Bob Covey // The Jasper Local Newspaper
Fright night in Alberta came early this year.
October 31 in Jasper had its fair share of ghosts and ghouls, but the real scares were being conjured up at the Alberta Legislature a week prior.
Minister of Finance Travis Toews wasn’t donning a costume when he rolled out the United Conservative Party’s 2019 budget, but as soon as he said “This was a good day for Albertans,” it sure seemed like he was wearing a mask.
How else could you explain his looking Albertans in the eye while simultaneously telling them they’ll be the ones paying for the significant corporate tax cuts his party hopes will spur private sector investing in Alberta? Or telling vulnerable individuals that income support programs will be reduced? Or telling charitable organizations that the lottery revenues which previously supported their non-profits will no longer be available to them? Or telling students that not only will their public schools receive no more funds despite the increased student body, but post-secondary costs are going to increase, too?
There were strong Halloween vibes at that same press conference when the Minister explained the ghosting of indexed tax brackets. He didn’t put it that way, of course, but there’s definitely a trick being played here. Removing indexing, which has been in place for almost two decades, means Albertans will pay more in personal income tax each year as inflation devalues their tax credits. It’s an especially devilish maneuvre because it allows the government to claim that taxes are staying static when…(*checks notes*)…nope.
Recipients of AISH (Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped) would certainly have been spooked by the news that their supports will go down, again by the same means of not indexing those benefits to inflation. The Parkland Institute suggests that given Alberta’s relatively high cost of living, maintaining support levels that already subject recipients to near-poverty living conditions will ensure they have a harder time meeting end’s meet in the future. Talk about a horror show.
Speaking of which, it was a bit Twilight Zone to learn that the combined changes to Albertans’ tax credits (an approximately $150 per year increase for the average family) works out to essentially the same number as the now-repealed, NDP-imposed, $30-per-tonne carbon tax. Of course the tax indexing strategy doesn’t have the rage-bait that a carbon tax scares up. It’s another reminder that a politics is often nothing more than a house of mirrors.
Most frightening of all, perhaps, is that the UCP budget is being built on the presupposed idea that three new pipelines will be built and operational in the next four years. What happens if the courts have something to say about those processes? (Spoiler alert: they already have!)
A whole lot of the heeby jeebies could be taken out of this budgeting nightmare, by the way, and you don’t need a background in finance, or a Sixth Sense, to figure out what would raise revenues and immediately ease Albertans’ (relative) economic pains.
Of course you wont’ hear any Conservative talking about it in public. And to be fair, neither did you hear it from the NDP when they had their mandate. But again, as long as our fortunes are tied to resource royalties, mapping out a stable budget will have a decidedly Blair Witch feel to it.
Yes, to spare Albertans the traumatic cycle of cuts and job losses, there is a clear solution at hand. Come closer and I’ll whisper it to you.
But first, grab a candle, turn out the lights and stand in front of a mirror. Chant with me. Let’s just see if we can’t summon a not-so-frightening, non-fluctuating future: “Provincial sales tax, provincial sales tax, bloody well provincial sales tax!“