Apparently, the UPC government has decided that most seniors should pay more for the drugs they need to keep functioning reasonably well in the final chapter of their lives.
We are going to be means tested. The universal coverage that has been in place since 1970 through the Alberta Seniors Drug Benefit Program will be eliminated. I am not likely to pass the test, and many others also will not.
In effect, this is a tax increase for us; and, of course, those who require more drugs and/or more expensive drugs will be paying an even higher tax.
Instead of forthrightly establishing an equitable tax regime that would address the deficit and enable the province to prosper, Premier Jason Kenney and company are downloading the cost of public services on to vulnerable groups, seniors, and lower levels of government.
At the same time that the provincial government is downloading costs to individuals, cities, towns, municipalities and schools boards, etc., it is cutting corporate taxes from 12 per cent to eight per cent by 2022.
This corporate handout is universal. It has no strings attached. Unlike drug coverage for seniors, it is not means tested.
The assumption is that cutting corporate taxes will produce economic growth and increase employment in the private sector. But it seems to me, and to many others, that companies will have no incentive to invest more and hire more people, unless there is an increase in demand for their products or services.
Since it would not be in their self-interest to do so, the one-to-four-per-cent, no-strings-attached wholesale tax cut becomes a one-to-four-per-cent addition to the corporate bottom line.
Who knows what those who own and/or operate these companies will do with a tax windfall. They might decide to increase executive pay, hand out more bonuses, buy back shares to make the company appear to be more profitable, or they might choose to pay higher dividends to shareholders who may or may not live in Alberta. Such expenditures will not generate economic growth, nor create jobs.
What would increase demand for the products and services of private companies is provincial investment in publically owned and operated infrastructure: schools, hospitals, long-term care facilities, lodges designed for seniors, low-income housing, highways, public transportation, recreational facilities and parks.
What would also increase employment is more, not less investment, in people: teachers, health-care workers, social services personnel, day-care workers, forestry managers, security officers for rural areas and post- secondary students.
In order for these investments to materialize, the provincial tax regime would have to be overhauled. We would need to establish a tax regime similar to our neighbours to the east (an annual revenue increase of $13.6 billion), or to the west (an annual revenue increase of $14.6 billion).
We should have a sales tax; a dedicated, progressive health care tax; an income tax that does not stop being progressive at $314,929; a special progressive tax on bonuses over $500; and a corporative income tax of at least 12 per cent. (It was 15 per cent during most of the Klein administration).
I think, and I know that others think, that we must give up the illusion that we are so different, so exceptional, that we can eliminate our deficits and debt and prosper economically without establishing a tax regime similar to all of the other provinces of Canada.
Instead of squandering the inheritances of our grandchildren, we should be investing all oil and gas royalties in the Heritage Trust Fund.
Obviously, Kenney and his band of true believers do not agree, so there is a heavy price to pay (except for large corporations): reduced services, reduced wages, more expensive drugs for seniors, higher property taxes, longer wait times for surgeries, fewer jobs, fewer infrastructure projects, more fees, higher fees, larger classes at all levels, fewer grants for non-profits — a collection of backhanded, targeted, inequitable measures that will, according to their budget projections, add up to several billion dollars over the next four years.
But will such austerity measures, coupled with trickle-down economics, eliminate the deficit and make Alberta a more prosperous place to live?
On the contrary. I think the most likely outcome is less economic activity and fewer jobs and a continuing deficit.
Another way is possible, a way that is not based on faulty economic policies and a failed economic theory, a way that is more sustainable, more equitable, and, may I dare say, more compassionate.
Dale. L. Watson is a retired United Church of Canada minister. He has been a resident of Alberta since 1974.