Kevin Taft wonders where the money went

Albertans are being "played for fools" by corporations making massive profits at the expense of provincial programs and services, says former Liberal leader and scholar Kevin Taft.

In a new book Follow the Money, published today, Taft explores the mystery of why one of the wealthiest jurisdictions in the world is experiencing deficits and program cuts while the profits of corporations in the province have climbed more than 300 per cent.

"It feels like we need a Danny Williams moment," he said referring to the feisty former Newfoundland premier. "We need to take control of government and make sure it is looking after the best interests of our resource owners."

Taft, who has spent a decade in Alberta politics, says he just wants to stir up "a more balanced debate" on taxation and royalty policies.

"We're leaving way too much wealth on the table and we're letting it flow out the door to investors on Wall Street or in Shanghai and Beijing," said the departing provincial MLA and author of four controversial books on Alberta government policy.

He writes that he doesn't blame corporations for making obscene profits. "I blame the trustee of the people's wealth - the government of Alberta - for failing every citizen and their future."

The book, created in partnership with the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL) and Public Interest Alberta, questions the government's rationale for having the lowest corporate taxes in the country and a royalty program that focuses more on creating a competitive investment climate than collecting a fair share for Albertans.

AFL president Gil McGowan said the book is the beginning of a major campaign to spark a public debate about whether Alberta is getting its fair share for its resources and from the corporations profiting from its booms. "The real reason we have a deficit is successive Conservative governments have engaged in a race to the bottom in taxation and royalties," he said.

The AFL was one of several unions behind TV ads last election that attacked the Ed Stelmach government. The Tories subsequently passed a law to limit third party spending on election advertising.

The Stelmach government made an attempt to increase Alberta's oil and gas royalties, but many of the gains were rolled back in the face of angry opposition from the industry and a downturn in the economy.

Taft's book is based on research by University of Alberta economics professor Mel McMillan and Ph.D candidate Junaid Jahangir, who plowed through reams of studies and Statistics Canada tables to track Alberta's wealth.

Taft said Alberta better come to terms with the issue or its long-term future is in serious jeopardy. "For the next decade or maybe two we're positioned to do something really, really spectacular, but right now as a province and as a society we're really blowing it."

Calgary Herald, Wed Jan 18 2012
Byline: Darcy Henton

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