Albertans would overwhelmingly oppose sales tax in referendum

Alberta Premier Alison Redford speaks at a joint news conference with New Brunswick Premier David Alward after …One would not be surprised to learn that a new poll has found Alberta residents strongly opposed to the introduction of a provincial sales tax.

One might be a little more surprised to hear that their distaste could pretty much put an end to any political debate on the subject.

All thanks to the political foresight of Ralph Klein, a former premier and still one of the most popular politician in Alberta. It seems King Ralph is still wielding his influence in the oil-rich region.

In 1995, then-premier Klein set up the circumstances that have allowed Alberta to operate without a provincial sales tax, and built walls to protect it.

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The Alberta Taxpayer Protection Act states:

A member of the Executive Council may introduce in the Legislative Assembly a Bill that imposes a general provincial sales tax only if, before the introduction of the Bill, the Chief Electoral Officer announces the result of a referendum conducted under this Act on a question that relates to the imposition of the tax.

What does that mean? Simply that before a government can introduce a sales tax, the question must be taken to the people.

And the people don't like it.

A new poll by ThinkHQ Public Affairs found that nearly three-quarters of Albertans (72 per cent) would vote against introducing a sales tax in a referendum. Only 17 per cent of respondents said they would support a new tax.

And, yes, Alberta's Conservative government could move to repeal the Alberta Taxpayer Protection Act before introducing a sales tax. But it would likely be a poison pill which, as the name attests, could prove fatal for its political future.

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The ThinkHQ poll found that 73 per cent of those polled disapprove of eliminating the need for a referendum. Sixty-two per cent said they strongly disapproved.

"The Alberta Taxpayers Protection Act is a perfect example of Klein’s confidence in the common sense of the electorate, and it is a legislative legacy that will endure in Alberta," said Marc Henry, president of ThinkHQ. "On this issue at least, Albertans will have the final say."

The need for a referendum doesn’t negate the possibility that a sales tax will come to exist, but it does make the move politically disastrous.

Conservative MP Stockwell Day, who was a minister in the Klein government, told the Calgary Herald:

The government that brings in a provincial sales tax in Alberta without getting rid of the provincial income tax - that will be one of the last acts of that government. You would go down in the history as being a courageous loser.

Add it all up, and it is no surprise Premier Alison Redford has vowed there will be no provincial sales tax under her government.