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Kenney says no new taxes as Alberta preps for another tough times pandemic budget


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EDMONTON — On Thursday it’s budget day in Alberta, a time that will cruelly and ironically remind residents that last year’s projected eye-popping $6.8-billion deficit was actually the good old days.

Since then, that deficit has tripled to $21 billion while taxpayer-supported debt has ballooned to $97 billion, victims of oil price wars and the COVID-19 pandemic that have decimated Alberta’s bottom line.

Finance Minister Travis Toews says the deficits will continue and the budget will focus on COVID-19 pandemic aid along with getting the economy back on its feet.

“This is a continued work in progress, but economic recovery is a very high priority and that will be reflected in the budget,” Toews said in an interview.

“Our number 1 focus right now is making sure we’re resourcing health to deal with the pandemic.”

The one certainty will be no new taxes in a province that currently has the lowest overall tax regime in Canada.

Premier Jason Kenney took any tax hikes off the table last week, particularly any notion of a sales tax, saying now is not the time to be dipping into pockets. 

Toews said post-pandemic will be the time to have a larger discussion, perhaps a panel, on a root-and-branch review of revenue and taxation.

“I have been clear that at some point in time it will be important to have to have a revenue discussion,” said Toews.

“(But) it won’t be accompanying this budget. A look at revenues, a revenue panel, the appropriate time for that would be when we’re well past the pandemic, when we have much better economic clarity.”

The budget comes as the global energy landscape increases its reliance on renewables and the United States, Alberta’s big-ticket oil customer, marches on to energy self-sufficiency.

Economist Trevor Tombe said the days of oil boom bonanzas are almost assuredly in the rear-view mirror.

Tombe, with the University of Calgary, notes Kenney’s government has promised to reduce public sector spending to put Alberta in line per capita with comparable jurisdictions like B.C., Ontario, and Quebec.

Tombe said even when that is done by 2022, as promised by the government, there will still be a gaping hole of red ink, which Tombe estimates at $7 billion a year.  

So the clock is ticking, he says, on how Alberta plans to pay its way. 

“The conversation has to turn to the (revenue) side of the budget. And it’s that conversation that I hope the government starts or signals the need to start in (Thursday’s) budget … so that this time next year we’re ready to actually swallow some tough medicine,” he said.

The hot topic is a sales tax. Alberta doesn’t have one and hasn’t since before the Second World War. 

Alberta had a two-per-cent sales tax in 1936. It was a highly unpopular levy that was quietly expunged a year later. Then the oil boom kicked in post-war and the topic was buried for good.

Tombe said every other province has had a sales tax for at least the last 60 years, the last province to adopt one being Ontario in 1961.

“We historically spend above average and we tax below average. That was a luxury we enjoyed because of very large resource revenues, but Alberta has never seen resource revenues account for as small a share of the budget as they are now since the late 1940s,” said Tombe.

Last week, the Business Council of Alberta, representing chief executives of big-hitter companies like Suncor and WestJet, publicly urged Alberta to consider a sales tax, if only to get budgets on a predictable, sustainable foundation.

So why consult the public on fixing revenues? Why not just implement? 

If you want lasting change, especially on unpopular or controversial issues like a sales tax, public buy-in is critical, said Tombe.

He pointed to the previous NDP government’s consumer carbon tax. It was a levy that despite being leavened with rebates for lower and middle-income earners was one that Kenney was able to successfully leverage as a campaign cudgel against the NDP by characterizing it as a surprise sucker punch to the electorate.

“When you just implement something out of the blue, that can itself become a source of opposition to the policy,” said Tombe.

“Albertans need to see themselves in the policy decision.”

Opposition NDP Leader Rachel Notley said the budget will be an issue not of numbers but of trust — trust she says Kenney has squandered through a series of recent scandals, including a plan to divest or close some provincial parks (since abandoned) and an under-the-radar plan to strip mine the Eastern slopes of the Rockies (now rescinded).

