Do billionaires fleeing Canadian taxes deserve public subsidies for their Alberta franchises?

Posted on March 27, 2016, 12:41 am
9 mins

PHOTOS: CNRL Executive Chairperson N. Murray Edwards, a billionaire. (Wikipedia photo). Below: Twitter gadfly Dave Beninger (Facebook grab), Law Professor Catherine Brown (University of Calgary photo), former Alberta Premier Alison Redford and billionaire hockey team owner Daryl Katz. Bottom: A typically fair and balanced story on one of the many front pages of the Edmonton-Calgary-Sun-Journal-Herald-Sun.

Twitter commentator Dave Beninger raised an interesting point yesterday: If tarsands tycoon N. Murray Edwards is going to bug off to England because he finds the taxes in low-tax Alberta 3 per cent too high, should his fellow Alberta taxpayers be asked to pony up for a new arena for his Calgary Flames professional hockey team?

BeningerThis was a question a Postmedia scribe reporting on the revelation Mr. Edwards has apparently decamped from Wild Rose Country for England’s green and pleasant land didn’t ask anyone – least of all Mr. Edwards, who is evidently not the sort of billionaire who responds to calls and emails from the grubby press.

The evidence taxes are behind Mr. Edwards’ presumed move from Calgary to London is in fact fairly flimsy. It consists of a note about the Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. executive chairperson’s place of residence in a recent filing by another company in which he has an interest, combined with the opinions of two anonymous sources.

Of course, if the reporter’s two informants run in Mr. Edwards’ circles, why wouldn’t they blame taxes? As for someone suggesting in a Postmedia publication circa 2016 that it might be inappropriate for people who make a fortune here to move their wealth offshore to avoid taxes in the place that made them wealthy, that’s simply unthinkable any more!

Instead, for commentary, the Calgary Herald scribe rounded up a couple of the Usual Suspects from the Canadian Taxpayers Federation and the preeminent local source of market fundamentalist ideological purity, the publicly financed University of Calgary.

CatherineBrownUnsurprisingly, both used the opportunity to declaim that taxes are too high, especially when they are levied on billionaires who can move to London whenever they please. They also warned that we’d better cut taxes right now or more billionaires won’t move here.

“The same people that came here shopping for attractive tax rates are going to be shopping somewhere else,” warned U of C tax-law professor Catherine Brown.

And the tax rates had better be very attractive, presumably, to attract billionaires who weren’t, like Mr. Edwards, born in Regina!

“This is the problem with levying taxes on high-income, high-skilled individuals,” huffed the CTF’s spokesperson, Paige McPherson, a prolific author of demands that modestly paid public employees like teachers and civil servants immediately take painful pay cuts.

The spectacle of the CTF rushing to the defence of hard-pressed billionaires at the same time it is demanding huge pay cuts for ordinary taxpayers is, to say the least, revealing.

alisoncampaignThe Herald’s scribbler took care to remind the publication’s few remaining readers that recent increases in the taxes levied on billionaires like Mr. Edwards are the fault of Liberals in Ottawa and New Democrats in Edmonton. Perhaps to generate some sympathy, he also noted that Mr. Edwards’ personal fortune has recently taken a beating, falling from $1.8 billion to a minuscule $1.33 billion as a result of the declining price of oil.

Regardless, it apparently didn’t occur to the Herald reporter to look for a commentator willing to speculate there might be other reasons for Mr. Edwards’ move or that he may simply find London a more exciting place to live than Cowtown, as astonishing as that thought might seem to some of us here in Alberta. As Samuel Johnson famously observed, “When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life.” No one, to my knowledge, has ever said that about Calgary.

At any rate, according to the foreign gutter press, Mr. Edwards’ marriage fell apart several years ago. Britain’s Daily Mail newspaper reported in September in 2014 on the then-blossoming relationship between uncapitalized canadian crooner k.d. lang and Heather Edwards. Since then, Ottawa’s Frank Magazine has reported Mr. Edwards has been seen in the company of former Alberta premier Alison Redford, a person whose love of travel is well known.

daryl-katzThe former self-described polarizing premier, by the way, has landed a new job as executive director of something called the Canadian Energy Initiative at the Conference Board of Canada, one of the country’s more respectable think tanks. The Ottawa-based Conference Board keeps an office in Calgary.

Returning to the original question, should Alberta taxpayers be on the hook for expensive arenas for billionaires who own professional hockey teams but prefer to live elsewhere?

The precedent is not encouraging: The heavily subsidized new arena for the Oilers now snarling traffic in downtown Edmonton is likely to considerably benefit billionaire Vancouver condo owner Daryl Katz, another lingering example of the supposedly lost “Alberta Advantage” for which Postmedia pines.

Well, perhaps we’ll have the opportunity to ask Mr. Edwards about this directly once Jeremy Corbyn becomes Prime Minister of Britain and the tax rate there for billionaires ratchets upward beyond Alberta’s.

A question for readers: What do we call Postmedia’s Alberta publication?

As alert readers will recall, the four daily newspapers operated by Toronto-based Postmedia Canada Network Corp. in Alberta have now been rolled into a single publication with two newsrooms and four names.

