Braid: Council's new tax grabs ignore pain of inflation and rising anti-tax anger

Calgary council has a long history of wildly unfair tax grabs. The rebellion is coming.

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Calgary city hall’s long-term abuse of taxpayers continues unchecked. After raising taxes 7.8 per cent for homeowners, it now slaps a 23 per cent hike on Calgary hotels.

Powerful anti-tax feelings are sweeping the country. But this council, routinely clueless, merrily expands on its history of unfair taxation. 

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Business tax hikes in 2019 sparked a genuine uprising, with small business owners swamping city hall after seeing their taxes tripled or quadrupled in a single year. 

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The same year, a King’s Bench judge found that a shocking 400 per cent tax increase on the downtown Metropolitan Centre “falls outside any possible outcome justifiable on the evidence.”

The city tax-grabbers were desperate to recoup lost revenue after the hollowing out of downtown towers.

But the court ruling showed their tactics were often dictatorial and unfair.

In the Met Centre case, they decreed a change in tax category from “assembly space” to “retail.” That led to taxes increasing by $500,000 a year. 

The judge said the category change was wrong and unjustified. A city review board showed “no indication . . . that it adhered to its legislated mandate of ensuring that the valuation standards were applied in a fair and equitable matter.”

Howard Silver, owner of the Metropolitan Centre
The Met Centre’s Howard Silver won a big victory for taxpayers. But there’s no sign of change at city hall. Postmedia archive photo

Met Centre owner Howard Silver won a big victory for taxpayers. Such a resounding legal slap should have shaken up the whole assessment system, to the benefit of taxpayers citywide.

But there’s no sign of change. They still crave their money and mean to get it. 

Council sure doesn’t get the taxpayers’ problems with inflation across all categories, especially food and rents. Slapping a 7.8 per cent tax increase on top of all that verges on cruelty. 

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I find myself deeply regretting the province’s decision to change municipal council terms from three to four years. Under the old system, an election would be coming this October.

Instead, Calgarians must wait until 2025 for a run at this bunch.

Anti-tax sentiment has grown everywhere since council’s offences were first inflicted on the city. Across the country, it’s a major reason Pierre Poilievre’s Conservatives are crushing the federal Liberals in the polls. 

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe’s government is widely applauded at home for refusing to collect federal carbon tax on home heating fuel.

Moe’s formal tax rejection may be unprecedented. There’s no other case in memory of a province simply ending collection of a legal national levy.

It all began when the federal Liberals lifted the carbon tax on home heating oil, a benefit mainly to Atlantic Canada.

That followed pressure on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau from Atlantic ministers and Liberal MPs.

A minor Trudeau minister, Gudie Hutchings, crowed that political pressure did the trick, and the West should just elect more Liberals.

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This marked the end of any serious credibility for the carbon tax as an apolitical climate change tool. 

Moe responded with a declaration of provincial autonomy more dramatic than anything Alberta Premier Danielle Smith has done so far.

The revolt raises the question of whether Saskatchewan taxpayers will continue to get their carbon tax rebates. Common sense would suggest they shouldn’t.

But this is Canada, where sense so often collides with government complexity and absurdity.

The Saskatchewan minister in charge, Dustin Duncan, noted ending federal tax on home heating oil did not halt rebates for those customers. So, why should they be cut off in Saskatchewan?

“That (did) not affect the rebates for people in Atlantic Canada . . . there wasn’t a corresponding decrease in the rebates for those individuals,” the minister told Global News.

To be widely accepted, any tax system must be based on belief that people get their return in efficient, useful, reasonably priced services.

Many Canadians now see that as pure fiction. Unsurprisingly, Calgary council is the last to know.

Don Braid’s column appears regularly in the Herald.

X: @DonBraid

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