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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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When Ontario declared a COVID-19 health emergency last spring, the first instinct of Ottawa entrepreneur Peter O’Blenis was to preserve cash.

“We basically stopped our discretionary spending,” said O’Blenis, the co-founder and CEO of Evidence Partners, which makes software for accelerating the review of scientific and medical literature, using artificial intelligence. “We cut investments in things meant to help us grow.”

It was a defensive posture born of experience. O’Blenis had 12 years earlier nearly been crushed by the global financial crisis. Another looked to be on the way.

In 2008, O’Blenis and his colleagues, Jonathan Barker and Ian Stefanison, hit a brick wall with their first venture, TrialStat, which helped hospitals manage patients’ electronic data. While TrialStat had secured $5.5 million in venture financing just a couple of years earlier, the founders had burned through most of it during a rapid expansion. When the financial world collapsed, so did their firm.

The trio played things far more conservatively with Evidence Partners, which has relied almost exclusively on customer revenues to finance expansion.

The caution proved unnecessary. Like so many other businesses, O’Blenis underestimated the government’s willingness to keep the economy afloat with easy money. Nor did he anticipate that COVID-19 would prove a significant catalyst for the firm’s revenues so soon.

Evidence Partners is hardly the only local firm with technology particularly suited for the war against COVID-19. Spartan Bioscience and DNA Genotek adapted existing products to create technology for identifying the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19. Ottawa-based units of Abbott Laboratories and Siemens Healthineers make portable blood analyzers that diagnose patients afflicted by the virus.

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Shepherds of Good Hope wants to expand ByWard Market operation with eight-storey housing complex

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The Shepherds of Good Hope plans to build an eight-storey building near its current shelter for the homeless in the ByWard Market that would include supportive housing for up to 48 people, a soup kitchen and a drop-in centre.

The organization says it wants to be part of the solution to the housing crisis that has fuelled a rise in homelessness in Ottawa.

People would be moved out of the emergency shelters and into their own tiny apartments in the complex, which would include a communal dining hall and staff available to help with mental health, addiction and medical problems, said Caroline Cox, senior manager of communications for the Shepherds.

Some residents in the neighbourhood are opposed, saying services for the homeless and vulnerable should not be concentrated in one area of the city.

“I was flabbergasted,” said homeowner Brian Nolan, who lives one block from the development proposed for 216 Murray St., where currently a one-story building houses offices for the Shepherds of Good Hope.

Nolan said that, in the 15 years he’s lived in the area, it has become increasingly unsafe, with home and car thefts, drug dealing, loitering, aggressive and erratic behaviour, urinating, defecating and vomiting on sidewalks and yards and sexual acts conducted in public on his dead-end street. Before he lets his son play basketball in the yard, he checks the ground for needles and his home security camera to see who is nearby.

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Carleton University Hosts the Forum Lecture: Towards a Feminist Post-COVID City

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evehe Carleton University Forum Lecture: Towards a Feminist Post-COVID City given by Leslie Kern launches Ottawa Architecture Week. Urban geographer, author and academic, Kern will discuss how the pandemic has highlighted long-standing inequalities in the design, use and inclusivity of urban spaces. The talk will share some of the core principles behind a feminist urban vision to inform a wider vision of justice, equity and sustainability.

When
: Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021 at 6:30 p.m.
Registration: https://alumni.carleton.ca/event-registration-architecture-forum-series-with-leslie-kern-2/.

About the Speaker

Kern holds a PhD in Women’s Studies from York University. She is currently an associate professor of Geography and Environment and director of Women’s and Gender Studies at Mount Allison University.

Kern is the author of two books on gender and cities, including Feminist City: Claiming Space in a Man-Made World (Verso). The book discusses how our cities have failed in terms of fear, motherhood, friendship, activism, the joy and perils of being alone, and also imagines what they could become.

Kern argues, “The pandemic has shown us that society can be radically reorganized if necessary. Let’s carry that lesson into creating the non-sexist city.”

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