Alberta Premier Alison Redford talks to the media in Edmonton AB on Monday Jan. 14, 2013.
Credits: TOM BRAID/QMI AGENCY
It popped up first last week when Premier Alison Redford's principal secretary, Lee Richardson, said that in the topsy-turvy world of resource revenues, all options to cover off the government's grandiose spending plans have to be on the table. He didn't say directly that those options included higher taxes or new forms of taxation, but he didn't have to. Everyone knew what he meant when he mused that a "different balance" of taxes and expenditures were needed.
The premier herself then responded that it was not her preference to raise taxes. "There are some people who really do not want to see that increase," she told reporters, "and I'm one of those people."
But, she quickly added some Albertans were telling her they wanted higher taxes. They wanted Redford's very liberal government to keep all its generous spending promises for new schools, new clinics, new tax breaks for teachers, new spending on seniors, etc. and tax Albertans more if needed.
What's a premier to do?
She promised all these people all those goodies and now there's not enough money coming in to pay for them all. But at least some Albertans seem to share her vision for the future and have expressed themselves willing to pay the taxman more.
It's her "preference" to keep taxes steady. During last spring's election campaign she pledged emphatically not to raise taxes for three years. But gosh, how times have changed. Projected resource revenues have not materialized and yet so many Albertans are still desirous to see Redford's visionary promises fulfilled.
Redford seems to be setting us up for an announcement in this year's budget that her government's hands are tied. It doesn't want to raise personal taxes, still it has no option given that so many Albertans are clamouring for more services and at the same time willing to accept tax hikes. It is the will of the people.
"Preference" also reared its duplicitous head last Friday when Environment Minister Diana McQueen got to talking about upcoming public consultations with Albertans on changes in the province's water use and water conservation policies.
When asked whether foreign sales of Alberta's water would be on the table during consultations, McQueen's spokesperson said it was not the minister's "preference" to sell water to other jurisdictions inside Canada or out.
That's a far cry from McQueen's own words just two months ago.
Back in November, the minister stated without equivocation, "When we talk about water in this province, Premier Redford has been extremely clear, as I have as minister, we are not going to be selling water to other jurisdictions like the United States."
Now I'm not troubled by the idea of external water sales. Water is a commodity like any other. Figure out how much of it you have. Decide what is your reliable, long-term flow and what you need to do to preserve it. And if there is a consistent excess supply, sell some.
But a lot of Albertans - right, left and centre - want no part of out-of-province waters sales, which is why the Tories (until this week) have been so emphatic.
In 60 days, though, McQueen has gone from being "extremely clear - we are not going to be selling water to other jurisdictions," to no sales merely being her "preference."
There's that word again.
It's not hard to imagine this government scrambling to find any and every way it can to maximize revenues. Having been re-elected by public-sector workers and other lovers of big government, it now feels a lot of its old taboos - like tax hikes and water sales - are merely "preferences."
Nothing is written in stone.