Albertans would overwhelmingly oppose sales tax in referendum

Matthew Coutts
National Affairs Reporter
Daily Brew

One would not be surprised to learn that 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.