One irony of Canadian life is that the most economically free province in the country, Alberta, often has government policy that is the most hostile to private health care. Another irony, this time right across Canada, is that one can spend any amount of money on a basic necessity of life such as food. But when Canadians want to use their own money to purchase medical treatment to improve, prolong, or even save that same life, they are legally prevented from doing so.
The government sector in Alberta is unhappy and they want Premier Alison Redford and her colleagues to know it. Universities are advertising against provincial reductions in their funding; government unions are activating their members about proposed pension changes, reforms that would make them more akin to the private sector and less like a taxpayer-funded entitlement.
It is not clear why the government sector believes it must be immune from change. The case for reform is not difficult to make.
If there was ever a place that was the anti-Greece when it comes to public finances, it must be Alberta. Compare Alberta to many places around the world, be it European fiscal disasters, or even nearer to home, and in most decades, Alberta shines in comparison.
It's not your imagination. Your property taxes really are shooting higher.
For those who haven't paid attention to their property tax bill until recently, let me offer some calculations: Had the city and province stuck to inflation-only increases starting in 2007, a homeowner with a $2,500 property tax bill in 2006 would see a $2,858 bill this year. Instead, the charge will be $3,430, or an extra $572. The cumulative effect over seven years is an extra $1,538.
Twenty years ago the Alberta government swiftly and boldly threw open Alberta's markets in beer, wine and spirits. The result has been a success story of intense competition, added convenience and thousands of new jobs.
Other provincial governments have never imitated the Alberta accomplishment. But that has much to do with local politics and mythmaking from vested interests, not facts.
On the last day of May, the government of British Columbia gave the back of its hand to Alberta and indirectly to the rest of Canada, which benefitsand could benefit morefrom continued development of Albertas oilsands. Claiming insufficient environmental protections, the BC government rejected the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline project that would bring bitumen from Albertas oilsands to Kitimat, where it could be exported to markets in Asia.
In a recent debate on the pages of the National Post many Albertans might have missed, two economists, Rhys Kesselman from Simon Fraser University, and Jack Mintz from the University of Calgary, sparred over the most desirable tax mix for Alberta. Kesselman wanted Albertas single income tax rate replaced with cascading tax brackets, and structured to ensure higher overall taxes. Mintz advocated a sales tax but with the caveat that it be revenue neutral, i.e., some other tax should be lowered in exchange.
Carbon taxes are once again dominating the discussion over energy policy in Alberta, where Environment Minister Diana McQueen has proposed a sharp hike to Albertas carbon levy. Presently, large emitters in Alberta are required to reduce greenhouse gas emission intensity (that is, emissions per unit of production) by 12 per cent, or face a levy of $15 for every tonne they come up short. The new proposal would hike the emission intensity target to 40 per cent, and raise the levy to $40. Nice round numbers, to be sure, but extremely ambitious ones.
For those who dont normally read budget documents, heres what the Alberta government just did in its 2013 budget: they abandoned the sensible budget and financial framework that former Progressive Conservative Finance Minister Jim Dinning introduced in 1993.