Friday, August 31, 2007

Last day to have your say on the Alberta budget

Today (August 31, 2007) is the last day for the public to provide input into the 2008 Alberta budget.

Click here for the on-line questionaire

Click here for the fax questionaire

(Note: the fax number listed on the form is incorrect, the actual fax number is 780-427-0409)

Thanks to Michelle Webber in our Regina office for tracking down the correct fax number.

Justice Double Standard - Greenpeace Busted While Natives Go Free

Greenpeace protesters were intercepted and arrested yesteday on Lake Ontario. Great but it is time to end the preferential treatment to native protesters.

Let's get this straight, if you are with Greenpeace or a poverty group in Toronto and you protest peacefully and civilly you will be stopped and arrested. If you are a native band and you blockade Canada's busiest highway, take over a property development or block a uranium mine development, even armed with court orders, the police will leave you alone. Native protesters should not be above the law. (Sure Brant was arrested but only after the fact after he turned himself in and he was already out on bail and he was the only one.)

This double standard has got to stop. It is good that Greenpeace and poverty activists were stopped. So, too, should the native protesters. If they want to protest fine, they should be subject to the same laws as Greenpeace.

Plato and Henry David Thoreau are both famous for their civil disobedience. They both expected and were willing to suffer the consequences of their civil disobedience. Activists usually are. That is noble part of protest. It may involve sacrifice.

The government should play no favourites and should remove native protesters from their illegal activites when they occur just like with Greenpeace.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Self-sufficiency will make us poorer

Self-sufficiency is an old fashioned, discredited idea usually championed by advocates of protectionist governments meddling in economic affairs. Yet the British Columbia Liberal government insists the path to a clean environment is for the province to become self sufficient in its energy needs.

What we need is energy security, and we get that through trade. And Premier Campbell knows this: his government's new trade agreement with Alberta, called the Trade, Investment, and Labour Mobility Agreement (TILMA), is expected to add almost $5-billion to GDP and create some 80,000 new jobs.

Is this all about "doing something" about global warming? If so, it won't work. According to the auditor- general's office, the former federal Liberal government spent over $6-billion on climate change programs, and saw carbon dioxide emissions increase by nearly 33 per cent above Kyoto Protocol targets. Meaningful greenhouse gas reductions will come with economic efficiency, which will drive technological advancements -- not by taxing energy and providing government handouts to businesses. Premier Campbell is instead proposing Canada, or at least one important part of it, become poorer to reduce emissions.

B.C.'s misguided energy self-sufficiency policy will mean higher costs for energy, higher taxes to pay for subsidies to business, and, if fully enacted, less energy security in the future. Energy security should be the province's goal, just as it is with trade. This can be achieved through promoting trade and increasing the economic wealth of the citizens of B.C., not by picking favoured business at taxpayers' expense. So-called energy self-sufficiency will not provide the province with a secure, reliable supply of affordable energy.

Toronto Council Jet Set During Fiscal Crisis

Freedom of Information documents obtained by the Canadian Taxpayers Federation show that in the midst of a fiscal meltdown in Toronto, with a vote looming on the largest tax grab in Toronto history, in the face of a $500 million budget deficit, 16 city councilors, the mayor and five staff all flew to Calgary for a the Canadian Federation of Municipalities conference.

View the story in the Toronto Sun

The Deputy Mayor says the CTF doesn't get it. He can't balance the budget, but sends 21 people to a conference?! One councilor spent over $1200 on a flight. Right now you can fly to China and back on Air Canada for that kind of money.

How can they justify such a bonehead move with taxpayers' money?

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Ontario NDP Gets the Property Tax Problem

Congratulation to Howard Hampton and the Ontario provincial NDP for calling for property tax reform!
Their "Freeze Till Sale" proposal would see property values frozen at time of sale (unless rented out and/or $40,000 or modifications are made).

The impact of this is that speculators definitely will face the impact of valuation increases not average home owners.

