Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Alberta's Tax Dis-Advantage

A recent poll showed that only 9% of Albertans want to have a  sales tax to help deal with the province's fiscal woes, preferring taxes that either others will pay or that they will only have to pay occasionally, like a medical premium ( See , for example, “Albertans Say no to Sales Tax ", Huffington Post, January 19).

Partly, this reflects a reasonable desire to ensure money is spent where they want it (i.e. on health care), but mostly it is just wishful or short-term thinking: the preferred options are not sufficient to wean the Alberta government off its unhealthy and short-sighted dependency on revenue from depleting conventional oil supplies.

I favour raising  $2 billion through moderately progressive income, corporate and royalty payments (all of these taxes would still be the lowest in Canada, by a considerable margin).  We might also wish to consider  raising an additional $2 billion through  temporary sales taxes (i.e. a 7% HST)    That way , the progressivity of one tax would balance out the regressivity of the others for a common cause:  the well-being of future generations whose oil we are selling.  Or perhaps a medical services premium and a gasoline surtax....

To help sell the sales tax idea, it could include a sunset clause --for example,  for five years. Or better yet that would see the tax disappear if/when the Heritage Trust Fund reaches $100 billion, or fall to  2% when the Fund reaches $50 billion, etc.

In that way, Albertans can be nudged, fairly and gradually, toward a more sensible and sustainable future.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Canada's Top 5 MPs of 2014

Allow me to start the New Year  on a positive note by presenting my choices for the Top Five MPs for  2014.

1. Craig Scott (NDP—Official Opposition Critic for Democratic and Party Reform).
Mr. Scott  did a great job of exposing the government’s Orwellian (Un)Fair Elections Act
for what it was –an attack upon democracy that tried to dampen voter participation and
limit the investigatory functions of the Chief Electoral Officer.    He has also been the
Parliament’s leading advocate of real electoral reform. On Dec 3 , 2014 the House of
Commons debated Scott’s motion:   that  “(a) the next federal election should be the last
conducted under the current first-past-the-post electoral system which has repeatedly
delivered a majority of seats to parties supported by a minority of voters, or under any
other winner-take-all electoral system; and (b) a form of mixed-member proportional
representation would be the best electoral system for Canada.”  In countries where
proportional representation has been introduced it has reduced partisanship, while
increasing voter turnout and the representation of women and other marginalized groups
in Parliament.

2. Elizabeth May (Green—Leader and MP for Saanich and Gulf Islands).      Mclean’s
Magazine—which asks every MP to vote for their top picks—named Ms. May the 
Parliamentarian of the Year in 2012, and Hardest Working MP in 2013. In 2014 , the same
poll named her Best Orator in the House of Commons, as well as the Hardest-Working MP
for the second year in a row.  She also introduced one of the more constructive Private
Members’ Bills of the year, “An Act Respecting a National Lyme Disease Strategy,” which
passed with all-party support.

3. Thomas Mulcair (NDP—Leader of the Opposition). Mulcair’s skillful skewering of
the prime minister over the Senate Scandal in 2013 was probably his finest hour. In 2014,
he has continued  to be a strong voice for both democratic reform and as an alternative
approach to foreign policy, trade, and the environment. This fall he received a strong
endorsement from an unlikely source when former PC prime minister Brian Mulroney
called him “the finest Opposition Leader since John Diefenbaker.”

4. Brent Rathgeber (Independent - Edmonton-St.Albert).  Rathgeber  was elected as a
Conservative in 2008 and 2011. But on June 5, 2013, he resigned from caucus to sit as an
Independent MP due to the Harper government’s   “lack of commitment to transparency
and open government.”  In September 2014, he published his book, Irresponsible
Government: The Decline of Parliamentary Democracy in Canada, which provides
several prescriptions for redressing the imbalance between elected parliamentarians and
the un-elected Prime Minister’s Office.  In November, he was named “the Member of
Parliament who best represents his constituents” by McLean’s Magazine, and in
December he voted for the NDP motion on proportional representation.

5. Michael Chong (Conservative – Wellington Halton Hills).  Mr. Chong’s  Private
Member’s Bill, entitled The Reform Act,  aimed at restoring the historic role of MPs  by
enabling party caucuses to trigger leadership reviews, make decisions about membership
in caucus,  and choose the chairs of party caucuses. The original bill also proposed to 
take away the prime minister’s power to veto riding nominations.  However, the version
of the Act that was finally passed  in 2014 was considerably watered down.  Final say
over nominations is to be given to “a person to be designated by each registered political
party,” rather than to individual riding associations. The revised bill will only give party
caucuses  the option after each general election to empower themselves.  Theoretically,
parties could remain as autocratic as ever. But it is reasonable to expect that , thanks to
the Reform Act, parties will evolve into something more democratic in the future.

Some Honourable Mentions: Frank Valeriote (Liberal) and Stephane Dion (Liberal) for their strong work on electoral reform and environmental issues; Meagan Leslie (NDP) and Nathan Cullen (NDP) for their reliability in getting up to speed quickly on a number of complex issues; Irwin Cotler (Liberal) and Murray Rankin (NDP ) for their legal expertise (notice the total lack of a redoubtable Conservative counterpart to these two);  and pediatric surgeon and MP Kellie Leitch (Conservative)  for adding some badly needed smarts and likeability to the Conservative caucus.