Marketing, spending — sales tax? Calgary Chamber election panel suggests many ideas

CBC and the Calgary Chamber of Commerce discuss the future of the province's economic landscape, looking ahead to the 2019 Alberta election.

Watch the full panel discussion and share your thoughts in the comments

The panel, hosted by CBC's David Gray, consists of pollster Janet Brown, ARC Energy Research Institute executive director Peter Tertzakian, Calgary Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Sandip Lalli and University of Calgary economics professor Trevor Tombe. (CBC)

This story was originally published Jan. 24. 

CBC and the Calgary Chamber of Commerce discussed the future of the province's economic landscape — looking ahead to the 2019 Alberta election — at a live event Thursday evening at the Central Library in Calgary.

"Business needs to take the community back. We need to have business owners, citizens come out and have these policy conversations," chamber president and CEO Sandip Lalli told the audience. "We want to make sure that Alberta-wide we're voting for policy, not the politics."

The event ended at 7:30 p.m. MT, but you still can have your say on Facebook or in the comments below. You also can watch the full panel discussion below:

Lalli said she wants to see more people asking politicians this election season about their specific plans to achieve goals, like being fiscally responsible. This event and others like it, she said, are being put on in the hopes of getting people thinking and talking, about the economic future of Alberta in the context of the provincial vote.

Lalli joined the panel discussion along with pollster and political commentator Janet Brown, ARC Energy Research Institute executive director Peter Tertzakian, and University of Calgary economics professor Trevor Tombe.

Calgary Eyeopener host David Gray moderated, and a question-and-answer session followed the structured discussion.

Ahead of the event, the chamber announced its wish list for the upcoming provincial election.

Those requests include a cut to the corporate tax rate, a plan to streamline Alberta's investor tax credit, a reduction of regulations on business, a decrease in fees and a "commitment to prevent future free market intervention." The full plan includes nine detailed points, which can be viewed online.

Control spending

In the debate, Brown referred to a CBC Road Ahead poll that measured priorities for Albertans. She noticed poll respondents most strongly agreed with the idea that now was not the time to cut social services such as health care and education. But Albertans also want a balanced budget and the carbon tax eliminated, she said.

"When you push people, they don't really want to make the hard decisions," Brown said. "But I think when you really push people, they understand that we have to both address the revenue side and the spending side."

The prevailing sentiment, she said, was similar to how a parent might want to see their child spend their $5 responsibly before increasing their allowance to $10.

"It's a bit of a cop out, but the public is saying, we got to get control over spending before you come after me for more revenue," she said.

More in-house production

In terms of boosting revenue, Tertzakian suggested "the opportunity's ripe" to diversify the economy and "value-add."

"I know the current government is on that path. I am not sure that they're articulating the vision that they have as well as they could," he said.

He said Alberta has the luxury of lots of land and lots of resources, from oil and gas to wind and solar. He said Alberta and Canada are nearly unique in that regard in the world.

"We're so good at getting these resources to market within Alberta. The next logical question is, well, what can we do with this stuff instead of just send it raw somewhere else?" he asked.

Business health

A recent survey by the University of Calgary School of Public Policy found business health rated high among Calgarians.

Ahead of the panel discussion, chamber director of public affairs Mark Cooper said he was a little surprised by the results. Attracting business growth was rated a higher priority than public transportation and affordable housing, which also scored strongly, he said.

That's a strong indicator, he said, of the public's hopes for the coming election.

"The public has seen a lot of economic carnage in the past four, five years since the downturn in 2014, and I think they're looking for optimism, so bringing growth of business in to the community," Cooper said. "If people like me are seeing a brewpub, or a new restaurant or a clothing shop open in their neighbourhood, it brings a lot of vibrancy to the community."

Unlikely sales tax

In the discussion, Tombe threw out an idea he said he never expects Alberta will do: implementing a sales tax.

He made a short pitch for dropping income taxes in exchange for taxing consumption.

He also suggested the federal government could get more involved in ironing out inter-provincial trade, something he said political parties can't promise to fix.

"There's a lot of friction there. It's not an easy problem to solve," Tombe said. "I think the ball's in the federal government's court there."

Lalli also said getting products to market and focusing on inter-provincial trade could go a long way to helping Alberta business.

Calgary: The Road Ahead is CBC Calgary's special focus on our city as it passes through the crucible of the downturn: the challenges we face, and the possible solutions as we explore what kind of Calgary we want to create. Have an idea? Email us at

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