The News Rundown
- With an election call expected early in the week we have been slammed with announcements and campaign commitments from both parties.
- Both UCP leader Danielle Smith and NDP leader Rachel Notley have committed to not raising personal taxes if elected.
- The UCP is going to take it one step further, committing to not raise business taxes or implement a PST.
- In Alberta it is already a law that a government must seek the support of the population to introduce a PST.
- The UCP is going to go further again by requiring all tax increases to be voted on in a referendum.
- Ana Zagorac, owner of Sweet Rhapsody Bakery Cafe and Patisserie in Calgary, said, “With a steady and low corporate tax rate that I can bank on, I can plan for the future and make long-term decisions to ensure my business can keep adding to Alberta’s economy, creating jobs, supporting my community, and keeping this province strong for the next generation.”
- Kris Sims of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation said, “Currently, the Taxpayer Protection Act requires a government to win a referendum before it could impose a provincial sales tax on Albertans. If the Taxpayer Protection Act were expanded like the UCP is promising, Alberta would become a beacon for people who value lower taxes and an entrepreneurial spirit.”
- Previously on Western Context we’ve covered jurisdiction after jurisdiction including Alberta that saw an increase in the business tax rate and the chilling effect that this placed on the overall economy.
- While we are still a couple days out from the official start of the campaign as of recording, we need to note that this policy is going to be one of the most important for either party.
- The first UCP government has been crystal clear in terms of what they were going to do and unlike most governments, actually kept to most of their policy platform.
- This is in contrast to other governments like the 2015 NDP government and our current federal government where we highlight cases like the carbon tax and Bill 6, the farm safety act, amongst other things.
- We know the NDP says they will keep personal taxes constant but they’ve been quiet on anything related to a PST or corporate taxes.
- In the case of the PST it’s safe to assume at worst it is like their carbon tax they introduced without campaigning on. At best they come clear in the campaign and Albertans get to make a choice.
- On business taxes which disproportionately affect small business we go back to a CBC West of Centre interview where the interviewer said,“I recall you saying to the Chamber of Calgary that Alberta would remain the lowest [in terms of business tax rates] but that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t exactly go up.” The NDP leader responded with one word, “exactly.”
- It has been a busy busy week here in Alberta and most of the coverage was on the text of this guarantee but little was done on what was not said.
- This also includes the panel that was supposed to begin work in late 2022 to look at Alberta’s revenue streams in the same way Alberta’s taxation structure was looked at by the McKinnon panel shortly after the UCP took power.
- We must note that taxation, in particular the rates surrounding sales, personal income, and business are one of the key economic drivers.
- But the province must also operate with all eyes open since we are very reliant on natural resource revenue to fund our province.
- Whether you support the UCP, NDP, or are uncertain of who you’ll be voting for, there are going to be avenues of discussion around policy planks that are missed during the campaign as a matter of convenience by the media.
- It’s our hope that throughout the campaign all angles of most policy proposals will be examined.
- The ongoing PSAC strike, ongoing for a week and a half now, has severely interrupted basic government services, and after fruitless negotiations, the decision was made to ramp up protests to target key zones in the downtown Ottawa area, and critical transportation infrastructure around the country.
- Sound familiar? It's the same as any other protest in the last couple years. Some protests have blocked key infrastructure, like old growth logging protestors blocking access to the Port of Vancouver, or natural gas pipeline protestors blocking access to construction areas in northern BC, or the freedom convoy protestors setting up shop in the heart of the nation's capital. However, the PSAC strike is unique in the sense that it affects a couple hundred thousand workers that it's possible to do all of those things all at once.
- Around downtown Ottawa, hundreds of striking workers made their presence felt and heard, circling buildings, chanting through megaphones and blasting music throughout the morning. Hundreds of public servants marched across the Portage Bridge between Ottawa and Gatineau, Que., where some of the biggest federal buildings are located, holding up traffic for a short period Tuesday morning. Outside the Prime Minister's Office building and the Treasury Board headquarters a few blocks away, strikers limited entry to just one person every five minutes.
- PSAC also said on Monday they "shut down" the ports in Montreal, Vancouver and St. John's. Federal ministers meeting in Ottawa for the weekly cabinet meeting said they were keeping an eye out for blockades at critical infrastructure. Transport Minister Omar Alghabra said he has been in contact with ports and airports to make sure they have contingency plans in place.