Unfortunately this well-intentioned idea still allows municipalities to increase mill rates at whatever level they wish. So the problem of property taxes going up faster than many can afford won't go away.

The NDP idea, though, will make it politically more difficult for rates to go up as such increase will be large and visible. Instead, we would like to see rate increases capped to the rate of inflation.

Good for the NDP for seeing the problem and trying to address it.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Stelmach vs. Strom

Yesterday, I put out a Let's Talk Taxes column comparing the last Social Credit government of Harry Strom to the current PC government of Ed Stelmach.

It can be found here.

As I was doing my research I found a few other similarities that were interesting, but didn't really fit into the point I was trying to make in the column:

Strom was a farmer from Burdett, Alberta who before becoming Premier was a municipal councillor in the MD of Forty Mile, as well as a school board trustee. Strom also served as Minister of Agriculture and Minister of Municipal Affairs under the previous Manning government.

Stelmach is a farmer from Lamont, Alberta who before becoming Premier was a county councillor and Reeve of the County of Lamont, as well as a school board trustee. Stelmach also served as Minister of Agriculture, Minister of Infrastructure, Minister of Transportation and Minister of International and Intergovernmental Relations under the previous Klein government.

Also, both took over their family farms when they were in their 20's...

Interestingly, the Social Credit Party at the time was very popular in the rural areas and were losing support in the cities. According to the last poll, the PC Party in Alberta is still very popular in rural areas and losing support in the cities.

The biggest difference is that of the opposition. For Harry Strom, the opposition leader was Peter Lougheed, a young, exciting leader with growing support. For Ed Stelmach, the opposition leader is Kevin Taft, who (again according to the polls) is not growing in support right now.

Lougheed also was on the right of Strom, whereas Taft is on the left of Stelmach. And in Alberta's history, there has not really been a shift to a new party on the left only on the right.

The Liberals lost to the United Farmers of Alberta (on the right). The UFA lost to the Social Credit Party (not really on the left or right at the time, but eventually on the right). The SoCreds lost to the PCs (on the right).

Also, no party having lost power has ever come back to regain it. So history is not really on Kevin Taft's side.

If a new party on the right shows up with a dynamic leader and makes some significant gains, Stelmach could be in trouble.

I'm not holding my breath.

City of Ottawa Abandoning Low Tax Pledge?

During the municipal election, Mayor Larry O'Brien promised to freeze property taxes. He wants to but he can't bring his council around to the idea. Instead, they are proposing a 5% hike in property tax rates.

Local politicians must lead the fight against tax hikes. They should follow Winnipeg's example and establish a blue ribbon panel to investigate all possible avenues of outsourcing, alternate service delivery, disposition of non-essential assets, cost reductions, activity based costing, not-for-profit partnerhsips, and waste and perk reduction.

In the meantime they should ask the province to pay for its social programs to and create a Gas Tax Accountability Act putting fuel tax revenues into transit.

Once all this is done, then let's see how we stand. In Winnipeg it allowed them to lower not raise taxes.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Canada's Health Care Sicko

Whenever people start talking about ways to make Canada's health care system better, the defenders of the status quo bring up one horror story after another from the US health care system. They make it sound like there are only two health care systems in the world, Canada's and the one in the US. They make the US system sound mean and uncaring, and Canada's is portrayed as the caring, compassionate system where everyone is cared for equally. The US system isn't perfect, but neither is ours. Anyway, no one in Canada is saying we should adopt the US system.

Our problem is the disconnect between who pays for health care in Canada (the taxpayer) and who receives health services (everyone). People end up thinking health care is free, but it is far from that. Health care costs each Canadian almost $4,000 per year, which is more that a lot of Americans pay for health insurance. We are not allowed to take control of our own health care. The result is health care rationing and long wait times for so-called free care. But the Supreme Court of Canada has already ruled that forcing people to suffer and die on waiting lists is a violation of the rights of Quebecers. Access to a waiting list is not access to health care.

