'That's $4 billion right there': The case for a provincial sales tax
Although the Blue Ribbon Panel—and Premier Jason Kenney—have made it clear they believe a grim provincial fiscal outlook is due to overspending, not revenue shortfall, others are arguing Alberta should consider implementing a sales tax.
On Tuesday, the panel reported Alberta needs to find $600 million in efficiencies in health, education and public sector spending each year if it wants to balance the budget by 2023-24.
Panel chair Janice MacKinnon was adamant the province's books could be balanced by addressing overspending.
"There is no evidence here to support the idea that Alberta is a province that should be raising taxes. Not a shred of evidence," MacKinnon said. "The evidence all goes the other way."
Finance Minister Travis Toews echoed her comments.
"Quite frankly, I find that an amazing question when we've just found out that we spend $10 billion per capita compared to comparable provinces in this country," he told media on Tuesday.
"We don't have a revenue problem, folks. We have a spending problem."
But the executive director of Public Interest Alberta believes the panel didn't give enough consideration to the revenue Alberta brings in—nor the upper hand held by provincial governments that charge a sales tax.
Instead, Joel French called Alberta's tax system deficient when it comes to covering the costs of public services.
"If we had the same tax system as any other province in the country, we would not have any deficit at all," French commented.
Alberta has long measured high household incomes, and currently boasts the lowest tax rate of the Canadian provinces. In fact, Albertans pay less than half the taxes any other Canadians outside of the territories do.
However, an economist at University of Alberta's Parkland Institute believes Alberta's expenditure since the start of the 2000s has been in line with the provincial economy.
Further, Bob Ascah suggests taxes could ease the burden caused by an economy bust.
"A sales tax, for example, is one that is stable over time and it grows with population and the economy," Ascah told CTV News Edmonton.
"Even if you brought in a four per cent sales tax, it's still lower than neighbouring provinces. That's $4 billion right there."
While Kenney promised on the campaign trail to balance Alberta's budget without raising taxes, the Blue Ribbon Panel report does recommend finding a source of revenue that's less "volatile."
Ascah also encouraged the government broaden its approach.
"Let's think about what really are the deep-seated, long-term problems, and revenue is clearly an issue," he said.
According to MacKinnon, that's not her nor the panel's decision.
"First of all, you look at the spending… Then you look at the tax mix, and that will be up to another group of people and the government will oversee that," she said on Tuesday.
With files from Timm Bruch