- Federal and provincial governments are more aware than ever about how vulnerable and critical major roadways and ports of entry are after last year's "Freedom Convoy," said Ambarish Chandra, an associate professor of economics at the University of Toronto.
- Demonstrators took over major roads in downtown Ottawa for three weeks and blockaded several border crossings for days in February 2022 to protest vaccine mandates and the federal government. The protest precipitated the first use of the federal Emergencies Act, a controversial act that received strange coverage from Canada's media. While those events are a far cry from the activities of public servants on strike, federal workers' decision to target points of critical infrastructure could inspire copycat events, said Chandra.
- Today, as of recording, the Treasury Board Secretariat released an open letter that said its “final updated comprehensive offer” given to the union on Friday addressed all of PSAC’s remaining demands.
- The letter says: “Along with the new wage package, we also presented solutions to address priorities such as telework, seniority, and contracting without impeding our ability to deliver services to Canadians. This is a fair, competitive and reasonable final offer, with wage and non-wage improvements, and we believe that employees should have an opportunity to review the details of it.”
- Both sides said they will continue to negotiate through the weekend to try to reach a deal to end the national strike by 155,000 public servants, now in its 11th day. The TBS offer, however, applies to approximately 120,000 members in the four bargaining groups under the purview of the Treasury Board. They include striking workers in the Program and Administrative Services, Operational Services, Technical Services, and Education and Library Science bargaining groups. It does not apply to workers with the Canada Revenue Agency.
- The Trudeau government's handling of differing levels of protests that have arisen during his tenure as Prime Minister has definitely raised eyebrows. The heavy handed nature of using the Emergencies Act for the Freedom Convoy and the freezing of bank accounts and criminal charges for convoy leaders was a stark contrast to letting environmental protestors blocking ports and railways essentially off the hook.
- Let's also take a moment to note how different the coverage is of each protest type, for this is a strike over working conditions arising from the federal government's lack of action in reaching a fair deal for the public service to match inflation that the government's policies have directly inflamed. It's interesting to see how this has changed perspectives on how protests should be viewed by the media, who claim that this is so very different from a protest against federal government vaccine mandates, or a protest against mistreatment of First Nations, or environmental protests. In reality, the PSAC union is using a lot of the same tactics from those protestors during their strike, and in a sense, normalizes them.
- This means that under this government, we will likely see more crippling tactics that cause backlogs for services, or critical delays in transport and travel. Instead, there is a better way to get the federal government to listen to your demands that doesn't also harm Canadians too. Vote them out if you don't like what they're doing.
- One of Alberta’s key strengths is the energy market and that also means it’s one of Canada’s key strengths in terms of building revenue and generating economic growth for Canadians.
- Energy aside from healthcare is probably the biggest policy plank that needs to be addressed in our spring election.
- This week in an Edmonton Journal article by David Staples we see a summary of the NDP’s energy policy, being described as incoherent and based on the radical fringe.
- The policy supports federal measures to reduce emissions as a “starting point” as NDP leader Rachel Notley has said.
- To get an idea on this we must realize that the Trudeau government wants the Canadian energy industry to reduce emissions by 42% by 2030.
- It would be one thing if the NDP had the same policy plank as the Trudeau government does and it would go a long way to show that despite the veneer the NDP presents, they’re actually more in line with Trudeau’s federal government than past Progressive Conservative governments.
- The first and biggest difference is that recently, and thankfully, Justin Trudeau has actually expressed his support for expanding nuclear power in Canada.
- This is something that the UCP government under Jason Kenney started and will undoubtedly be in this year’s policy platform.
- It wasn’t too long ago that German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier came to Canada and asked for LNG exports and was shut down. The reason we mention the German President though is because Germany has just recently shut down their last 3 nuclear plants leading to increased costs and higher emissions.
- If the NDP follows this approach of not being for nuclear but also still wanting to limit emissions, Alberta is to be set on the same path.
- And we know this because the NDP has indicated support for a federal cap on oil and gas emissions but said it must be realistic and only put in place after consultation.
- But a cap still will limit growth and investment in any technology that is currently not net-zero.
- Companies can’t just bring net-zero technologies onboard, they need to start somewhere and work towards net-zero and that ultimately requires investment and a good investment climate.
