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Chamber wary of sales tax

It’s too early to tell whether a provincial sales tax would do anything to lessen Alberta’s financial troubles, said the president of the Red Deer Chamber of Commerce on Monday.

Gayle Langford was reacting to news about whether Alberta should implement a new sales tax, a main focus of the Alberta Economic Summit hosted by Premier Alison Redford and the Progressive Conservative government on the weekend.

A few key leaders from Red Deer were invited by local MLAs. Chamber executive director Tim Creedon attended Saturday’s event.

Langford issued a statement on Monday to say that while the Red Deer Chamber of Commerce is in favour of good fiscal management and economic development, it is too early to determine whether a sales tax is the right way to achieve these things.

Several business people, including George Gosbee, CEO of investment firm AltaCorp Capital, and Jack Mintz, director of University of Calgary’s School of Public Policy, expressed support for a provincial sales tax.

Mintz said the university would be releasing a report that would discuss how a sales tax might be used to overcome shortfalls and insulate against the peaks and troughs of resource-based revenue.

“We are eager to see this and other research on the issue,” said Langford. “This issue is complicated by the need to diversify our energy markets and reduce the discount on our energy products going into the United States.”

Langford said that while the chamber would like to see a balanced budget, they believe this will likely require a multi-pronged approach.

“We know that the government is nowhere near a decision on this issue and there is a clear need for much more research and debate.”

Joel Ward, president of Red Deer College, said the summit will not have any impact on the upcoming provincial budget on March 7.

He said the summit of about 300 people appeared to have three camps — people who want spending cuts similar to the Premier Ralph Klein era of the 1990s; adding a sales tax, a surtax, graduated income tax or return of health-care premiums; having no cuts and instead add more money into health and education and introduce a sales tax or some kind of consumption tax.

“What I learned is that the government will take a bit of a balanced approach in going forward,” said Ward. “I don’t think anything learned by the government will be taken into consideration for this coming budget. It’s really about what we might do going forward.”

Economic summit attendees also saw the need for Alberta to diversify its market, particularly when the demand for oil and gas is declining in the United States, said Ward.

“It was clear from all the discussion from government, industry and business that they see post-secondary (institutions) as part of the solution going forward,” he said.

Economic panellists suggested that applied research is particularly important because it will help industry and businesses to take products to market or create new ones, Ward said.

Post-secondary institutions like Red Deer College are also vital in addressing a trades labour shortage.



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