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Carbon tax case study shows need for greater taxpayer protections

January 30, 2019
Carbon tax case study shows need for greater taxpayer protections

Albertans are paying more due to the carbon tax, but the worst part is we were never given a say. That’s wrong and it’s not enough to just get rid of the carbon tax. If we’ve learned anything, it’s that Albertans deserve the right to vote in a referendum before getting hit with higher taxes.

Currently, the Alberta Taxpayer Protection Act only requires a referendum before bringing in a sales tax. Thank goodness for that because without that referendum requirement, does anyone doubt politicians would have imposed a PST on Albertans? But that protection doesn’t go far enough.

The NDP government bypassed the pesky process of earning public buy-in before imposing its carbon tax. The carbon tax wasn’t included in the party’s 2015 election platform and was never consented too in a vote.

The polls show that Albertans have consistently opposed the carbon tax. In 2016, two-thirds of Albertans were against the in-coming tax, a similar result to a 2017 provincial poll and a 2018 poll in reference to a federal tax.

Alberta’s case study is a stark contrast to the process in Washington State where voters were able to reject the carbon tax in two consecutive referendums.

While the NDP is in the wrong for imposing its carbon tax without support from Albertans, the core issue is that there is little stopping any plundering politician from increasing the tax burden on Albertans. Scrapping the carbon tax isn’t enough, the next government needs to make sure politicians can’t take advantage of taxpayers like this again.

Just last year, Opposition leader Jason Kenney proposed to make carbon tax hikes illegal without Albertans’ consent.

“It’s the old idea of no taxation without representation,” stated Kenney. “They [NDP] should have gone to the people if they really believed Albertans supported it [carbon tax].”

On this Kenney is right. But why stop the idea of “no taxation without representation” at the carbon tax? Over the last few years governments in Alberta have also increased taxes on income, businesses, tobacco, train fuel and liquor, along with higher property taxes and fees.

Any political party that wants to be a true champion of taxpayers should commit to requiring a referendum before governments can increase tax rates or introduce new taxes. These principles should also apply to municipalities where some councils have been unwilling to get off the tax-and-spend merry-go-round.

The government shouldn’t stop there.

“If the next Alberta government wants to make fiscal responsibility a permanent feature of its budgets, then it will need to constitutionally entrench a set of fiscal and budgetary rules that cannot be easily changed by simple majority votes in the legislature,” explains former Alberta finance minister Ted Morton. “Under section 45 [of the Constitution Act], Alberta (and by extension, any other province) could unilaterally entrench [taxpayer protections].”

The Alberta government spends thousands of dollars more per person than provinces such as British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec. What better way to encourage governments to spend more efficiently than to force politicians to pitch their spending plans before increasing taxes?

When ordinary Albertans want more money, we have to convince our boss or customers that we deserve it. It’s time elected official are held to this same standard. If politicians want more money from Albertans, they should have to ask taxpayers for permission in a referendum.

This column was published in the Edmonton Sun on January 30, 2019.

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