For weeks now, the provincial government has been warning us, in the most dire terms possible, that we’re in for a “tough budget” filled with “tough choices”, and a certain amount of “tough shit”.
Maybe tough isn’t a strong enough word. How about ‘cruel, but fair’, to borrow a line from Monty Python? Whatever you call it, Alison Redford has been telling everyone that we’re in for a bitumen bubble bath thanks to the disparity between the oil we sell (discounted dollar store brand) and the oil Americans sell (Target brand). Seems like we’re going to be some $3 billion short in revenue. That’s three with 12 zeros, I think. Even by Alberta standards, that’s a ridiculous amount of money.
Now, the economists and various other know-it-alls are saying it’s time Alberta brought in a sales tax. Not surprisingly, Redford has reacted to the idea of a sales tax the way a vampire would react to the suggestion of adding a clove of garlic to spaghetti sauce. Some things are just NOT done in Alberta, and a sales tax is all of them.
Redford has been softening us up lately, trying to blame doctors for having the temerity of making lots of money (through contracts that the government agreed upon), and generally warning everyone who gets a government paycheque that they had better be prepared to chip in for the greater good of Alberta. But there will NOT be a sales tax, Redford has said. Can’t say that I blame her. The government that introduces a sales tax is the government that doesn’t want to govern anymore.
But bear in mind that while Redford has said there won’t be sales tax, and personal tax hikes are political suicide, there are other taxes that can be raised. Before the budget comes down, I would suggest you stock up on your smokes, your booze, and your gasoline, the trifecta of Alberta life.
In the Ralph Klein era, when times were tough, the government routinely raised what used to be called ‘sin taxes’. Remember sin? You young people might want to look up the word, since nothing is a sin anymore. Klein, and many other governments that found themselves in a bind, used to raise taxes on stuff that was bad for you, because nobody could complain about them. So, they’d raise the price of smokes by 25 cents, because they’re bad for you and you shouldn’t be smoking anyway. If smokers complained, everyone would just say, ‘well, stupid, stop smoking’. The other major sin tax hike was on booze. God knows we love our booze, and upping the tax on a luxury sin like booze was another no-brainer. As I recall, Ed Stelmach tried to up the tax on booze, and retracted it right away when people started throwing beer bottles at him, or something like that.
Governments have gone away from that lately, but I predict a return of the sin tax when the budget comes down in March. Tack on another 50 cents to a pack of smokes, and say the money is going to the health care system (smokers are bound to end up using the system a lot more than the rest of us.). And, don’t be surprised if the price of a dozen beer goes up 50 cents or so, same with spirits and wine. If you don’t want to pay the tax, just stop drinking, right?
Gasoline is an easy tax grab, particularly if it’s done in miniscule increments, like pennies. I expect the provincial gas tax will go up, something small enough like three cents a litre, but big enough to bring in billions upon billions of pennies to the treasury.
I fully expect the already ridiculous cost of renewing your auto registration to go up, as well as the cost of renewing your license. All museum fees and park entrance costs will go up. Basically, anything that you pay the government will cost more.
Those are the three obvious ones I expect we will see in March. But what about some others? With a little creativity, the PCs should be able to bring in billions more while keeping their pledge not to raise personal income taxes. For example …
• Albertans love their pick-ups. How about a 2% tax on the sale of new trucks? You can say that the money will go towards improving our highways, which are being slowly destroyed by new trucks.
• We’re also Canada’s biggest gamblers. How about a 5% tax on all gambling winnings? That way, not only does the government profit from gambling loses, it can profit from gambling winnings as well. It’s a win-win!
• We’re big on partying. How about a 5% tax on booze sold in bars and restaurants. That way, they can collect taxes on the booze sold to the restaurant, and the booze sold to the drunk in a bar. Another win-win!
See, fellow Albertans? There’s lots of room for our government to cut into that deficit by cutting into your pockets, and still not institute a sales tax. So, the day before budget day, remember: fill up your gas tank, stock up on that booze, and buy a carton or two of smokes. You’ll thank me for it.