EyesOnAt the start of the year, Postmedia laid off 90 employees in Calgary and Edmonton and announced the merger of the two newsrooms in each city. Remaining editorial staff would work in the same room and file stories to both papers, readers were informed.

Postmedia insisted then that each publication would retain its own identity and character, but in practice this has turned out mainly to be fiction.

Reporters working in the two newsrooms file the same copy to all four papers and their online editions. Only opinion columnists file only to the publications of their former employer, either the Edmonton and Calgary Suns or the Edmonton Journal and the Calgary Herald. The latter two papers in particular are also full of copy from the Toronto-centric “National” Post.

So, help me, dear readers! How should I refer to this entity? I hate to call the papers by their original names because I am not in the business of assisting Postmedia with its misleading branding. At the same time, such formulations as the Calgary-Edmonton-Sun-Herald-Journal-Sun are, to say the least, unwieldy. The Toronto Daily Post, I suppose, would be accurate enough, but it is not a term most readers would recognize. The Alberta Post?

I would appreciate your suggestions.

The first section of this post also appears on Rabble.ca.

37 Comments to: Do billionaires fleeing Canadian taxes deserve public subsidies for their Alberta franchises?

  1. Farron

    March 27th, 2016

    I propose the Conservative Reform Alliance Press (or CRAP). Seems like a fitting acronym.

    Reply
    • Anon

      March 27th, 2016

      How ’bout; the “End Times”? No? Ok ok! The “Tribulation Bugle”? No? Fahckk!!
      Ok ok ok! The “Clarion”? Jeez! You guys are a bunch of biothches!

      Ok then. How about “Brass and Gall”? That’s what it takes to tell some of these wankers what’s what!

      Reply
    • Maria

      March 28th, 2016

      Well done Farron, CRAP was also the first name that came to my mind

      Reply
  2. DrDNoble

    March 27th, 2016

    This article reminds me of a 200pt connect-the-dots illustration, you’re not quite sure where it’s going to end up but hope the picture forms. Though it might have assisted the story had Climenhaga explained London’s non-domiciled tax loopholes. While Osborne, (UK’s Exchequer) has been tightening the budget screws on large multi-nationals not paying taxes on UK profits, the non-dom issue brought up as a major election promise by Labours former leader Miliband has been completely eschewed by the Tories. However with Osborne repeatedly losing confidence of many of his own fellow Ministers on cuts to benefits, he may be forced to start upping the pinch on foreign high rollers. But the bit about the former Mrs Edwards & Lang, and Edwards and Redford was a juicy little tid bit. Not perhaps relevant to business, but hey, sometimes it’s nice to have a puppy in the dinosaur picture.

    Reply
  3. Linda

    March 27th, 2016

    Alberta Rags sounds pretty accurate to me…

    Reply
  4. anonymous

    March 27th, 2016

    ‘The Paul Picayune’? ‘The Godfrey Gossiper’? Alas, so many names to imagine, yet so little time before the next hedge fund managers’ meeting.

    Reply
    • Pogo

      March 27th, 2016

      You’re even worse than me!

      Our overlords have always worked long hours without over-time for what they grabbed!

      Reply
  5. Cathie Reid

    March 27th, 2016

    Thank goodness for social media and postings from informed internet friends. This article (questioning corporate welfare to billionaires’ benefit – one of the most pressing issues of our dysfunctional free market/unlimited growth/deficient GDP measured capitalistic construct – that is consuming the world’s resources at unsustainable rates and increasing wealth inequality and societal/living systems instability) … is a gem.

    Reply
  6. Gerry Chamberland

    March 27th, 2016

    These kinds of people are parasites of countries. They want the best a country has to offer but also want everyone else to pay for it.

    Reply
  7. Dr. Robert C Dickson

    March 27th, 2016

    Interesting questions for sure.
    We can increase corporate taxes and give incentives to companies building the new green economy. European countries have modelled systems much more humanitarian and successful than our, with tax rates that would be scandalous here (the outcry, of course, would be led by the wealthy, elite and by the press they own).
    The Corporate Shill has a good ring for Calgary’s combined media effort.

    Reply
  8. Bill

    March 27th, 2016

    The Alberta Compost Post?

    Reply
  9. David Beckham.

    March 27th, 2016

    Gone with the wind is a good name. Newspapers are done like dinner. The Internet is eating their lunch.

    Reply
  10. L

    March 27th, 2016

    You missed an excellent opportunity to address this issue by blathering on about tangential things and never really coming to a point…or addressing the issue! Disappointed.

