Albertans didn’t elect the United Conservatives so they could have their turn reaching deeper into our pockets and UCP MLAs need to remind Finance Minister Travis Toews of that fact because he keeps flirting with the idea of a provincial sales tax.
“The timing is the question here,” said Toews on Nov. 13, referencing a potential PST. “I think it will be important to review the province’s revenue structure to determine if it’s the appropriate, the most efficient structure that we can have.”
Translation: Toews may hit Albertans with a PST once the pandemic settles.
Does Toews seriously think that Albertans will have cash left on our money trees to pay for a PST after more than five years of economic hardships, which included two oil-price collapses, thousands of job losses and pay cuts, and at least one economic shutdown?
During his Nov. 24 mid-year budget update, Toews started to walk back his talk about a sales tax saying the government’s “policy today” is that it has “no plans to introduce one.” Toews may be walking back his tax talk, but he hasn’t completely shut the door on a future PST.
Fortunately, there’s opposition to the spectre of a PST within the UCP and Medicine Hat MLA Drew Barnes is speaking out against tax hikes.
The Canadian Taxpayers Federation asked Barnes if he would support a sales tax.
“Absolutely not,” said Barnes. “The legacy of the UCP cannot be to increase personal taxes, especially through a PST.”
Barnes knows he would be added to the ranks of the unemployed if the UCP introduced a sales tax.
“My constituents would look for a replacement,” said Barnes. “Bringing in a PST, I couldn’t even vote for myself. My constituents know that Alberta is already spending the most per capita. They know there’s billions of dollars of inefficiencies and they value freedom and opportunity.”
A sales tax would put Toews and the UCP in a fight with taxpayers. In a letter-to-the-editor published in the Edmonton Sun on Nov. 16, Ken Kluthe noted that “if he [Toews] goes through with another tax grab, I will never vote for the UCP government again.”
Imagine a UCP MLA trying to run for re-election on a five-per-cent PST, which would cost more than $1,000 per Albertan every year. Imagine being that MLA, who was elected to reduce government fat and lower taxes, and then, four years later, asking for thousands of dollars from a family that has just gone through years of economic pain.
Barnes says some of his colleagues have made the same political calculation and don’t want to impose a PST.
“We’ve had some robust conversations in the coffee shops and in caucus,” said Barnes. “Not only are Albertans very concerned, UCP MLAs are as well.”
Nor is the official opposition pushing for a PST. The NDP refused to impose a PST during its time in government. Shortly after Toews’ recent hints at tax hikes, NDP Leader Rachel Notley took to Twitter to raise red flags about a potential PST.
When it comes to balancing the budget and paying down the $100-billion debt tab, Toews only has two ways out: grow the economy to increase revenues and cut spending.
If the Alberta government brought its per-person spending in line other large Canadian provinces, it would spend $10 billion less every single year. But even before COVID-19, the UCP increased spending beyond NDP levels. So, there’s no way that Toews should even be thinking about new taxes when he hasn’t cut a single penny from the government’s bloated budget.
As for the rest of the UCP’s MLAs: they need to remember why Albertans sent them to Edmonton and push back against talks of tax hikes.
Franco Terrazzano is the Alberta Director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.