Stettler County protests at Alberta Legislature

The Canadian Press

Dozens of rural municipalities, including the County of Stettler, sent a message to the provincial government Thurs. July 30 by protesting at the Alberta Legislature.

The counties are angry and frustrated about what they see as too many tax breaks too quickly for the province’s oil and gas industry. 

The latest problem comes from a provincial committee set-up to look at what amounts to more tax breaks for large oil and gas corporations.

County of Stettler Reeve Larry Clarke attended the protest with four more councillors and three senior staff and said 34 of 68 rural municipalities were represented, including some from northern areas who booked their own flights to attend the protest. 

“We had a pretty good showing,” said Clarke by phone July 31, as he prepared to go baling on his tractor.

County of Stettler councillors and staff attended a protest at the Alberta Legislature July 30 to show their mounting concern with the provincial government’s apparent plan to shift tax burden away from large oil and gas corporations and onto rural residents. (ECA Review/Submitted)

Clarke noted the UCP government broke for the weekend one day early, so hardly anyone was at the Legislature, but Deputy Premier Jason Nixon was there and walked by the rural protestors without saying a word, noted Clarke.

However, Calgary MLA and Minister of Community and Social Services Rajan Sawhney came out to listen to locally-elected officials concerns. 

Clarke told the ECA Review reporter the minister stated she would take the rural representative’s concerns back to the government. 

Several NDP MLAs also spoke with protestors.

The reeve stated the provincial government’s committee reviewing assessment has offered four options for discussion, and the big energy companies seem to prefer the fourth option, which is a further 20 per cent drop in their tax bills on top of over 35 per cent they were already given through the shallow gas well review, a huge burden for rural municipalities.

“It’s serious,” said Clarke. “It’s riding on the backs of the rural communities,” he said, noting he looks at the region as one large community, including town, county, hamlets and lake properties. 

He also noted small to medium sized energy companies could even see their tax bills go up as their assessment increases.

Clarke stated this further drop would have a devastating effect on rural municipalities and their budgets. 

“Next year I just don’t know where we’re going to go,” said Clarke. “We’re going to have to look at every tax expense we have.” 

The reeve noted Stettler County could see $3 to $4 million less in revenue on top of a $4 million loss in 2019 and stated council is already wondering how this could be absorbed: doubling taxes for some ratepayers or cutting services even further.

The reeve said he understands the difficulties the provincial government and energy industry are under, but is concerned that it appears too many cuts are being made too quickly with rural municipalities absorbing too much of the costs. 

He suggested a tiered approach making changes slowly over time, with more stakeholders, including the cities, absorbing costs.

Clarke said he hopes Premier Jason Kenney understands the importance of so many rural people travelling to Edmonton to protest, as it’s rather rare to see. 

“This is the first time,” said the reeve, noting he’s not aware of rural municipalities ever organizing a protest like this.

By Stu Salkeld, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter/East Central Alberta Review