“This is a government that is very comfortable with saying that they’re doing one thing and actually doing something very different,” said Notley.

“Albertans have been figuring out how to see through that, and so that’s why you see Jason Kenney having the lowest (polling) trust levels of practically any premier in the country.

“That’s going to be a feature of this budget no matter what: we’re going to have look very closely at what they’re actually doing and look behind what it is they say they are doing.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 21, 2021.

Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press

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Alberta’s Walker into Hearts semifinal with 9-8 win over Manitoba’s Jones

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CALGARY — Alberta’s Laura Walker advanced to the semifinal of the Canadian women’s curling championship with a 9-8 win over Manitoba’s Jennifer Jones in Sunday’s tiebreaker game.

Walker faces defending champion Kerri Einarson in an afternoon semifinal with the winner taking on Ontario’s Rachel Homan for the championship at night.

Jones missed an attempted double takeout in the 10th end, which left Walker an open draw to score three for the win in the tiebreaker.

Manitoba and Alberta were tied for third at 9-3 after the championship round, which required a tiebreaker game to solve.

Jones, a six-time champion at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts, was chasing a record seventh title.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 28, 2021.

The Canadian Press

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Let ‘er buck: Study suggests horses learn from rodeo experience, grow calmer

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CALGARY — Rodeo fans love the thrill of a bronc exploding into the ring, cowboy temporarily aboard. How the horse feels about it hasn’t been so clear.

Newly published research out of the University of Calgary looks at three years of roughstock events from that city’s Stampede in an attempt to peer inside the mind of an animal about to let ‘er buck.

“I try to understand the animal’s perspective,” said Ed Pajor, a professor of veterinary medicine. “We asked the question whether or not horses find participating in the rodeo to be an adversive experience or not.”

Pajor and his co-authors — Christy Goldhawk from the University of Calgary and well-known animal behaviourist Temple Grandin — studied 116 horses in bareback, novice bareback, saddle bronc and novice saddle bronc events. They looked at animals about to be loaded into a trailer and taken to the ring. They also observed how the horses behaved while in the chute waiting to be unleashed.

Horses have all kinds of ways of showing they’re unhappy, Pajor said. They might move back and forth, chew their lips, swish their tail, defecate, roll their eyes, paw the ground, toss their head, or rear up in protest.

The researchers found that the more people were around them, the more likely the horses were to show unease. That’s probably because they spend most of their time in fields and pastures and aren’t used to the bustle, Pajor said.

The other factor that affected behaviour was experience. If it wasn’t their first rodeo, the horses were much less likely to act up.

“We didn’t see a lot of attempts to escape. We didn’t see a lot of fear-related behaviours at all,” Pajor said. “The animals were pretty calm.

“The animals that had little experience were much more reactive than the animals that had lots of experience.”

There could be different reasons for that, he suggested.

“We don’t know if that’s because they’re used to the situation or whether that’s because of learned helplessness — they realize there’s nothing they can do and just give up.”

Pajor suspects the former.

“When the cowboys came near the horses, they would certainly react and you wouldn’t really see that if it was learned helplessness.”

The researchers also noted that the horses’ bucking performance, as revealed in the score from the rodeo judges, didn’t seem to be reduced by repeated appearances as it might be if the animals had become apathetic.

That doesn’t necessarily mean the horses are having a good time, said Pajor, who’s also on the Stampede’s animal welfare advisory board. There are a couple of ways of interpreting active behaviour in the chute, he said.

“An animal might be getting excited to perform. Or an animal might be having a fear response.”

“Understanding if animals like to do something is a tricky thing to do.”

Pajor knows there are different camps when it comes to rodeos and animals.

“People have very strong opinions on the use of animals for all kinds of reasons. I think no matter what we’re going to use animals for, we really need to make sure that we treat them humanely.

“My job is to do the research to understand the animals’ perspective.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 28, 2021.

— By Bob Weber in Edmonton. Follow @row1960 on Twitter

The Canadian Press

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