Two provincial lobby groups plan to blanket airwaves and mailboxes in the coming weeks with a push to see Alberta increase royalty rates and taxes, rather than make cuts to public services.
The Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL) and Public Interest Alberta have teamed up to create a string of radio ads, a direct mail campaign and a website all aimed at trying to get Albertans thinking about whether the province is collecting its fair share of royalties and taxes.
The radio ads will air in the Edmonton area over the next two weeks and offer a humorous take on the issue, asking why corporations and high-income earners don’t pay more into provincial coffers.
AFL president Gil McGowan said that with the lowest taxes in the country the province could ask for more from corporations and still be economically competitive.
“Given Alberta’s wealth there is no reason why our government should be talking about freezes, cuts and austerity. The real problem is that successive government have essentially given away the farm.”
He said he expects both the Wildrose and the Progressive Conservatives to talk about spending less, but there should be a discussion about raising more revenue.
“If the Wildrose Alliance wants this election to be about tax cuts and government overspending, we think the real problem is tax and royalty giveaways that undermine the quality of public services,” he said. “If we don’t speak out nobody will and the election will end up being fought on terms set by people like Danielle Smith.”
Bill Moore-Kilgannon, the executive director of Public Interest Alberta, said the campaign is not about one political party, but about a conversation on taxes and royalties.
“What you see here is not an attack on any one political party, it is about inserting a very critical debate, whether we are having an election or not.”
He also pointed to the province’s flat tax, which is unique in Canada for taxing all levels of income at the same per cent.
“Why is Alberta the only province in Canada that doesn’t have a progressive income tax system and what would it mean to change that?”
Smith agreed the coming election campaign should have a conversation about taxes, but not in the way the two groups are proposing.
“The only conversation we need to have is about how we could make our tax environment more inviting,” she said. “We do not believe that Alberta needs to have tax increases. We believe Alberta has to control its spending.”
Smith said higher corporate taxes or royalties would only cost Albertans in the long run.
“You end up losing more money if you create a punitive environment, because it ends up chasing investment dollars away.”
Local MLA and treasury board president Doug Horner said the conversation that needs to happen is about what people want the government to achieve and not about taxing or cutting.
“We want to budget based on outcomes not on numbers,” he said. “More often than not you are going to find that changing the way you deliver might be as effective as either raising or cutting.”
Smith said her party would impose a wage freeze on all public servants until the province emerges from a deficit and would also work to ensure more of the staffing resources are on the front line.
“The reason why we feel like we are not getting value for money is that we have so many middle managers and administrators who are standing in the way of the work the front line workers do.”
Horner said the province had a massive discussion about royalties three years ago, so the conversations are happening despite what the campaign suggests. He said the government is looking at how services are delivered, focusing on what they want to see happen and he is confident that will produce results without sweeping cuts or higher taxes.
“When we use common sense and a practical approach we are probably going to find that we will get much more effect and value for our money.”