Just when many voters were losing faith in Premier Ed Stelmach and wishing that Ralph Klein would somehow return from the political wilderness, Alberta’s “premier by accident” suddenly reverses himself and declares there will be no tax increases on his watch.
It’s as though Snow White has woken from her slumber. Happy days are here again!
Well, maybe. What the farmer from Vegreville hasn’t yet admitted is that Albertans can surely expect major cuts in government spending as the province struggles with a budget that just might run $7 billion into the red.
That said, good for Steady Eddie! For once, he’s demonstrated that he might actually care what ordinary Albertans think and be willing to cater to their wishes.
That’s certainly more than one can say today for the opposition parties in this province.
As Stelmach was announcing his plan to hold the line on taxes and even rescind a big jump in taxes on booze, all they could do was complain.
For instance, asked about the $180-million liquor tax rollback, Liberal finance critic Dave Taylor said: “Three months into this and now (Stelmach’s) back-pedalling. I guess you wonder where the consistency is.”
Similarly, NDP House Leader Rachel Notley said of the tax reversal: “(Stelmach’s) thoughtlessly currying favour within a week of telling Albertans they need to tighten their belts and withstand cuts of $250 million out of health care. You shouldn’t need to do reactive, stupid things to convince Albertans to trust you when you’ve said, ‘No new taxes.’ ”
The comments by Taylor and Notley should tell Albertans one thing: if they ever get into power, taxes are going in one direction only — straight up!
Comments like those made by Taylor and Notley will simply convince many Albertans that they dare not vote the Tories out of office. If they do, unfortunately, they’ll see government reach into their wallets and suck out even more of their hard-earned cash.
With 40 per cent of government revenues currently going to health care, and that percentage expected to reach 50 per cent in a few years, Stelmach has to get his government’s spending under control.
As the Canadian Taxpayers Federation has noted, there is simply no good reason for this province to be running a deficit.
Sure, resource prices are down, but Alberta has enjoyed many years of prosperity recently and should have saved much more of the revenue from those days of milk and honey.
Now it’s important for Stelmach to get a grip on his government and keep it from either imposing new taxes or plunging the province into major debt.
Remember, it wasn’t that long ago that Health Minister Ron Liepert floated the idea of boosting the gas tax to offset the province’s deficit.
Ouch! We don’t need that, especially when gasoline already often sells for less money in Toronto than it does in Red Deer.
Stelmach stumbled badly when he first took on his job as premier, but he just may be finding his feet.
So far he’s mostly been a disappointment; however, as of last week, it appears that Albertans have some reason to be optimistic.
We should consider Stelmach’s performance like a school report card.
He deserves a poor mark for the first semester, but he’s starting to live up to his potential.
Whether he will ultimately fail or succeed, it’s too early to say. But there’s no point in giving up on Stelmach just yet.
He might simply be a late bloomer.
Lee Giles is an Advocate editor.