Tag Archives: Calgary

Who will stand up for Alberta’s persecuted billionaire community?

A billionaire is moving away from Calgary and we should all be worried, the newspapers tell us. Postmedia newspapers reported recently that nameless sources are saying oil billionaire and Calgary Flames co-owner Murray Edwards is “switching his residency to the U.K. for tax reasons.”

Postmedia headlines and columns have characterized Mr. Edwards as a “tax-climate refugee” but it does not appear that anyone from the media has actually spoken with him about his move.

Alberta has some of the lowest taxes in Canada and remains the only province without a sales tax. It has been speculated that a billionaire like Mr. Edwards would only pay about 3 percent less tax in the United Kingdom. But the billionaire’s alleged economic refugee status fits nicely into the editorial narrative of the Postmedia newspapers and the political agenda of the Wildrose Party opposition, who immediately blamed Alberta’s New Democratic Party government for Mr. Edward’s relocation.

In May 2015, Albertans elected an NDP government that ran on a platform clearly stating that billionaires should not be in the same tax bracket as average Alberta taxpayers. Even the party that earned the second most votes in last year’s election, the former governing Progressive Conservatives, planned to cancel the 10 percent flat tax and increase taxes for high income earners up to 12 percent if they were re-elected.

Wildrose Party MLA and former Canadian Taxpayers Federation spokesman Derek Fildebrandt appears to be leading the charge in defence of the rights of billionaires to be in a low tax bracket.

One of the first laws the NDP passed after it formed government scrapped the flat tax that the PC government introduced in the early 2000s. Personal income tax rates for high income earners, like billionaires, were increased to 15 percent for annual income above $300,000.

We continue to hear plenty of rhetoric about the decline of the “Alberta Advantage” but the reality is the biggest economic and financial advantage our province has only exists when the international price of oil is high. When oil prices drop and natural resource royalties are low, our artificially low tax rates are unrealistic if we want to sustain the public services that contribute to the high quality of life we enjoy in Alberta.

The government needed to generate revenue and increasing personal income tax rates is a basic way to do that, though it still remains unclear if anyone in government or opposition has a plan to actually get Alberta off the oil roller coaster.

But enough about Alberta. Back to the billionaire.

No offence, Calgary, but it could be that as a billionaire Mr. Edwards wants to live in a large international city like London that is home to a large billionaire community. While being a billionaire in London comes with billionaire-specific problems, I imagine a major European city can offer a lifestyle that a city in western Canada cannot.

There could be private personal motivations for the move. Until the media actually speaks with him about his move, all coverage is just speculation.

If he is indeed relocating, I hope Mr. Edwards enjoys his stay in London. I might even join him there if I one day become a billionaire. And if I do, it probably would have less to do with the taxes and more to do with London being a great city to live in, especially for billionaires.

Next leader of the Alberta NDP should embrace an Urban Agenda

Alberta NDP leadership candidates David Eggen, Rod Loyola and Rachel Notley.

Alberta NDP leadership candidates David Eggen, Rod Loyola and Rachel Notley.

Today is the deadline to enter the Alberta New Democratic Party leadership race. With 3 candidates having already entered the race, Edmonton-Calder MLA David Eggen, Edmonton-Strathcona MLA Rachel Notley and labour activist Rod Loyola, the Alberta NDP are having their first contested leadership race since 1996.

Advice I would offer to the next leader of the NDP (and the current leaders of the Liberal Party and Alberta Party) is to focus on where you can make gains – in the big cities.

Electoral support for the social democratic party in Alberta is largely exists within the Edmonton and Lethbridge city limits, has very limited support in rural Alberta and is almost non-existent in Calgary, the province’s largest city. In 2012, NDP candidates earned more than 10% of the vote in less than 20 constituencies and less than 5% of the vote in 27 constituencies across Alberta.

While far away from being a premier-in-waiting, the next NDP leader is in a position to lead a distinct opposition to the two conservative parties that dominate the political landscape in Alberta.

Alberta’s cities are fast growing and, in many cases, decisions made by city councils and school boards are tied to approval by provincial politicians who do not understand the reality of the growth pressures faced by municipalities.

