Alberta Liberal casting for support with $50 tax credi

EDMONTON — Less than half of all eligible voters bothered to make their way to the polls in the last Alberta election and the provincial Liberals think money will help the next time around.

EDMONTON — Less than half of all eligible voters bothered to make their way to the polls in the last Alberta election and the provincial Liberals think money will help the next time around.

The party is calling for a $50 tax credit for everyone who casts a ballot in provincial elections. The proposal is Step 10 in the party’s 12-step program to improve the government’s accountability and effectiveness.

If the credit had been in place in 2008, when a record-low number of potential voters turned out, the price tag would have been almost $48 million. But if all 2,350,045 eligible residents had cast a ballot and claimed a credit, the cost would have been more than $115 million.

“That’s out of a total budget of $38 billion,” Liberal Leader David Swann said Wednesday. “I think that is a small investment in good government and more awareness in the population and better voter turnout.”

Voter turnout in Alberta has shrunk in recent elections with the Progressive Conservatives in their fourth decade in power.

Turnout fell from 60 per cent in 1993 to 45 per cent in 2004. In 2008 it dwindled to a record low — just under 954,000 people cast ballots, less than 41 per cent.

It’s not just an Alberta problem.

Voter turnout was 52 per cent in British Columbia’s 2009 election. And 58.8 per cent of those eligible voted in the 2008 federal election, the first time since Confederation that turnout dipped below 60 per cent.

Compulsory voting is in place in other parts of the world. In Australia, anyone who doesn’t vote faces a fine. Voting rates there hover around 95 per cent

But Swann said paying people is a better option.

“We think the carrot works better than the stick. A $50 tax credit is a modest sum that will help especially young people to make it a priority, and they’re a demographic that doesn’t tend to vote. We want to keep money in the hands of people to do the things that they do.”

The other 11 points in the Liberals accountability plan include an independent commissioner to rule on politicians’ salaries, online filing of political expenses and tightening rules for lobbyists.