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August 18-31
VOL.14 ISSUE. 26
HOME / STORY

Tories In Trouble

Gillian Steward
Published Wednesday April 15, 12:53 am
PC support falters as Alberta’s election campaign begins

Not that long ago, Alberta Premier Jim Prentice and his Progressive Conservatives were sure that the just-called election would be a slam-dunk for them. Their most vocal and active opposition — the Wildrose Party — seemed down for the count after most of their MLAs and party leader Danielle Smith were lured over to the Prentice team. Opposition parties more to the left of centre were weak and fractured.

But surprisingly, a lot has changed in the past weeks, and that election may not be such a dunk for the Prentice PCs after all.

The first signs of trouble started to bubble up during the last week of March when the government presented its budget for the coming year. For months, Prentice had been warning Albertans about a tough budget; the plunge in the price of oil had shot a big hole in revenues that required dire cuts to public services. “Alberta needs to stop relying on resource revenues so it isn’t so vulnerable to oil and gas price swings” was another oft-repeated mantra.

But in the end, the budget was a mishmash of measures that raise revenue through dozens of user-pay fees on such things as cigarettes and car registration, a so-called health tax destined not for hospitals but for general revenues, and minuscule adjustments to the Provincial flat tax so the wealthy pay more, but not much more. The government also adopted a stand-still approach on health care and education spending, even though the population will rise and inflation will continue.

There will be no increase in corporate taxes or resource royalties. But there is a projected $5-billion deficit.

There are plans in the budget for putting away more resource revenue in the Heritage Savings Trust Fund in the future, but of course everything depends on the price of oil — and no one seems to know where that is going to go. There was no mention of a royalty review, a carbon tax, or increases in corporate taxes should the price of oil go up.

The budget appeared to make everyone angry. Some were incensed by the user-pay fees which they saw as disguised tax increases. Others were incensed by the huge deficit. Even though the cuts to public services weren’t as dire as forecast, some people said they were yet another blow to struggling hospitals and schools. And the fact there was no increase in corporate taxes infuriated others.

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