- University of Calgary economist Trevor Tombe in a post in the online publication The Hub, said, “such a cap is a very bad idea,” noting he favours broad-based and uniform efforts to reduce carbon emissions, not one targeting a specific industry, and not one on top of all the other measures, such as the federal carbon tax.
- The NDP is also on board with the Trudeau Liberal plan for a net-zero electrical grid by 2035.
- The NDP has indicated that they may take another look at nuclear but there has been no formal announcement yet.
- That is one of the big ideas we’ll be looking to see an answer to in the upcoming election campaign.
- When all of the t’s are crossed and I’s are dotted it becomes clear that the opposition NDP need to be clear for the sake of industry and the economy of what their plan is going to be.
- The policy right now speaks to the core NDP supporters that you might find in urban cores but anyone who works in energy would have serious questions.
- There are people who see the provincial election as focusing on matters slightly above municipal affairs like health and education. While these are the biggest spending areas of the government we also have to look at Alberta’s role within Canada.
- If Alberta adopted nuclear power, set an emissions reduction target (which most energy companies have already), and marketed our oil and gas as a competing product to that which comes from the Middle East, Russia, and Venezuela, we would have the best chance for reducing emissions and achieving prosperity.
- It can’t be an all or nothing net zero crusade without harming the economy and that doesn’t become apparent until one dives deeper into this issue and cuts through all the election hyperbole.
- A piece in the Toronto Star that surfaced this past week presents an about face on the topic of the effects of immigration on housing that shows such a shift in direction that the media is maybe, finally, starting to catch on to the fact that the two topics are related after all, and that no, it is not racist to question just how much of our housing woes are because of the Trudeau government's extremely relaxed immigration policy.
- While not every article from Canada mentions the words racist or xenophobic, a large part of them do say that believing that a high level of immigrants contributes to housing shortage is not allowed, in a roundabout way. While many of those articles do insist that the blame is truly on government's inaction to build infrastructure, some even suggest that the focus on infrastructure is the only thing that should be focused on.
- While this argument has superficial appeal, it suffers from three fallacies. First, it conflates immigrants — individuals who, by definition, have just moved to Canada, and therefore can’t possibly be responsible for our long-standing housing crisis (indeed, they’re probably victims of it) — with immigration policy, which is set by the government and is a proper subject of political debate. Individual immigrants are clearly blameless, but it is legitimate to ask whether our government could be exacerbating the housing crisis through its immigration policy.
- Second, it confuses the ultimate cause of our housing crisis with its proximate causes. A multi-decade failure by the government to build enough housing for our growing population may be the ultimate cause of the crisis. But that doesn’t mean that high levels of international migration to Canada in 2022 were not a proximate cause of the market conditions that tenants experienced last year, including low vacancy rates and an 18% annual increase in average rent for a vacant unit.
- Third, it implies that by asking whether our immigration policy is intensifying the housing crisis, we are effectively blaming immigrant families for the crisis. This is an argument that uses fear — fear of making immigrants feel unwelcome, or fear of being labelled xenophobic — to discourage us from honestly examining the effects of our immigration policy and openly debating whether the benefits are worth the costs.
- Canada’s population grew by over a million people last year, in the midst of a housing crisis that sees more than 235,000 Canadians experience homelessness annually. It is reasonable to ask whether maintaining such high levels of international migration will lead to mass evictions, displacement, and homelessness for tenants; and, if so, how many tenants we are willing to sacrifice to achieve the benefits of population growth. Refusing to ask and answer these questions does a disservice to ourselves and to the migrants who will someday call Canada home.
Quote of the Week
“With a steady and low corporate tax rate that I can bank on, I can plan for the future and make long-term decisions to ensure my business can keep adding to Alberta’s economy, creating jobs, supporting my community, and keeping this province strong for the next generation.” - Ana Zagorac, owner of Sweet Rhapsody Bakery Cafe and Patisserie on the importance of a positive investment climate.
Word of the Week
Escalate - become or cause to become more intense or serious
How to Find Us
Episode Title: A Striking Difference
Teaser: Danielle Smith promises to not raise taxes, the public service strike blocks key infrastructure, and Rachel Notley is silent on nuclear power. Also, the media decides that questioning immigration policy is no longer racist.
Recorded Date: April 29, 2023
Release Date: April 30, 2023
Edit Notes: None
Podcast Summary Notes