Our province is the one jurisdiction in Canada that can afford to have the best quality roads, transit systems and public schools, but much of the authority remains in the hands of our provincial politicians.

A provincial party with a platform focused on urban issues – smart growth and public transit – and how these growth pressures impact our public school, health  care, social service and transportation systems could provide a much needed voice in the Alberta Legislature.

Note: I am not the first person to offer this advice.

Can the Alberta NDP win in Calgary?

Rachel Notley NDP MLA Leadership Candidate Alberta

Edmonton-Strathcona MLA Rachel Notley

To describe it as a long-shot is polite, but two Edmonton MLAs running for the leadership of Alberta’s New Democratic Party say that growing support in Calgary is critical. Edmonton-Strathcona MLA Rachel Notley launched her campaign for her party’s leadership at Niko’s Bistro in Kensington this week. And Edmonton-Calder MLA David Eggen described Alberta’s largest city as ‘unploughed ground’ for the NDP.

David Eggen NDP MLA Leadership Candidate Alberta

Edmonton-Calder MLA David Eggen

At her Calgary launch, Ms. Notley was introduced by former alderman Bob Hawkesworth, one of the last New Democrats to be elected under that party’s banner in Calgary. Mr. Hawkesworth was elected along with fellow New Democrat Barry Pashak in the 1986 and 1989 elections. Both men were defeated in the 1993 election, along with every other NDP candidate in the province.

The NDP has regained support in Edmonton, earning 21% in the last provincial election, but it has never recovered in Calgary. In the past two provincial elections the NDP earned less than 5% of the total vote in Calgary.

Although the provincial NDP earned 19,942 votes (4%) in Calgary in the 2012 provincial election, the Orange Wave in the 2011 federal election helped that party collect an impressive 51,652 votes in cowtown.

A handful of popular Liberal MLAs – like  David Swann, Kent Hehr, and formerly Harry Chase – have successfully held the progressive (non-PC Party) banner in that city for the past three elections. But a decline in Liberal Party support may open an opportunity for a resurgent NDP looking for gains in Calgary, if the NDP actually work for it.

Back in 2009, I was a freelance writer covering the annual NDP convention. While most delegates were caught up debating constitutional resolutions in a dingy and windowless conference room in downtown Edmonton, the Calgary-Glenmore by-election was heating up.

When I asked an NDP organizer why they hadn’t hired a bus to shuttle the 150 delegates down south for a day to help their candidate (a move that would have been a strong show of support), the individual replied that they were sure the party had it under control. Come election day, Wildrose candidate Paul Hinman narrowly defeated Liberal Avalon Roberts, with Tory Diane Colley-Urquhart placing third and the NDP candidate placed a distant fourth with an insignificant 1.3% of the vote.

Any viable opposition party in Alberta needs to be competitive in the province’s largest city. Even if they are only competitive in a few constituencies, the NDP need to have a presence in Calgary before they can claim to be a true provincial opposition.

NDP could make gains in Lethbridge
This week the NDP nominated researcher Shannon Phillips as their candidate in Lethbridge-West. The NDP hope that with some hard work Ms. Phillips can build on her 2012 results, when she boosted her party’s support to 29%, up from 10% in the 2008 election. Those 2012 results placed Ms. Phillips ahead of the Wildrose candidate and just over 1,000 votes behind PC MLA Greg Weadick.

A Rural Target?
Last month, the NDP sought to hire a field organizer based in the Athabasca-Sturgeon-Redwater riding, which is currently represented by controversial Education minister Jeff Johnson.

While the area northeast of Edmonton has not been a hotbed of traditional support, NDP candidate and potential leadership candidate Mandy Melnyk earned 13.7% of the vote in the last election, the NDP’s best result in rural Alberta.

Ric McIver and the March for Jesus: A Lake of Fire Redux?

Ric McIver March for Jesus Lake of Fire

“The March for Jesus 2013 was officially opened by the Minister of Infrastructure Ric McIver…” according to the March for Jesus website (photo from MarchForJesus.ca).

“Last year alone, Calgary’s streets were flooded with people of wrong sexual preferences during a homosexual parade of over 30,000 attendees and none of them were embarrassed the slightest to publicly even present their nakedness in front of families and in front of future generations to openly proclaim and manifest that they are not ashamed to declare the name of their master (Satan) and in the same way not concerned with provoking greatly the wrath of the Living God.”

