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Taiwan: Thousands of ‘yellow vest’ protesters call for tax reform | News

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Thousands of Taiwanese protesters, taking a page from France‘s yellow vest movement, marched on Thursday for the third time this month, demanding lower taxes and the fair handling of tax disputes.

Wearing yellow vests, the demonstrators shouted slogans and blared air horns outside the Ministry of Finance in the island’s capital Taipei, and waved banners calling Taiwan’s tax collection policies illegal.

“This is about our futures,” said Joanna Tai, a 23-year-old English-language graduate student who plans to teach after graduation next year.

“We look at wages in Hong Kong and mainland China. We want to know why there’s so much of a gap with Taiwan,” she said.

“Then a lot of my classmates want to start companies and be their own bosses but, because of taxes, a lot of small businesses have folded.”

The Tax and Legal Reform League, an activist group founded in 2016, called the protest after marshalling about 20,000 people outside the presidential office in an initial demonstration a week ago, and another 10,000 on Saturday, according to organisers and local media.





Some 20,000 people attended the first protest on December 19 [File: Hsu Tsun-hsu/ AFP]

Organisers said they were inspired by the success of the recent French protests, which were sparked by tax increases on petrol and diesel.

The protests, which led to rioting in the French capital, Paris, forced the country’s President Emmanuel Macron to scrap the planned fuel tax rise, and announce a series of other concessions, including increasing the minimum wage for full-time workers.

“We saw Macron and he wanted to soften up, so that gave us some encouragement to protest, so we hope the president here can hear our voice,” said Wang Chih-lan, the media liaison for the Reform League.

‘Transparency’

Protesters said they had received tax bills sent in error or asking for too much tax. An appeal costs too much, they said, and tax collectors sometimes keep hounding them for taxes even after losing in court.

Income taxes add hardship to young people in low-paid, entry-level jobs, some said.

Speaking to the crowd, Tze-lung, a retired law professor and protest organiser, said reform was needed for a more equitable and transparent system. 

“The entire system will have to follow the law [if tax laws are formed]. People will have a fair and transparent system. And people will not have to worry that their money might disappear.”

Janey Lee, a volunteer for the Reform League, said appeal fees can be a “huge emotional burden”, and called for transparent handling of taxpayers’ money to attract more foreign investment.

The average monthly wage in Taiwan is $1,364, and the minimum wage is set to rise to $750 in January.

Earlier this week, a spokesperson for the Finance Ministry said anti-tax activists have been pushing for lower taxes for about 20 years.

Tsai Meng-chu said that the ministry has responded to some of their complaints on its website, including a rebuttal to allegations that the tax system contributes to poverty.

“Their complaints are just that they’re not satisfied with the tax system,” she said, noting that Taiwan offers payment deferrals to low-income individuals.

During her campaign, President Tsai Ing-wen said she would work on wages and welfare for youth.

Taiwanese who earn less than 2.42 million new Taiwan dollars (about $78,500) a year pay no more than 20 percent in taxes, according to data compiled by professional services firm KPMG.

The yellow vest movement has then spread to several countries including Belgium, the Netherlands, Egypt, Spain, Lebanon and Israel.

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Ottawa families give mixed reviews for online schooling

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So, how’s it going with online school? Families reached by CBC Ottawa seem to have mixed reviews. 

Masuma Khan is a mother of two. Her seven-year-old, Hana Wyndham in Grade 2, is attending French immersion virtual school. Masuma is grateful it’s an option, but can’t help notice a lot of down time.

“There’s a lot of, ‘are you on mute?’ In terms of the amount of learning that’s actually happening, it does seem to be not that high,” said Masuma.

Parents who kept their children at home this fall are in the minority, but they still form a significant chunk of families in Ottawa.

In the city’s largest school board, the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board (OCDSB), about 27 per cent of elementary students and 22 per cent of high school students chose online learning. The Ottawa Catholic School Board says roughly a quarter of its students are online.

For Masuma, the decision to keep her daughter home was complex: extended family members are immunocompromised and she worried the in-person learning environment would be unpleasant because of precautions. She also felt her daughter might benefit from being supported at home.

“She doesn’t necessarily enjoy school. I also found out during the pandemic that she was being bullied [last year],” said Masuma. “So I thought, why not try from home?”

To help her daughter socialize face-to-face with other kids, Masuma enrolled Hana in Baxter Forest School, an alternative education program where kids spend most of their time outside, one day a week. Hana also attends virtual Arabic classes two days a week after school. 

Masuma’s husband and Hana share the living room work space, and Masuma admits he does the lion’s share of helping their daughter stay on task. There is a possibility that he’ll be required to return to his office in the new year.

“When he goes back to work … it’s probably going to be a little bit more difficult.”

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No school closures after Christmas holiday break, says Ontario education minister

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Ontario elementary and secondary schools will not close for an extended winter break, says Education Minister Stephen Lecce.

Closures aren’t needed given Ontario’s “strong safety protocols, low levels of (COVID-19) transmission and safety within our schools,” Lecce announced Wednesday afternoon. He said he had consulted with Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams and the province’s public health measures advisory table.

That ended speculation about school buildings remaining closed in January for a period of time after the Christmas break.

Earlier in the week, Lecce told reporters the government was considering having students spend “some period out of class” in January, perhaps switching to online learning.

In a statement, Lecce said that even though rates of community transmission of COVID-19 are increasing, “schools have been remarkably successful at minimizing outbreaks to ensure that our kids stay safe and learning in their classrooms.”

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Windy start to the week in Ottawa

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OTTAWA — It’s a blustery Monday in the capital with wind gusts of up to 50 km/hour expected throughout the day.

Environment Canada is forecasting a high of 4 C with a 60 per cent chance of showers or flurries before the wind dies down later this evening.

There’s a chance of flurries on Tuesday as well with a high of -1 C. The overnight low will dip to an unseasonal -9 C.  

Wednesday’s high will be just -5 C with lots of sunshine.

Seasonal temperatures return for the rest of the week..

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