Time to sharpen the tax knives
| Posted: Wednesday, Oct 31, 2012 06:00 am
It wasn’t advertised as such, but Monday marked the start of the next municipal election campaign in St. Albert. The occasion was the presentation of the 2013 city budget, the last one council will hear and debate until voters go the polls a year from now (Oct. 21, 2013 for those of you who really want to know). As such, it marks a major opportunity for councillors to lay down their markers for the campaign, notably on the crucial issues of spending and taxes. Our hope for this debate, which will carry on for the next two months, is that councillors will come down squarely as prudent guardians of the public purse.
Happily, that shouldn’t be difficult given the options presented by the city’s top bureaucrats, who are proposing a 2.32-per-cent tax increase in the so-called base budget – intended to maintain services at current levels – and a 2.82-per-cent hike to fund special initiatives like greater staffing for the RCMP and more city personnel for economic development. Possible total: 5.14 per cent.
Here are some facts worth considering. Last week, Statistics Canada reported that inflation in Alberta had reached – wait for it – 1.4 per cent annually. Population growth in St. Albert is rising by about 1.5 per cent annually. Projected growth is higher but unrealistic – 4.5 per cent – if only because the city has insufficient housing to accommodate a significant influx of newcomers.
Those who follow current events will also know that the global economy is growing soft. Growth in China will reach an enviable six per cent or so, but that’s weak by recent standards. The United States, our biggest trading partner, is waist-deep in debt and certain to remain there for some years to come. The European Union is finally breathing on its own, but the recovery will be long and painful. All of this will impact Canada, Alberta and our fair city.
In that context, can the city afford six new officers at the RCMP (especially when crime levels are static)? Shouldn’t the economic development office produce some tangible results before it is rewarded with more staff? Is it not possible to pare the base budget or are taxpayers condemned to an automatic base-level increase every year, justified on grounds of maintaining services?
In short, there is room to cut – and council should. And if you don’t feel they’re doing enough, get out to one of three budget open houses set for next week. And if you’re still upset, think about running for council. The election is only a year away.
Time to shovel out the barn
Alberta received a pointed reminder last week that its election financing laws are due for (another) fumigation. The trigger this time was the revelation that Darryl Katz, his family and a clutch of senior employees donated a remarkable $300,000 to the Progressive Conservatives during last spring’s election campaign. The Globe and Mail reported that the contribution from Katz et al was actually $430,000, but that has not been proven.
Even $300,000 is enough to create a stench. It is possible, indeed probable, that no laws were broken by this donation. But the appearances are truly appalling – an ultra-wealthy businessman who in the past has given only modestly to political parties suddenly cuts the Tories a cheque for $300,000 while his plan for a new arena sits waiting for a $100-million handout from the province. (Remember this was back in April before the arena talks broke down).
The appearance here is one of political manipulation. It appears that Katz bought himself a political party, maybe even an election. According to the Globe, Katz’s contribution came toward the end of the campaign when the Tories were hurting for money. Pure coincidence? It would be fascinating to know what kind of conversations or communication took place around that time – who said what to whom and whether any commitments were made.
Danielle Smith and the Wildrose Party are right to feel aggrieved. The public too. Alberta’s chief electoral officer is expected to investigate the Katz donation but, in typical Alberta fashion, the results won’t be made public. Premier Alison Redford has promised changes to the province’s election financing laws. They can’t come too soon.