Yes. That sounds like a good idea. Thanks for calling, Mr. Harrison.” McPartney hung up. Harrison shrugged his shoulders and was on his way back to bed when the phone rang again.
“It’s McPartney here again. Did you say something a minute ago about abolishing the income tax?”
“Are you serious?”
“Do you mean to say you really think you could do that?”
“I’ll send my car around for you now. If it’s convenient.”
IT WAS almost midnight when Harrison and the Newfoundland Newt sat down in McPartney’s study. Above them brooded Contratie’s painting of The Giant Squid; the lights were low (for reasons of atmosphere rather than economy); the shades were drawn, the whisky old, the talk long.
McPartney listened eagerly to everything Harrison had to say, pressed him for details, read his long outline carefully, poured with a generous hand. Eventually he said to Harrison, “Bam-
ford-Gordon, this is brilliant. Where do you work? I want you to work for me. I’ll double your present salary.”
“I’ll take the raise,” Harrison said, for in spite of the excitement he hadn’t lost his reason, “but I already work for you.”
“Good God. I’ll have that changed in the morning.”
“You like the plan?” Harrison said.
“Like it? Why, it’s bigger than the baby bonus. It’s better than doubling pensions. It’s . . . it’s . . . it’s great.”
“You’ll use it?”
“If 1 can convince those blockheads —that is, if my colleagues agree, yes, we certainly will.”
“There’s just one thing I’d like, sir . . .”
“Anything, Harry, anything. Just you name it.”
“Well. I’d like the proposals to be named for me.”
“Something like: The Bamford-Gordon Plan.”
McPartney tightened. Vanity: he
couldn’t stand vanity. He forced himself to relax. That was a problem that could be dealt with later.
“Certainly,” The Minister said soothingly, “we’ll call it whatever you like.” The two men parted as the sun rose. Harrison, for the first time in his life, took the morning off.
McPartney had a tough time in the cabinet over the Bamford-Gordon Tax Proposals. Everyone agreed, of course, that the idea was brilliant, but opposition centred in those men whose desire for the leadership equaled McPartney’s own and who did not fail to grasp the implications if his plan was accepted. But the Prime Minister cooked their goose: his enthusiasm for the Proposals was immense.
“I think,” he said, as he handed the Minister of Finance the crown, “that Larry should draft the necessary legislation and get it before the House as soon as possible. Once it’s on the book we go to the country.”
MCPARTNEY brought the Bill in at the end of a dull session. Those interested in his speech may consult Hansard: it was a brilliant performance. His comparison of the economy with the Grand Banks—while it may have smacked of local prejudice—did seem to sum up the situation. “We wish to teem with prosperity: we wish to net that prosperity and can it for the good of the nation: we wish to remain prosperous. Prosperity means high consumption. High consumption means full employment. Full employment means prosperity. It's so simple I’m surprised no one thought of it before.”
The Opposition didn’t understand what he was saying, and, cowed by his radiant confidence as he wallowed in this obscurity, sat sullen and sulky on its benches, growling from time to time, but lacking even a dry bone to gnaw.
McPartney finally got to the point. “What we propose to do,” he said, “is to revise the manner of taxation and abolish the income tax.”
It is said the Peace Tower swayed that night. (It is a fact that the next morning the bronze statue of Sir John A. on Parliament Hill was found to have cracked.) The gasp in the House was so deep it threatened to go to the basements. McPartney carried on for some time, riding the swell of his first stunning announcement. But the nut was yet to come.
“Of course,” he said, “while the Government is able to abolish the income tax, we are all aware that taxes as such —death and taxes heh heh heh—taxes as such will remain. But from now on we will tax goods, not income.”
The House was confused. Were there to be taxes or not: what on earth was the man talking about? Hours later, when McPartney had finished, members realized that what he announced that night was no revision but a revolution. The principle, which seemed so simple, was in practice very complicated.
Every article of goods in the nation, every material possession, was to be inventoried, given a code number, dated, and would then be taxed, in direct relation to its age, the tax rising as it got older. A chair, for example, whose initial value was one hundred dollars would be taxed one dollar in its first year of life, five dollars in the second, twenty in the third, a hundred in the fourth — and so on. This would encourage people to buy new goods, to discard old goods quickly, would keep everybody working (and thus able to buy new goods) and would at the same time keep the necessary supply of money rolling into the federal treasury.
Manufacturers would be encouraged to develop the most efficient methods of making articles cheaply, simply and for short-term use, the tax at one stroke widening the range of goods available to the ordinary man and solving a serious moral problem some manufacturers were facing of how to give their products the look of permanence while retaining in them a built-in disintegration period. Persons would no longer be required to spend huge sums to prove their affluence, the simple age of their possessions (any possessions they might like) being sufficient indicator. Applied to buildings the tax would in a few generations wipe out all slums and change the look of the country’s cities.
“This is sheer criminal waste,” cried the leader of the Opposition in desperation.
“Waste was a Puritan prejudice,” countered McPartney. “Waste has always been with us. It is now no longer a canker, for this free and sovereign parliament makes it—with the new tax—a virtue.”
There were problems, McPartney admitted, but some were self-liquidating. A great establishment would be required to administer the tax, but this would become a permanent cushion against unemployment. There would be unpatriotic persons who would try to avoid the tax by not owning anything, but they would be taken care of in some simple kind of formula. For example, the man who refused to own goods would be required to pay a tax calculated by taking his age. multiplying it by the height of Niagara Falls, and doubling it for every year over two that he failed to own goods. Or something like that.
THE PAPERS next morning spoke of nothing else. And prominent on their pages were accounts of Harrison Bamford-Gordon, the Tax Wizard. Harrison gathered up a pile of the earliest papers and went to see Ruth. She was radiant as he came into the room.
“I’ve done it,” he said the moment he was seated.
“A magnificent achievement,” she said. Looking at her now Harrison wondered whether his action had not been precipitate. He had not seen Ruth for almost six months, as he had vowed he would not. But now, if the truth were known, she was not quite as he remembered her. The lines were deeper, the profile less perfect—or something. Still, he’d done it.
“I’ve come to claim my prize,” he said firmly.
• “What prize?”
“Why, you, of course.”
For the one and only time in their relationship Ruth blushed. Then she giggled.
“You’ll think I’m naughty,” she said, “but I eloped last week with my piano tuner.”
Harrison looked at her with chagrin, bowed stiffly, and left the room and the house without another word.
Weeks later, discussing his future with McPartney, Harrison reluctantly accepted the ambassadorship to Andorra.
“It’s not much,” McPartney said, “but as soon as 1 get the PM's job we’ll make it the Senate.” Harrison nodded, but he wasn’t enthusiastic.
Today Senator Bamford-Gordon has more time than ever to devote to his morning study and he has given up economics for philosophy, a pursuit that only last week led him to a passage in Santayana that he marked heavily in pencil:
Plasticity loves new molds because it can fill them, but for a man of sluggish mind and bad manners there is decidedly no place like home. ★