We reached out to the NDP to work together on issues that we believed common agreement could be reached on, but fought them on issues where we will just have to disagree.
Firstly, we worked cooperatively with the NDP government on Bill 1 to ban corporate and union donations. For far too long, the influence of big money from unions and corporations has had a corrupting influence on politicians and political parties in this province.
The Bill banned cash donations to parties, but still allowed unions to donate the time of their staff to campaigns, a common practice employed to help the NDP. While we proposed amendments to fix this major loophole and others, the NDP refused to accept them. We did manage to successfully amend the bill to limit the practice of unsecured loans to parties from corporations and unions, but most other common sense amendments were rejected without much reason given.
The government’s Bill 2 raised business taxes by 20 per cent, and raised the top marginal personal income tax rate by 50 per cent, retroactively. This constitutes the largest increase to both personal and business taxes in the history of Alberta. While raising taxes on businesses might sound good in casual conversation, it threatens to do major damage to the economy.
Alberta no longer has the most competitive business taxes in Canada; British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec all have lower business tax rates than Alberta now. In the global economy, capital is highly mobile and it seeks out the most attractive place to invest. With a 50 per cent increase to the minimum wage, a hike to energy royalty rates, a new carbon tax, higher income taxes and higher business taxes, it is hard to imagine that Alberta will be as an attractive target for investment in the coming years.
In an effort to take some of the bite out of these measures on small businesses, I proposed an amendment to the NDP bill to reduce the small business tax rate by 1 per cent. This attempt at working constructively with the NDP to ensure that our small business owners and their employees stay competitive was rejected, and the amendment failed.
The only thing that the NDP is determined to hike faster than taxes, is spending. I wrote in these pages several weeks ago that if the NDP wanted to pass their mini-budget, that they should provide adequate detail for their spending plan and enough time to properly scrutinize it in the legislature. Unfortunately, none of these requests were heeded.
The mini-budget (Bill 3) authorized $18 billion in spending, but MLAs were allowed a mere three hours to debate it. Put another way, the government allowed only one hour of debate for every $6 billion dollars that it just spent. Additionally, the government only provided three pages worth of details as to how to spend the $18 billion. Suffice to say, this is extraordinarily worrisome to me and the Wildrose Caucus.
We could not let such a massive sum of money be spent without any details or accountability, and so we stayed in the legislature debating and attempting to get answers out of the NDP until after midnight for nearly two weeks. Under questioning, the NDP managed to tell us how much of that $18 billion was new and unbudgeted spending, sort of. We were given five different numbers in the span of 24 hours: $1.8 billion, $1.1 billion, $776 million, $682 million and $624 million. In Question Period, the Minister of Finance finally told me that it was in the “$600 million area.”
This level of clarity with such vast sums of money does not inspire much confidence.
Despite very significant differences in opinion on many issues, both the Wildrose and NDP MLAs are happy that Alberta has entered a new era, and friendships across party lines have already begun to develop.
My colleagues and I will continue to work helpfully with the NDP government where we can, such as on banning corporate and union donations, but we will also provide a tough opposition when required. As it turns out, it is more often than I would have liked.