Alberta’s problem isn’t that it spends too much, it’s that it doesn’t collect enough taxes to keep up with growth, said a research director with the Parkland Institute.
Diana Gibson said the province’s tax system is unsustainable and has left billions of potential revenue uncollected. Alberta could afford to collect more than $10 billion in taxes and still hold its position as the lowest tax jurisdiction in Canada, she told a crowd of about 150 at a Red Deer town hall meeting organized by Public Interest Alberta at the Golden Circle Seniors Resource Centre.
Since provincial revenues are not keeping up, Albertans have become the highest out-of-pocket spenders — far above the Canadian average — on key services such as child care and health.
The province’s threat to cut $2 billion in its next budget is out of step with almost all other provinces which are responding to the recession by pumping money into the economy as a measure of confidence in Canada’s financial future.
Gibson was on a panel that lead discussion on how to send a message to the Alberta government not to cut services in education, health and seniors care to balance the budget.
Bill Moore-Kilgannon, executive director of Public Interest Alberta, said if the suspected government cuts take place job losses could be staggering.
“We think it’s going to potentially worsen the recession.”
Despite government claims, spending is not out of control in Alberta, he said. When compared to the province’s gross domestic product, public service spending in Alberta is the lowest in Canada.
Steven Kwasny, president of the Students’ Association of Red Deer College, said Alberta has among the highest tuitions in Canada and the lowest rate of high school students making the jump to post-secondary education.
He urged the province to spend on education because it is an investment that pays off. One study estimated that for every dollar spent on post-secondary education the province benefits by $4.
Kwasny said the college had to discontinue the disabilities and community studies program after this year because there was not the money to support it.
Among those who turned out were a group of Red Deer College nursing students.
Kendal McElroy, a third-year student, said they came to advocate on behalf of nurses and their patients.
Nursing students are already feeling the crunch. Some have to leave the province to find nursing jobs during the summer and others must find work in Alberta at jobs outside nursing, she said.
Tom Skoreyko, a member of the Central Alberta Council on Aging, said many people don’t know how to stop the government’s plans.
“There’s a lot of anger out there. But people don’t know how to fight the government.”
Public Interest Alberta is planning 22 town hall meetings before the provincial budget. A meeting takes place in Rocky Mountain House tonight from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Walking Eagle Inn, 4915 and Hwy 11.