So, having been blindsided by the very widely disseminated public knowledge that the Alberta energy sector has been — for nearly a decade — receiving a discounted price for the lakes of bitumen that we sell to energy consumers and other petrochemical customers, our esteemed Premier Alison Redford has appeared on television to express her deep concern for this shocking news and wave a distress flag that appears to have “new taxation” written all over it.
Proponents of new taxes such as a provincial sales tax usually make the laughable claim that such taxation will give the provincial government access to “stable” revenue, thus opening the way to more consistent cash flow and eliminating the routine necessity of the provincial government to resort to unplanned and disruptive changes to long-term fiscal goals.
You know, I scrape better than that off my boots when I’ve walked through the corral.
The government of Alberta does not have a revenue problem, it has a spending problem. It routinely commits money it doesn’t have based on revenue projections that are rarely achieved.
Here are some hard facts: In 1997, the population of Alberta was 2.7 million, and the provincial budget was $14 billion.
With a current population of 3.7 million, we’re on the hook for $41 billion. Even after adjusting for inflation, this means that the province has committed the taxpaying segment of our economy to contributing an additional $15 billion in tax revenue over and above what we were compelled to contribute just 16 years ago.
That, my friends is serious coin. Disbarring the possibility that the majority of our legislators are flat out stupid, this leaves precious few explanations as to how and why, in the midst of what can only be considered prime economic conditions, we are suddenly faced with a government revenue problem.
In spite of the discounted rate for oil and natural gas production and export, they still provide better than $7 billion in revenue.
We are experiencing full employment, with the highest per capita personal income tax revenue in Canada, in spite of the tax rate being the lowest.
Business taxes are also providing a level of revenue that other jurisdictions can only dream of, in spite of relatively low rates of taxation.
This province recently ran a decade-long string of budget surpluses that averaged more than what the province annually received in personal income tax revenue.
That money has long since vanished down the memory hole, in spite of the fact that it belonged rightfully to the taxpayers from whom it was confiscated.
That the provincial government could not find the courage to return this excess taxation to its rightful owners was an example of the moral, ethical, and intellectual bankruptcy that infests the Progressive Conservative Party to this day.
In spite of the pleadings of Redford and others, Alberta does not need an additional revenue stream. It needs structural reforms and restrictions on the legislature’s ability to raise and spend money.
Sadly, without a smart, limited government conservative at the helm, such reforms will never come about.