Editorial – Rural Alberta gets a mugging

Jeff Burgar

The couple sat in the advisor’s office. They had a few zillion dollars in the bank. But the money wasn’t earning as it used to. Investments were sour. People were moving out of the rental units and it didn’t look like any new people were moving in.

There were a whole bunch of problems. Most had to do with not enough money coming in, and too much going out. All in all, decisions to be made.

Should expenses be cut? Should the rents for the people still in the units pay more? Was it possible to squeeze more money from the investments somehow?

The advisor says, “Try a little bit of everything. Don’t rile people up with major changes. And anyway, most of them don’t even know what is going on. They think all this broke stuff is all the fault of Donald Trump, or Wuhan disease, or low oil prices. Be just like bad guys in court. Lie. Lie. Lie. Never ever admit you might share even a little bit of blame. Always point fingers at somebody else. Trudeau! Blockades! Easterners! Westerners! The people before you! Bad advisors!”

“But,” says one of the folks, “that really doesn’t change anything. We still have bills to pay.”

Says the advisor, “Do what everybody else does. Kick the can down the road. Make the kids pay for everything.”

Today, this is about where our lovely province of Alberta is with its dealings with the next level down of government. Counties and municipal districts are in the line of fire. The provincial government wants to take more money away from them then they have in past years.

To be specific, grab some property tax. It’s actually called linear tax. It’s property tax paid by pipelines and power lines. Grab some or even all of it.

This tax is what pays for a lot of new construction. Culverts, grading, snow plows, and gravel on so many country and hamlet roads. It also pays for money given to towns and cities so they in turn can operate arenas, museums, libraries, their own roads and their own services.

Got a farm, an acreage or lake cottage? Your property tax might be going up by half to four times! Mom and dad in Edmonton have been living high. Now the kids in the country are going to pay.

In theory, this is supposed to give relief to oil companies, hammered hard by international price wars and supply surpluses. In reality? Has anybody in provincial government explained any of this? Has anybody explained what happens if oil bounces back to $70 or $100 or more per barrel? Has anybody explained what happens if natural gas rises to $5? No!

Actually, this whole idea of the province glomming on to “linear” tax is actually years in coming. Every government in Alberta, provincial, cities, towns and rural municipalities have been like people avoiding an overdue bill – if you don’t talk about it, it will go away. Not so this time.

But there are so many aspects to this whole tax grab not talked about. In fact, it should be as much a political hot potato as a provincial sales tax. It isn’t. For openers, if grabbing the linear tax is on the table, PST should be too.

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