Alberta Party leadership candidates divided on need for sales tax

Alberta Party leadership candidate Kara Levis says the province needs to look at introducing a sales tax for both residents and visitors as a way to finally balance the budget, but her opponents disagree.

Kara Levis, Stephen Mandel and Rick Fraser face off at first leadership debate in Edmonton

Rick Fraser, Kara Levis and Stephen Mandel are vying to become the next leader of the Alberta Party. The three faced off at a leadership debate in Edmonton Tuesday night. (CBC )

Alberta Party leadership candidate Kara Levis says the province needs to look at introducing a sales tax for both residents and visitors as a way to finally balance the budget. 

But her opponents Rick Fraser and Stephen Mandel disagree.

Levis, a Calgary energy lawyer, raised the need in her opening remarks at the party's first leadership debate in Edmonton Wednesday for what she calls a "value-added consumption tax."

"We need to face up to the revenue problem now, and all options need to be on the table, including a point-of-sale added tax or HST," she said.

"I don't think our opponents have the courage to do that. And I think that's what is going to make the Alberta Party stand out in the 2019 election," she added later in the debate.

Fellow leadership candidates Stephen Mandel and Rick Fraser took different positions.

Mandel, a former Edmonton mayor and Progressive Conservative health minister, said the question of a sales tax should be put to the public through a referendum.

"Our citizens would like to see government be more efficient," Mandel said.

"People need to decide and it needs to be [put  to] a referendum. I don't believe we should be looking at mandating more taxes to the public. It's not a popular issue."

'Challenging' issue

Fraser, the MLA for Calgary-South East, didn't endorse or rebut the need for a sales tax during the debate. But he dismissed the idea when asked by reporters afterwards. 

"Albertans are being taxed to death," he said. "And I'll agree with Stephen Mandel on this. We need to make sure that those taxes are actually working for Albertans. That they're efficient. That we're not putting small business out of work." 

Speaking to reporters after the debate, Levis acknowledged the politics around a sales tax are challenging, but the conversation needs to happen given the current state of royalty revenues.

"If we rule out a tool like a value-added consumption tax, we are really not allowing ourselves to have the breadth of economic tools that we could in order to really fund the government services that Albertans expect and deserve," she said. 

Levis, Mandel and Fraser also tackled questions about health care, rural economic development, climate change policy and education in the nearly two-hour debate.

Tuesday was is the first of two debates between the three candidates over the next couple of weeks.

Alberta Party members will choose a new leader on Feb. 27.