October 13, 2015

Sales taxes in Alberta? How city charters might usher them in

Paige MacPhersonAlberta CTF Director

Look, up in the sky! It’s a tool, it’s a levy, it’s a charter – no, it’s a tax! And it’s about to empty pockets near you.

The mayors of Edmonton and Calgary have been busy pushing for city charters – agreements that could give their councils new taxing powers.

Over the last year, Albertans have been served a heaping pile of new taxes and fees. There’s no doubt times are tough. But what about the taxes we don’t see coming? If we don’t look up, a whopping tax burden might fall right into our wallets before we know it.

Take, for example, a city sales tax.

Finance Minister Joe Ceci assured us that, while more “revenue levers” (read: tax hikes) are on the table, a provincial sales tax is not. But what about a city sales tax?

It may sound unbelievable – a sales tax, of any form, in Alberta? In fact, a city sales tax is just one of another heaping pile of taxes that could become a possibility very soon in the province.

Property taxes are already slated to rise in Calgary and likely Edmonton as well. On top of that, Calgary city council has been looking at a number of ways they could further hike the tax bill to fund their transit and infrastructure plans. A city sales tax is one way, many other taxes are being considered.

City residents should not be expected to accept the usual dog-and-pony show, with half-hearted consultation and a bow wrapped around it. Taxpayers and businesses deserve real consultation in the big cities. Further tax increases have real impacts on peoples’ lives. The stakes are simply too high.

Yes, cities require infrastructure, and it’s a worthy use of public cash. But are ever-greater tax increases on already-squeezed residents the best way to fund it?

Municipal operating spending is growing at an unsustainable pace across Alberta. The Alberta Municipal Spending Watch report released by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business in September found that Calgary and Edmonton have been growing operating costs more than three times faster than what is sustainable over the last 10 years.

Unlike premiers before her, Premier Notley has yet to rule out new city tax powers or tell the cities to first let the people have their say.

Though the NDP platform committed to working with the mayors on city charters and giving cities “the tools to build the services their residents expect,” the provincial government hasn’t been clear on where they stand. When asked if his government will give Alberta’s big cities new taxing powers, Municipal Affairs Minister Deron Bilous was unable to say yes or no.

It’s clear these politicians are meeting to discuss potential new tax powers, but taxpayers and businesses don’t have a seat at the table. That needs to change.

In August, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation re-launched a petition demanding Premier Notley require citywide referendums before any new tax powers are given to big city mayors.

In a recent poll conducted by Pantheon Research for Common Sense Calgary, 48.3% of Calgarians indicated that they believe a referendum should be held before any new tax powers be granted to municipalities in Alberta. Favouring a referendum was the most strongly supported response.

Governments use many words to describe taxes. “Tax” just doesn’t sound very warm and fuzzy. Call it a levy, a tool, a revenue lever, a city charter. Whatever you call it, if it looks like a tax and quacks like a tax, it’s a tax.

When it comes to a city sales tax or any other new city taxing powers, don’t let it hit you without your consent. Albertans should be ready to demand that their voices be heard.

‘See Charter, Think Tax’ is an Alberta-based coalition launched to demand taxpayers and businesses have their say in any new city tax powers. The coalition is comprised of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business and Common Sense Calgary.

(This op-ed was written by Paige MacPherson, CTF Alberta Director; Amber Ruddy, Canadian Federation of Independent Business Alberta Director and Stephanie Kusie, Common Sense Calgary Executive Director.)


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commented 2015-10-17 00:01:57 -0400
If Notley brings in a PST she might have a revolt on her hands.
commented 2015-10-14 02:22:17 -0400
Of course cities should be given this power. I’m not sure why they never could. In fact, all municipalities should have this power, not just the big ones. This works well in the States where municipal sales taxes are common, and where municipalities aren’t handcuffed by arcane senior government nonsense.

It’s when it comes time to actually activating them that some sort of discussion needs to be had. Of course, given the popularity of Nenshi and Iveson, I suspect the Nenshi Derangement Syndrome sufferers will once again find themselves on the wrong side of history.
commented 2015-10-13 22:27:33 -0400
If Calgary and Edmonton ever got the chance to have their own sales tax, the local businesses would loose so much in sales that they would be forced to close. The businesses in the nearby commuter towns would be booming and expanding so fast it would make the big city mayors’s heads spin.
commented 2015-10-13 12:14:52 -0400
And at the Federal level, Trudeau is promising new “revenue streams” and a “price on carbon”, but neglects to explain how much these punitive taxes on us will cost us. ABC = anything but change.