Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Alberta Premier Prentice Considers Sales Tax to Fix Ailing, Oil-Based Economy

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Alberta Premier Prentice Considers Sales Tax to Fix Ailing, Oil-Based Economy

Article excerpt

Alberta premier open to talk of sales tax

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EDMONTON - Alberta's prideful boast of being the only jurisdiction in Canada without a provincial sales tax may soon be history.

Premier Jim Prentice, after declaring for weeks that a sales tax was off the table, conceded Tuesday that it's up for discussion as low oil prices continue to bleed billions of dollars from the treasury.

"I don't think Albertans generally advocate a sales tax, but I'm prepared to be educated and to hear from people," Prentice told a downtown lunchtime audience.

He told reporters later that a sales tax is not his preferred choice either.

"I'm not embracing a sales tax. Let's be clear," he said.

"I've simply said I want to hear what Albertans think about cost containment, about deficits and about revenue increments to the government.

"Certainly there are people who have views about a sales tax, and I welcome their opinions."

He said government members will fan out to communities in the coming weeks to hear firsthand from Albertans on what needs to be done, given forecasts that low oil prices may last for several years.

Decisions flowing from those conversations will be reflected in the upcoming budget, but said he's also working on a multi-year plan to balance the books and get Alberta off the roller coaster of fluctuating oil prices.

The government will also listen to arguments on any changes to the tax structure, including Alberta's 10 per cent flat tax on income that critics say benefits the wealthy at the expense of the middle class.

The province, with a $40-billion budget, expects to take in $17 billion in combined corporate and personal income tax this year.

Todd Hirsch, chief economist with ATB Financial, said a gas tax might be the way to go.

"I know a sales tax isn't going to be on the table for anybody, but maybe the introduction of a B.C.-style gasoline tax," Hirsch said. "With gas prices in Edmonton at 72 cents and 79 cents, now is the time to do this."

Hirsch questioned whether a sales taxes would be good idea with Alberta's economy slowing down.

"What they might want to do is say 'when the economy picks back up and we're growing at four per cent, then we'll introduce a sales tax and then maybe some other stable source of revenue. …

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