What to do? There are examples out there that we can take ideas from.

Sweden, a country widely viewed as a bastion of socialist medicine, has privately managed health care facilities, private health care insurance and user fees. Sweden now spends less of its national income on health care than Canada and they've lowered their wait times. Other countries with user fees and private insurance, including France, Germany and New Zealand, have better medical outcomes than Canada does. The only countries that have a system similar to Canada are Cuba and North Korea.

What kind of caring, compassionate country lets patients suffer and die on waiting lists and make it illegal to look for alternatives in their own country? It's time to look at alternatives.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

And what exactly does the Associate Minister for Affordable Housing do?

The Alberta government just announced the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing (Ray Danyluk) is taking a trip to Toronto and New York to see first hand what initiatives have been undertaken to deal with homelessness and housing.

The Minister will be joined by his Deputy Minister, the Assistant Deputy Minister of Housing, and the Minister's Executive Assistant. But he won't be joined by Yvonne Fritz, Associate Minister of Affordable Housing and Urban Development.

Wasn't the whole point of appointing a new Associate Minister, just so she could focus on Affordable Housing? Shouldn't she be the one on this trip?

So this either means the extra ministry is superfluous and a waste of taxpayer dollars or the minister won't delegate his taxpayer-paid trip to NYC to his associate.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

ICBC rates up a slap in the face

Ratepayers in BC got a slap in the face last week with ICBC announced its 132% increase in profit in the first half of 2007. ICBC said it was because more people are insuring vehicles. True but ...

Average car insurance rates in BC have increased over the past three years and will probably increase again this year. Basic rates are going up 3.3%, and even though optional rates are going down 3.8%, 56% of ICBC's business is in basic insurance.

According to data from the General Insurance Statistical Agency, between 2003 and 2007, average auto insurance premiums fell by almost 16% in Ontario, 14% in Alberta, 24% in Nova Scotia, 37% in New Brunswick, 15.5% in Prince Edward Island, and 21% in Newfoundland. Meanwhile in BC, average premiums rose 5.1% between 2003 and 2006. BC's 2007 premium data is not yet available but given the recent announcement of a 3.3% increase in basic rates coupled with a 3.8% decrease in optional rates, average premiums will likely increase, as about 56% of ICBC's insurance business is basic insurance.

When profits go up, that should translate into lower rates, not increased executive bonues as happened last year. Their priorities are distorted. It's time for ICBC's auto insurance monopoly to end.

That's a Lot of Tic Tacs. Ontario Corporate Welfare

Ontario Premier McGuinty is giving $5.5 million of taxpayer money to Ferrero Canada for its Brantford facility for an apparent upgrade. Ferrero Canada makes Tic Tacs and chocolates.

$5.5 million is a lot of Tic Tacs. They say it is more than a breath mint. It sure is, it is a mint for taking taxpayer cash.

This facility upgrade comes only one year after the $140 million plant opened in Brantford.

Ferrero is one of the world's largest confectionary companies. It is privately held and noone will ever get to see the accounting of how this money will be spent.

If this is the most innovative and successful company whey do they need taxpayer money?

This is the trouble with corporate welfare. Once companies get a taste for it they keep coming back.

Monday, August 20, 2007

McGuinty's Cash for Cities: Buy Taxpayers Votes Not Mayors'

Ontario Premier McGuinty's spending spree continues unabated. Now he has leaked to his favourite paper - the Toronto Star - that he plans for the province of Ontario to pay for some social programs for which cities are currently footing the bill.

Of course, the province should pay for its programs. Property taxes should not pay for social programs when income taxes should.

The problem with this cynical announcement is that it comes after the Legislature has risen on the eve of a political campaign as just one more government-funded political announcement.

Cities across the province will breathe a collective sigh of relief with a promise of new cash. Sadly, as McGuinty so often does, he is phasing in the cash and it won't really arrive for a few years.