The quote above was taken from an article on MarchForJesus.ca, which has been circulating on social media this weekend. The article also features a photo of Calgary MLA and Progressive Conservative leadership candidate Ric McIver as the parade marshal for the group’s 2013 event. Mr. McIver tweeted a photo while attending this year’s march in Calgary on Sunday, June 15.

The website also features endorsements of the event by Christian Heritage Party of Canada leader David Reimer and perennial social conservative fringe candidate Larry Heather.

Street Church, one of the organizations behind the annual March for Jesus, features a photo of Justice Minister Jonathan Denis on their website as a supporter of the event.

UPDATE: On his Facebook Page, Mr. McIver has responded to the backlash caused by his participation in the March for Jesus event.

“I deplore discrimination against all groups and individuals without exception,” wrote Mr. McIver. “I shall continue to attend events celebrating the diversity of Alberta.”

“I hope this statement clears up any doubts about my commitment to the rights and freedoms of all Albertans, in the past, in the present and in my intentions for the future,” he wrote.

It’s as clear as mud, Mr. McIver.

Opposition hoping for a sequel to Air Redford… Air Prentice

Air-Alison-Redford-Jim-Prentice

Alberta’s Opposition Parties are giddy at the thought of a sequel to the Air Redford scandals… Air Prentice. Can they make it fly in the minds of Albertans?

The long-summer of 2014 has begun in Alberta politics. With little substantial policy ideas to dispute or debate, Alberta’s opposition parties have set their sights on Progressive Conservative leadership front-runner Jim Prentice (if this continues, Thomas Lukaszuk and Ric McIver are going to start feeling left out).

Deron Bilous MLA Edmonton Beverly Clareview NDP

Deron Bilous

Hoping to tie Mr. Prentice to frequent-flying former Premier Alison Redford and her controversial $45,000 flight to South Africa and flights to Palm Springs and Jasper, the NDP Opposition released detailed flight manifests outlining the former federal cabinet minister’s travel expenses during his time in Ottawa.

Describing Mr. Prentice as “a Bay Street lawyer and a millionaire,” Edmonton-Beverly-Clareview NDP MLA Deron Bilous said in a news release that the Tory leader-to-be “used them repeatedly as a cabinet minister, costing the federal government hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

The NDP claim the manifests show Mr. Prentice’s flights cost the federal government in excess of $400,000. NDP researchers must have been giddy when they discovered flights in 2009 that cost $29,169 (Mr. Prentice had the government plane fly from Ottawa to Calgary to drop him and his constituency director off in Washington DC, and then the plane flew back to Ottawa empty) and in 2010 that cost $41,522 (Mr. Prentice flew to Norway from Ottawa with his Communications Director and Chief of Staff).

Jim Prentice Alberta PC Party Premier Leader

Jim Prentice

Following the NDP’s lead, the Wildrose Party quickly released an info graphic highlighting Mr. Prentice’s recent quote that politicians should not be riding on government airplanes, but should fly commercial with everybody else. Putting aside the $400,000 sticker-shock, it is not clear that Mr. Prentice did not frequently travel on commercial airlines. Members of Parliament are allowed a certain number of expensed commercial flights each year to between Ottawa and the riding they are elected to represent.

The question is whether Albertans will see this as more confirmation of Tory excess (which Mr. Prentice has pledged to crack-down on, even though short-term Premier Dave Hancock refuses to acknowledge it exists) or as the price of doing government business in a geographically large country like Canada. I imagine it will be a mix of both.

Recent polling from ThinkHQ shows the Wildrose Party far in the lead among decided Alberta voters, even after Mr. Prentice entered the PC leadership race. The polls also show the NDP leading in support in Edmonton. While this is one single poll, it is a snapshot that will surely contribute to the growing narrative that the PC Party remains in trouble even after jettisoning Ms. Redford.

With the smell of opportunity in the air, Alberta’s opposition parties are expected to continue taking every opportunity to remind Albertans of the out-of-touch attitudes of the previous premier and hope it sticks to Mr. Prentice and the 45 PC MLAs who eagerly endorsed his candidacy.