Debt a bigger issue than the carbon tax, Alberta Party leader says

Alberta Party Leader Stephen Mandel says he doesn't understand why the United Conservative Party has turned the carbon tax into such a huge issue when debt will hurt the province more.

“It just seems simpler to say we’ll eliminate the carbon tax."

Alberta Party Leader Stephen Mandel spoke to reporters after his speech to the party's annual general meeting Saturday. (CBC)

Alberta Party Leader Stephen Mandel says he doesn't understand why the United Conservative Party has turned the carbon tax into such a huge issue when debt will hurt the province more.

"The fact of the matter is that we have to worry more about the debt," Mandel told a crowd at the party's annual general meeting in Edmonton Saturday.

"It just seems simpler to say we'll eliminate the carbon tax. Everybody thinks everything will be in balance. It won't be. We're going to have problems."

Mandel told reporters afterward that the party would remove the carbon tax applied to heating bills for homes and businesses if they formed government.

He said the proceeds would mostly go toward paying down the debt. He said an Alberta Party government wouldn't kill the programs funded by the tax.

The party passed resolutions Saturday that will be used to develop a campaign platform, which Mandel expects will be released in January.

When asked whether he, like UCP Leader Jason Kenney, holds the pen on what makes it into the platform, Mandel said the Alberta Party's process will involve all 87 candidates running in the spring election. 

"All of us will hold the pen," he said. "It will be a very big pen."

Private school cuts set aside 

Members discussed 18 resolutions and passed most with little or no debate. 

However, two proved to be contentious. 

Members voted to table a resolution to reduce the amount of government funding given to private schools to 50 per cent a student, down from the current 70 per cent provided by the provincial government.

Amrit Matharu, the Alberta Party candidate in Edmonton-Meadows, said the initiative would unfairly target new Canadians who may choose to send their children to private schools that better reflect their values. 

Bob Philp, the retired judge who is running in Edmonton-City Centre, warned that passing the resolution could take the party into the "realm of identity politics." 

"It's exceedingly dangerous for us as a party, as a government, " he said during the debate. "If we cut funding that will be a serious, serious error." 

Another resolution to set up a citizens' committee examining alternatives to the first-past-the-post electoral system was defeated by a narrow margin. 

Although he likes the idea of proportional representation, Steve Ricketts, a member from Sherwood Park, said putting it into policy going into a provincial election isn't wise. 

"I think it will distract from our other main messages, such as ones focusing on getting our financial house in order," he said. "It will serve as yet another reason for people to decide to vote against us." 

The resolution about implementing a new taxation model passed.

The wording doesn't mention a sales tax by name. Instead, it says an Alberta Party government would review government spending and implement a "balanced and sustainable taxation model to maintain a consistent and reliable revenue stream."

Mandel said the party isn't endorsing a sales tax. Instead, he said an Alberta Party government would lay out the financial situation and ask Albertans what they think should be done.

Party members like former leader and Calgary-Elbow MLA Greg Clark and former leadership candidate Kara Levis, who is running in Calgary-Klein, have talked about the need for a consumption tax.

However, Mandel said during the leadership race that a tax should be put to Alberta voters through a referendum.

Members passed a resolution that proposes an income top-up program that would provide benefits to low-income people while giving them incentives to keep working.

About 485 members registered for this year's AGM.