Former Alberta MLA urges tax revolt in response to unpaid oil and gas taxes

The former head of the Alberta Liberals says he's not going to pay his property taxes until the government forces oil and gas companies to pay their share, and he wants others to join his revolt. 

"I'm outraged [about] a lack of accountability of successive provincial governments in not holding oil and gas companies, many foreign owned, accountable to Alberta citizens," said David Swann on Wednesday.

"I'm outraged by a government that takes no action against operating companies that, despite continuing to pay generous salaries to executives and shareholders, decide not to pay taxes to hard-strapped municipalities."

$173M in unpaid taxes

Swann's call for action follows reports from the Rural Municipalities of Alberta that its members are out $173 million from unpaid property taxes from oil and gas companies — $100 million of which they say is owed from companies that are still operating. 

"Who knew that paying taxes in Alberta was an option. Some oil and gas companies are treating taxes, whether urban or rural, as optional, with the government subsidizing them and then calling on municipalities to lower their taxes," said Swann. 

"I'm announcing that as of today, I will not be paying my property taxes in the M.D. of Foothills until this government finds its backbone."

Swann wants other Albertans, and municipalities, to join him in withholding property taxes. 

Kenney on taxes

On Tuesday, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said many companies have gone bankrupt and others are barely holding on. 

"You can't wring money from a stone," he said, suggesting that could be the case for a number of smaller natural gas producers that are having trouble right now.

"The best solution, in our view, is to create a future for those companies that are struggling."

The industry has been calling for reductions in their taxes. 

'It's unethical'

That doesn't sit well with Regan Boychuk of the Alberta Liabilities Disclosure Project, which is pushing for greater transparency, and action, on oil well cleanups in the province. 

"It's unethical for these companies, what they're doing, dining on the profits of our public wealth and then dashing on the taxes due to the community," he said, standing next to Swann on the steps of the McDougall Centre in downtown Calgary. 

Boychuk said the companies that aren't viable should not be propped up by the government and that local governments need to be empowered to collect taxes owed "before a company escapes into bankruptcy."

Ponoka County Reeve Paul McLauchlin told The Canadian Press that he believes oil and gas companies are withholding their taxes as "a lever to decrease their assessment and change those costs."