Commentary – What’s in the news in 2017? Carbon tax and sesquicentennial

Richard Froese
The new year 2017 marks a milestone for Canada as we celebrate 150 years as a nation, the sesquicentennial. Communities like High Prairie, Slave Lake and Falher and McLennan have planned events during the year, mostly focused on Canada Day, July 1.

Scheduled events will soon be revealed to inspire residents to showcase their communities and culture. Besides the national celebration, what else is on the horizon for our communities and residents in 2017?

People in the High Prairie region are eagerly waiting for the new High Prairie Health Complex to open, scheduled for March or April. As we look ahead, the sluggish economy remains a key issue for Albertans and Canadians.

Will the economy be more stable than it was in 2016 and 2015? What will it take to boost and sustain a strong economy in Alberta?

While the price of oil slowly rebounds upward, many people fear the new carbon tax in Alberta will stall that and hit them in the pocketbook deep.

Premier Rachel Notley and the NDP government implemented the carbon tax on Jan. 1 to reduce energy and protect the environment. The carbon tax on certain fuel will certainly increase the prices on many products, services and utilities.

People on low or fixed incomes will suffer the most. Hopefully the rebates to households will help cushion the blow. Municipalities and school divisions will pay more for their services and utilities, and taxpayers will have to dig a little deeper into their pockets.

Or local governments may cut or eliminate services. While municipalities are exempt from the federal goods and services tax (GST), not the carbon tax. Businesses will also hurt, as customers face higher prices.

Most people are unhappy with the carbon tax and the benefits claimed by the government. According to a survey in October by the Citizen Society Research Lab at Lethbridge College, 67.2 per cent of voting-age Albertans oppose the tax.

Opposition Party Wildrose several candidates for the leader of the Progressive Conservative party oppose it. Carbon tax is also being considered by the federal government under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of the Liberal party.

Something else that could change with a decision in 2017 is the provincial electoral boundaries as the current 87 ridings are under study by the Electoral Boundaries Commission. Proposed changes would take effect in the next provincial election scheduled on or before May 31, 2019.

Boundaries could very well change for the local ridings of Lesser Slave Lake for High Prairie and Slave Lake area and Dunvegan – Central Peace – Notley in the Falher area.

Electoral divisions are altered to provide relatively similar representation by population. While the population of Alberta has increased by more than 20 per cent in the last eight years, much of that has been gained by urban areas.

As a result, northern and rural areas could have fewer and larger ridings. That was one concern shared by Progressive Conservative leadership candidate Richard Starke when he visited High Prairie on Dec. 9. He advised municipal leaders and residents to submit those concerns to the commission.

While the PCs elect a new leader March 18, the carbon tax will be a big issue. Some people say the next election is not soon enough.

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