If he really wants to help cities he should call back the Leg and put in a new budget instead of campaigning with taxpayer dollars.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Changes to the blog

As I'm sure you've noticed (provided you've been to our blog before), Fighting for Taxpayers is undergoing a few template changes.

The old template was good and served us well for the past couple of years, but it's time for an update.

Please reserve judgement until all changes are done, and thanks for visiting!

Eat Your Peas? Ya right ...

The BC government is on a health kick. Spending $22 million on healthy initiatives might sound like a good idea, but if you didn't eat your peas when your mother told you to, will you do it because the government told you to? Not likely.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Hearts in the right place, heads in the wrong place

From today's Calgary Herald:

The three necessities of life are: food, shelter and clothing. By definition, Calgary's homeless population are having trouble getting shelter, and if the Calgary Committee to End Homelessness has anything to do with it, the homeless will soon have a tougher time getting food as well.

As reported in last Thursday's Calgary Herald, the committee is proposing a new tax on restaurant meals or a new civic user fee to help fund affordable housing initiatives.

However noble their goal to "end homelessness" or build more affordable housing may be, the last thing this committee should consider is imposing yet another tax or user fee on Calgarians. Moreover, of all of the taxes they could have proposed, a tax on restaurant meals is one of the worst.

A tax on restaurant meals will make food more expensive for the homeless, leave struggling families less to spend on their own food, shelter and clothing, and leave all Calgary families with less disposable income to donate to worthy charities.


Read the rest.

Big dams mistake for BC

The on-again, off-again Site C hydro dam project in Northern BC should – pardon the pun – have the lights turned off permanently. Small hydro projects, built with private funds, have less impact on the environment and on taxpayers’ wallets than large dams built with taxpayers’ dollars. Building the Site C dam undermines the BC government's policy of developing a competitive energy sector to keep energy prices low, and sets the taxpayer up for another mega-cost overrun.

If you thought big dams would reduce greenhouse gas emissions, think again. A BC Hydro report states that some BC reservoirs might increase and others decrease GHGs. Because emissions are thought to be small, they are not included in BC Hydro’s estimate of the net impact BC’s reservoirs may have on the global climate.

The impact on taxpayers meanwhile is less controversial. In the past, large hydro was cheaper to build than small hydro. That has changed. BC Hydro estimates the 900 megawatt Site C dam will cost about $5 billion to build, or about $5 million dollars per megawatt. Small hydro now costs between $2-3 million per megawatt to build.

BC now has 35 operating run-of-river hydro projects supplying electricity to BC Hydro, and the price of energy has remained competitive. The construction of another mega-dam might sound good, but it won't solve GHG concerns, will be more expensive, and reduce the competitiveness of the sector. Taxpayers shouldn’t be on the hook for more government funded mega-projects.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Shuffling the deck

PM Harper has shuffled his cabinet - maybe things will get better for taxpayers??

More Sick News From the T-Dot...

Read Terence Corcoran's piece in today's National Post.

Apparently, under the City of Toronto's Sick Leave Benefit Plan, city employees can take a maximum of 18 sick days a year. If they are un-used they can be banked, up to a maximum of 130.

This liability is on the books to the tune of $308-million.

Mr. Corcoran also reports that the city is subsidizing the film industry, is in the golf course business and is constantly meddling in the most trivial day-to-day matters at the Toronto Transit Commission.

Yet, when new taxes are deferred, services are the first thing on the chopping block.

Please Mayor Miller, keep the golf courses and ridiculous benefits packages - cut snow removal instead...Talk about a lack of priorities. That is what is really sick. Pass me the Buckley's...

A Common Sense Blast from the Past

David Miller could learn a lot from Mel Lastman. After suffering a setback on his plan to ram new taxes down the throats of Toronto residents, Mayor Miller immediately played politic by cutting a variety of services.

We've said all along he should cut fat, perks and other non-essential spending long before it was necessary to cut services. But that would have meant a) Mayor Miller would have to admit there's fat to trim at city hall, and b) It would weaken his argument for why new taxes are necessary.

