Your weekly update on Alberta politics for January 28, 2020
Municipal budgets across the province are at risk of collapse thanks to a group of oil & gas companies that are refusing to pay over $173 million in taxes, the Rural Municipalities Association of Alberta reported last week.
Last year they were already dodging a bill for $81 million–now the unpaid bill has more than doubled.
Rather than cracking down on these tax evaders last year the Kenney government gave them a handout in the form of the Shallow Gas Tax Relief Initiative. It was a 35% break on property taxes that the provincial government promised to cover for the municipalities. But that’s not what’s happening now. The companies still get that 35% tax break, but the province isn’t paying a dime of it. Surprise.
Kenney commented on the issue last week, pleading with rural municipalities not to try to “squeeze blood from a stone.” But many of the tax delinquents aren’t failing at all–they’re just withholding taxes because they know the municipalities have very little power to enforce them.
Add this to Alberta’s looming orphan well crisis as yet another bag the public is going to end up holding, long after the corporate shareholders have taken their tax breaks and left the province laughing.
Former Alberta Liberal leader David Swann has declared that he too is going to stop paying his taxes until these companies have to. I have a suspicion that he’ll be forced to pay long before any of Jason Kenney’s donors are. For more on this, have a listen to this recent Alberta Advantage episode featuring Swann and the Alberta Liabilities Disclosure Project’s Regan Boychuk.
Government report details horrific neglect at Extendicare
Some things just can not be left to the cruelties of the market, and senior care is surely one of them.
This weekend we were given a terrible example of why when CBC News broke the story of Josephine Ewashko, a former resident of the private Extendicare facility in Viking, Alberta.
The government report on the circumstances of Ewashko’s passing is terrifying. Staff at the facility cited being overworked and understaffed to explain how the woman in their care died from dehydration and urinary tract infection.
No, you didn’t read that sentence wrong–dehydration. A person in care died, slowly and miserably, because her care facility couldn’t even give her enough water.
Extendicare founder Kevin Libin will likely never find himself in these circumstances. Libin enjoyed a nice chunk of that $275 million handout that the city of Calgary recently gave the Flames for their new arena. And outgoing Extendicare CEO Tim Lukenda, he’s never going to have to worry–he took home over $5 million in compensation in 2018. The disparity is sickening. Privatized senior care must end.
- Roughly 46,000 seniors could lose drug coverage starting in March, reports the CBC, thanks to UCP changes to the Seniors Benefit Drug Program. It’s already bad enough that pharma care isn’t universal; to claw it back from people on limited incomes is obscene.
- On the Progress Report podcast this week we’re joined by labour activist and scholar Sam Gindin, who tells the story of the Days of Action against Mike Harris’ austerity regime in Ontario in the 1990s. Is a general strike in Alberta a good idea–and can we do it? Sam’s analysis is great.
- Kenney and his proxies launched a blistering, renewed attack on safe consumption sites last week, opening with a Rick Bell column that I can only describe as the rhetorical equivalent of a bloody handprint smeared down a broadsheet. The UCP are now threatening to move or close several of Alberta’s sites, putting the lives of people struggling with opioid addiction at serious risk. It’s a move popular among the conservative base but not supported at all by evidence. Even Stephen Harper’s criminal justice advisor Benjamin Perrin is urging us to let these sites do their work.
- Tim Harper has a great blog piece up this week about Alberta’s anti-environmentalist inquiry (yes, the one we’re going to shut down with a constitutional challenge.) Have a read and catch up on the issue.
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