Fact Check: Did Rachel Notley raise taxes 97 times?

The United Conservative Party accuses Rachel Notley of increasing taxes and fees 97 times during her four years as Alberta’s premier. (United Conservative Party/YouTube - image credit)
The United Conservative Party accuses Rachel Notley of increasing taxes and fees 97 times during her four years as Alberta’s premier. (United Conservative Party/YouTube - image credit)

This story was originally published May 3 in French.

Alberta UCP Leader Danielle Smith mentions in every speech that NDP Leader Rachel Notley as premier increased fees and taxes 97 times between 2015 and 2019.

Is this true?

Yes, it's correct, but that number is misleading.

"[Rachel Notley] wants you to forget that her government increased taxes 97 times. Ninety-seven times," we hear in a February 2023 YouTube video advertisement from the UCP.

But Danielle Smith made a clarification in her speeches this week.

"Rachel Notley increased taxes and fees 97 times when she was premier. Ninety-seven times," she said at her campaign launch.

The addition of the word "fees" is important — in the UCP's detailed list, taxes aren't the only increase accounted for.

In reality, 74 of the 97 elements listed are fee increases, such as the cost of filing court documents, or provincial museum ticket prices.

Alberta's 2018 provincial budget also, for example, included cost increases for Jubilee Auditorium stage rental.

The UCP listed increases for each rental category, accounting for 13 increases. Similarly, the increase in museum admission fees is distinguished by each category of entry and their corresponding ticket prices.

The UCP's list also includes five fines for traffic offences such as speeding.

Fees vs. taxes

Lindsay Tedds, associate professor of economics at the University of Calgary, says it's misleading to amalgamate taxes and fees in the same list because they don't affect public finances and personal finances in the same way.

Taxes such as personal income tax contribute to the general revenue of the province, whereas fees have more of a direct connection between users and goods or services.

"The only way you can avoid taxes is to engage in illegal tax evasion behaviour. With everything else, you can change your behaviour. You can not go camping as much, you don't have to go to the museum. Those all have consequences, but it's all about aligning the user with with the cost," she said.

Tedds adds that a large portion of the fees within the list increase regularly because of inflation.

In the 2018 provincial budget, for example, the revenue from fees and permits was roughly $3.9 million, whereas the revenue from taxes was estimated at close to $23 million.

The NDP government did raise taxes during its term. Corporate income tax increased from 10 to 12 per cent during Notley's governance.

Notley's government also created new tax brackets for income over $125,000 and increased taxation of each of the four new brackets.

While Jason Kenney's United Conservative government reversed the first hike, reducing corporate tax to eight per cent, it never reversed the change for individuals.

144 tax hikes for the UCP?

The New Democrats did the same analysis of the United Conservative budgets.

The NDP lists 144 increases in taxes, fees and fines in the provincial budgets from 2019 to 2023.

This list is just as misleading, even if the NDP assures that it invoked the same methods as the UCP.

In addition to fee increases, the NDP's list also counted the tax credits created by the NDP government that their United Conservative successor eliminated.

Another example: the UCP allowed school boards to charge parents for transportation and supplies, something the NDP had waived during its years in government.

The New Democrats therefore counted this measure as a part of its accounting of fee increases over the past four years.

"All governments play this game. Election season is a silly season," said Tedds.