Former Mayor Lastman has a few ideas himself on ways to trim costs at city hall:

-Roll back city council's 9% pay raise

-Shelve the $40-million overhaul of Nathan Phillip's Square

-Scale back skyrocketing staff overtime

-Look at contracting out services such as garbage collection

-Cut back on city staff

And how would Mr. Lastman deal with unions who only look out for themselves?

"You try to work with them but sometimes it's impossible," he said.

Mayor Miller would rather fight with the province, the feds, and city ratepayers before he'd dare stand up to unions. That in a nutshell, is the City of Toronto's entire problem - ideological opposition to finding ways to save real money before asking citizens for more from their pockets.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Canadian private health insurance provider rolling in dough

In fact, this Canadian company started in Oakville, Ontario in 1998 now boasts 165,000 insured clients. Their revenue in 2006 was over $18-million and the company ranked 51st in the list of "Canada's Fastest-Growing Companies" for 2007.

Wondering why our government hasn't come in and arrested their Canadian clients for violating the ban on private health insurance?

Answer: because in Canada it's not illegal for you to purchase health insurance for your pet, only yourself.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Cuts it Is, Mayor Miller

Toronto Mayor David Miller is threatening dramatic cuts if his plan for new taxes is rejected.

Go for it!

Toronto has for too long been bloated and into all sorts of silly projects. Why not look at alternate service delivery to save money you ask? It runs up against Mayor Miller's ideological opposition to not having unions run the show at ridiculous salaries.

This is what happens when you let lefties run the show. Taxes go up. Spending always goes up and special interests dominate over the common interest. Welcome to Toronto!

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Free Advice for Canada's New Government

A new poll says nearly half of Canadians believe Prime Minister Harper and company lack a clear agenda.

What a vote-getter tax cuts would be!

Imagine any party voting against tax relief considering the whopping surpluses piling up in Ottawa?! What credible argument is there against cutting taxes for all? Or should we just allow politicians to spend all that money?!

The only way to make sure Ottawa spends money more responsibly on the real priorities of Canadians is to give them less in the first place.

What a great agenda item for "Canada's New Government."

Signing out...

I'm moving on. After this week I'm taking the family and moving to Edmonton where I've accepted a job with a utility company there.

We're sad to leave Saskatchewan but this opportunity was just too good to pass up.

It's been an exciting and rewarding five years with the Canadian Taxpayers Federation but all good things come to an end, so the cliche goes.

Thanks for all your emails over the years and thanks again for stopping by. Keep in touch!


Friday, August 03, 2007

Modest Surplus, Prime Minister??

Prime Minister Stephen Harper is downplaying the idea of delivering meaningful tax relief.

The PM said:

"Everybody likes big tax cuts. I would love a big tax cut. [But] obviously what we do ultimately depends on the fiscal room the government has. First and foremost, this government is committed to running responsible fiscal policy where we not only balance our budgets, but we continue to run modest surpluses."

Hmmm, what does the PM consider modest? The $13.2-billion surplus from two years ago? What about the $9.2-billion from last year? Or what about the fact that the government's own estimates pegged the total surplus for this year at $3.3-billion, yet in the first two months of the fiscal year alone it is already a whopping $3.5-billion!

This government has billions of dollars in fiscal room yet like the previous government, it continues to lowball the surplus and spend spend spend. At this rate, the Conservatives risk being outflanked by the Liberals when it comes to tax relief and that would be a shame.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

About $2.4 million too much...

Calgary Arts Development Agency released a report this last week complaining that the City of Calgary doesn't hand out as much taxpayer money to the arts as other cities.

The CBC story says:

Calgary put $2.4 million or $2.56 per capita into the arts in 2005, but thanks to a recent funding hike, the amount now sits at just over $3.

Still it's less per capita funding than four other Canadian cities.

Edmonton spent $3.88 per capita, Vancouver spent $4.01, Winnipeg spent $5.20, and Toronto spent $6.42 in 2005.

