Five things the next premier of Alberta should do
What key initiatives should our next premier implement to further strengthen Alberta's economy? Add your two cents on Twitter using the hashtag #5Things
Ruth Kelly is the president and CEO of Venture Publishing Inc., and the publisher and editor-in-chief of the award-winning Alberta Venture and Alberta Oil magazines
by Ruth Kelly
While it has proven true more often than not that over the past two decades Alberta’s business community has succeeded despite its provincial government, not because of it, there are some key initiatives that our next premier, whomever it turns out to be, could implement which would be a catalyst for even greater economic results. Here are our suggestions; if you have others, please add to the comments below or offer them via Twitter with the hash tag #5Things
1) Restructure the provincial taxation system. Right now, it is estimated that more than 150,000 employees in Alberta are actually interprovincial workers; that is to say, they work here but their fixed address is in another province. And it is in that province that they pay personal income tax. They consume Alberta’s services and use Alberta’s infrastructure but don’t contribute to provincial coffers except through their purchases of goods and services here. So that leads naturally to the idea of a consumption tax for the province. Now before you head for the lynching rope at the very idea of instituting a sales tax in this land of the free and home of the brave, consider if that new tax was offset by the abolition of personal income tax. The current flat tax in Alberta is widely acknowledged to be a regressive system; consumption taxes, on the other hand, are by far the most progressive and equitable tax, and can be made more so by providing tax credits for those under a certain income level. And think of what an attractor it would be for the best and brightest, to proudly proclaim that Alberta was a jurisdiction with no personal income tax. Perhaps it would even persuade some of those interprovincial workers to put down roots here and become fulltime Albertans.
2) Add a dedicated lane for trucks to both north and southbound QE2 between Edmonton and Calgary. The current twinned highway was built for a province with fewer than two million people; we ticked over four million in 2013 and could hit five million by the end of this decade. The amount of freight traffic on QE2 has soared, leading to congestion, productivity declines, heightened transportation costs and of course, an increased number of accidents. It’s time Alberta’s major transportation corridor was upgraded to reflect the current reality in this province.
Of course, this comment often leads to a discussion of a high speed train between Edmonton and Calgary, a discussion our new premier should shelf permanently – or at least until Alberta reaches a population of 15 million or so. If we want to talk about rail transportation, commuter trains which bring people in from the ’burbs around Calgary into the city would have a much better environmental impact, reduce urban infrastructure costs, support a higher quality of living for those who are currently caught in traffic jams at rush hours, and provide a bigger bang for the buck. Same thing holds true for the Capital Region.
3) Commit to building an educational system focused on having 100 per cent of Albertans complete high school. Alberta Venture focused on this issue during its Transform Alberta series – click here to read the reasons why this is such a vital goal and, more importantly, the steps we can take to reach that goal. An addendum to this item: the provincial government does not fund post-secondary residences. So when we have very low vacancy rates and rapidly escalating rental costs in the two major cities, potential students, specifically rural students, are deterred from pursuing higher education. We’ve created a two-tier post-secondary education system which unfairly penalizes students who cannot live at home and go to school. Mr. New Premier: please fund residences at our universities so that we can have a better post-secondary participation rate.
4) Build Supernet 2.0. In 2005, when the Supernet was completed, it was state of the art. Alberta was the first province to have a province-wide backbone that could deliver high-speed Internet. That was nine years ago and in technology, nine years is an eon. It’s time we upgraded so that business, education and health care can upgrade as well.
5) Negotiate an arrangement with the federal government that recognizes Alberta’s unique situation vis-à-vis temporary foreign workers. The tourism/hospitality, agriculture, energy, manufacturing and construction sectors have all been deeply impacted by the abrupt and inappropriate changes brought down by the feds. While you’re at it, please address the inequities and inefficiencies in the immigration system overall – Alberta needs more input into the selection and the processes.