“The only difference between a tax man and a taxidermist,” as Mark Twain once wrote, “is that the taxidermist leaves the skin.” Canadian families are understandably feeling more than a bit bare these days. Every time they turn around, they’re being asked to pay more. More in income tax. More in CPP contributions. More in carbon taxes. The average Canadian household, according to the Fraser Institute, now spends more on taxes than any other single expense – more than housing, food and clothing combined. In 2017, the average Canadian family earned $85,883 in income. Of that, they paid $37,058 in total taxes – that’s 43 per cent of average income going to taxes.
As opposed to helping make life more affordable for Calgarians, city council is piling it on. Its recent budget is raising user fees across the board. Want to take your kids to a public pool? That’s going to cost more. Fees for utilities like waste water, water and storm water? Those are going to be more expensive, too. So is throwing out your garbage, recycling and composting. The biggest hit to Calgarians’ pockets though is property tax hikes of roughly three per cent for each of the next four years.
All of this is bad enough. In fact, it’s symptomatic of a city council – the highest paid in the country – losing touch with the lives and concerns of ordinary Calgarians. The move to hike non-residential property taxes by up to 10 per cent in this economic climate, however, is inexcusable. At 8.2 per cent, Calgary has the highest unemployment rate in the country outside of St. John’s. It’s clear to anyone in the business community our city is hurting. It should be clear to city council, too.
Granted, many of the reasons for this are beyond the municipal government’s reach. Between failing to deliver a pipeline to tidewater and hostile legislation and regulations, the federal Liberals have delivered a serious blow to Canada’s energy industry. City council, however, has a responsibility not to exacerbate these challenges. But that’s exactly what it’s doing. Not all SMEs are going to be able to bear such a hefty tax hike, and even more Calgarians are going to be out of a job as a result.
City hall is presenting Calgarians with a false choice: service cuts or tax and user fee hikes. Has it even considered cutting its operating budget? If not, why not? On an adjusted per capita basis, Calgary spends $500 million more annually than Edmonton. Surely some efficiencies could be found in a $4.1-billion operating budget, so Calgary families and businesses aren’t being asked to pay more at a time when they can least afford it.
We can’t spend ourselves back to prosperity. Unfortunately, city council doesn’t seem to understand this simple fact. What Calgary needs is a serious plan to enhance its competitiveness, but our city council doesn’t have the experience or the expertise to accomplish this. As business people, it’s time for us to step up to the plate. We understand better than anyone why Calgary is falling behind cities like Saskatoon, so we need to start developing and advocating for solutions to attract investment and create jobs. It’s going to be up to us to get Calgary working.