The numbers in the report are shocking, but will draw attention to the problem and ensure that the city contributes more in the future, said Karen Ball, director of community investment with the two-year-old agency.

Translation: Oh woe is me, I now have to go out and convince the art-loving public to voluntarily support me. For shame, for shame.

The City of Calgary should be applauded for being near the bottom of this list. However, it's still more than they should be spending.

Cities are supposed to provide the sexy, exciting things like: roads, police protection, and fire protection.

And no wonder the City of Toronto is claiming to be going broke, they're spending millions on the arts each year!!!

Guess What Ontario? Taxes Matter

A Global Insight study shows Ontario may be in danger of losing its status as a "have" province.

The report cites the SARS and blackout events as contributing factors but there are other things Canada's largest province must consider:

Ontario needs to have competitive tax rates (corporate and personal) if it is to retain its fast eroding manufacturing base.

Ontario can also not allow itself to return to the days of being beholden to special interests. McGuinty has shown he'd rather fight with doctors than public sector unions or teachers. All well and good you might say but these groups care about one thing: protecting their jobs, un-necessarily high wages and fat pensions - to hell with everyone else. There's a reason they are called "special." There is almost zero concern for the common interest.

Perhaps it is time for Ontario to consider a single rate tax like Alberta. The McGuinty government does not seem to understand the recipe for economic growth and job creation: HINT: It is not higher taxes, increased spending and a bloated public sector.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Concentration camp?

Good thing I don't drink coffee while I read the paper in the morning, otherwise I would have spit it all over page 3 of today's Edmonton Sun.

First some background:
Alberta has a pretty severe shortage of cheap rental housing right now. This is the result of a massive influx of people coming to Alberta for work. This has done two things, it has forced some people who were already here out of their rental accommodations because they can no longer afford the rising rents, and others coming here without any place to stay with the hope of getting work.

A few of these people started to congregate in an empty government owned taxpayer-owned lot in Edmonton earlier this spring, setting up temporary tents. Looking like a great idea, some of Edmonton's habitually homeless also set up tents, leaving shelter beds and the watchful (and helpful) eyes of shelter staff behind.

The "tent city" has now become a haven for prostitution, drug dealing, violence, theft and gang activity. It was well described in an Edmonton Journal article by Elise Stolte (now behind subscription wall). This is all while beds in shelters go empty.

Now that it has gone from a temporary free-camping ground into a gang-controlled slum, the provincial and civic governments are taking action, by putting up security fences, posting security guards 24-7, and registering campers.

Yet tent-city resident "Al Big," is quoted in today's Edmonton Sun as saying, "I'm tired of the government's rules and the society, that's why I'm here. It's going to look like a concentration camp. They might as well give us uniforms."

Another resident "Marvin (Smurf) Ross" said tent-city is going to "look like a jail."

While I still feel sorry for some of the residents who are legitimately trying to find other accommodations, it's ungrateful squatters on taxpayer-owned property like "Al Big" and "Marvin (Smurf) Ross" who make it tough for governments not to go in there with hoses and paddy wagons.

Not to mention the fact that by suggesting his free camping ground getting security fences is like a concentration camp, disrespects all those who actually were in concentration camps.

David Miller's Ultimatum

Who does this guy think he is?

Mayor Miller has apparently decided that $731-million is the magic number that will hold off a flurry of new municipal taxes.

How about first demonstrating a sincere effort to rein in costs elsewhere?

Do away with silly and expenseive landscaping, abandon the ideologically-driven "union only" policies for delivering city services. How about even getting rid of many of the perks enjoyed by city politicians and bureaucrats.

Mayor Miller is one of those politicians who never has enough money and one who believes government is never big enough or expensive enough. One thing is for sure, he's in for one heck of a fight if he keeps trying to ram new taxes down people's throats.

CTF You Tube Channel

Canadian Taxpayers Federation's Fan Box