Alberta Premier Allison Redford has a sip of coffee as she listens to the opening remarks of the Alberta Economic Summit at Mount Royal University
Credits: STUART DRYDEN/CALGARY SUN/QMI AGENCY
There was a time in Alberta, not so very long ago, when the mere mention of those two words together would have folks jumping down the speaker’s throat.
Alberta has no sales tax, they would say in a tone reserved for untouchable truths.
A careless or fearless politician would bring up the tax only to be quickly shut down or forced to explain how their comments weren’t what they sounded like.
After all, Alberta has no sales tax.
Still the talk didn’t go completely away.
It could be heard as background noise in Toryland gaining volume, especially in the last couple of years.
Recently, Ron Liepert, Redford’s finance minister before the last election, states Albertans are ready to talk taxes.
In a report of a provincial government consultation with Albertans on financial matters almost all comments on taxes are about raising them.
First on the list of tax options mentioned? Sales tax.
And the province’s budgetchoice.ca website where you are invited to balance the budget using a number of options provided, a sales tax is in the mix.
It’s not dead yet.
Oh no, it is very much alive in many of the clever souls speaking Saturday at a provincial government gabfest on budgeting.
Premier Redford says it is very important to talk to Albertans about such things though she is not coming out and supporting a sales tax.
Redford says a lot of people at her economic summit in Calgary want to keep having a “conversation” about how government should scoop its money.
The premier will hold telephone town halls over the next two or three months “hearing what people have to say.”
Sales tax will no doubt come up.
However, when asked about holding a referendum vote on whether to put in a sales tax we’re entering cart before the horse country.
“I don’t think we’re anywhere near that all,” says Redford.
Now continue reading.
“I think the fact people are beginning to think about it as an idea is a really important thing. Ideas are important but we don’t need to jump the gun.”
Any such ideas would be intended for future years not this one.
Danielle Smith, the Wildrose leader, is disappointed so much chatter Saturday is about the government having too little cash and needing to find more — in your pocket.
“We heard a whole menu of tax proposals,” says Smith who opposes a sales tax, mentioning it hits hardest those people of lower income.
“I’m very worried this is laying the table to try and soften the ground for tax increases in future years.”
Of course, all that talk has nothing to do with the Mar. 7 budget.
In next month’s budget, the Redford Tories are expected to pretty much hold the line on spending.
On Saturday, Doug Horner, the finance minister once again tells this page the province can’t afford to hike dollars to cover costs from inflation plus growth in the population.
Horner says the operating budget increase, thought to be small, might be a decrease.
“It could even be in the negative. We’re still making adjustments, We are still working on certain areas of the budget. It’s certainly not going to print right away.”
Horner adds the government didn’t get into “ideological budgeting” and cutting deeper.
“We’ve been talking about how this is not going to be a hack and slash irresponsible budget.”
Still, cash is coming out of what was planned to be spent.
“From the budget of 2012-13 to the projected budget of 2013-14 it was roughly a $1.5 billion increase year over year. That’s $1.5 billion. That’s a big number,” says Horner.
“If you take that out, it means a lot of tough decisions are going to have to be made.
There are services and programs Albertans are seeing today they may not see tomorrow.”
As for jobs?
“We’re going to look at whether we have the right mix of people in the right places and sometimes, when you do that, you lose people.”
Back at the Saturday summit, Brian Mason, the NDP leader, says it’s very interesting “having a look into the Tory universe and seeing what it’s like in there.”
Mason says the hand-picked panels of somebodies debating where to go on government finances “were stacked with people who wanted to have a sales tax. It was not unanimous but it was pretty close.”
“It was all sales tax, sales tax. I’m just a bus driver, I don’t know.”
“But I think they’re trying to set the stage for a sales tax and that’s not something we support.”
Who knows what the future holds? Many crystal balls have cracked of late.
For now, Alberta has no sales tax.