    Reply
  11. Rod Feland

    March 27th, 2016

    Very Interesting David.
    Apparently free enterprise isn’t as simple as it would seem, though I suspect it is more the application of the “golden rule”, and those making the gold are changing the rules to eliminate competition, maintain a monopoly, and abdicate any responsibility to the jurisdictions where they make their millions. Maybe we need to go back to simpler “playground rules”, where if you want to play in our sandbox, you learn to share and be polite, and you pay to play, period. Since “trickle down” economics have turned into “trickle out” economics (as in “out to London”), I fail to see how it would help our struggling economy by attacking the “trickle up” model as the CTF advocates for. If we cut wages and stall consumer spending, that just puts the squeeze on small and local businesses, and further consolidates the stranglehold on OUR economy. Welcome to the death-spiral.
    What I am really tired of hearing is more references to the Canadian Taxpayer Federation. They are not a Federation by any sense of the word, definitely not accountable or transparent, and do not represent taxpayers. They are an ultra-conservative partisan lobbyist front, plain and simple. Every time I hear our media outlets quoting their “message”, I lose that much more respect for so called “journalists” working in the industry (even though I know they are simply bowing to the wishes of their corporate masters). I want to hear all aspects of what is going on in my communities and my province, not just the propaganda that the corporate spin doctors deem as appropriate.
    As for naming the “news”-papers… lets call a spade a spade. Call them the CTF Daily. They are no longer fair or balanced, and say more about their integrity or relevance by what they do NOT report on.

    Reply
  12. Jill

    March 27th, 2016

    AlbertaNews

    Reply
  13. David Harrigan

    March 27th, 2016

    “The Palliative Post”

    Reply
  14. Dave Loyie

    March 27th, 2016

    Anyone who uses Off Shore Banks to avoid Canadian Taxes should have their Canadian Subsidiaries Seized and Nationalized.

    Reply
  15. Tom in Ontario

    March 27th, 2016

    In honour of Postmedia’s clever managers and former owner Lord Almost,
    Sun Herald International Times of Edmonton

    Reply
  16. March 27th, 2016

    Isn’t it just wonderful that Alison Redford, who should have been deemed radioactively unemployable by anyone above a penny stock tout, should find a little nest at a ‘respected’ institution such as the Conference Board of Canada – Apparently, resume checking outside the province isn’t all it could be.

    And it’s ever so interesting to see the sympathetic (emphasis on pathetic) pandering toward the feelings of the wealthy by the U of C – apparently, the last educational institution in North America above remedial kindergarten who might still subscribe to ‘trickle-down’ economic theories, attempting to feather a dull mist of intellectual respectability upon the sort of low-information pablum proffered by the CTF (in their own right, either slavish fanboys of the upper-class or gimlet-eyed sharpies fleecing the plentiful rubes hereabouts – pick your poison) – none of the two, apparently, wishing to publicly admit to themselves a simple, simple truth – the wealthy get to live where they want, and don’t need any sort of an economic excuse to do so save as a public goad wherever necessary to recalcitrant governments slow to grant boons.

    And finally: ‘should Alberta taxpayers be on the hook for expensive arenas for billionaires who own professional hockey teams but prefer to live elsewhere?’
    If Albertans – or any other regions inhabitants – insist on viewing rich folks’ sporting consortiums as their ‘very own’ by dint of wearing an overpriced replica jersey while ensconced in a dubiously comfortable seat high above the action…well, ‘ownership’ has responsibilities so pay up or shut up, marks.
    For the rest of us living in a more pragmatic universe, a more serious effort at detailing long-term costs and benefits to a greater non-sporting community will be in order, and keep it light on ‘pie-in-the-sky’, if you please.

    Reply
  17. D Robinson

    March 27th, 2016

    Yes, the Corporate Taxless Fiends get all the press from their ideological buddies (maybe shareholders or large contributors since we have no idea who CTF’s six actual shareholders or their contributors are). Lazy reporting or corporate editorial policy, the frequency of items in the “news” from them only serves to highlight the right wing bias of most Canadian news media. As for Postmedia, start planning the wake. Deep in debt, revenues falling like a stone, with their US owners trying to sell the conglomerate at a fire sale price, they are likely not long for this world. Their owners and debt holders have been bleeding them dry via cash grabs and interest payments. And in true venture capitalist fashion, keep their gravy train going by laying off the peons and selling assets until there’s nothing left. The next part of the strategy is to file for bankruptcy protection and plead for a government tax break or giveaways to keep them afloat.

    Reply
  18. Farmer B

    March 27th, 2016

    Since Dave really never answered his question, I will give my opinion. I am not now nor have I ever been in favour of public tax money going to build facilities to subsidize multi millionaire sports team owners or players. As for your complaint on post media, at least they are privately funded. Our prime minister just gave the CBC a large 5 year funding boost. The CBC is nothing more than a publicly funded advertisement for Justin Trudeau and is very biased to the left. This funding increase was nothing more than a payoff for their support. If I don’t like post media they do not get my financial support, with the CBC I am not as lucky. Have a good day:-)

    Reply
    • Expat Albertan

      March 28th, 2016

      OK Farmer, I challenge you: how, exactly, is the CBC biased to the left? Can you give me some examples? Note that I am a loyal listener to CBC Radio; if there is a bias in their programming, it is to programs that are more intellectually challenging that the regular fodder on the popular media. Problem is, most people on the right will lump such things into the left, when all they really are is of a slightly higher intellectual caliber. Take, for example, a show like Ideas – it presents a vast array of topics – many of which are quite esoteric. But that is not left-wing; it is intellectual. And we are not wasting people’s money of this esoteric programming – rather, ordinary people have the intellectual capacity to rise to the occasion and enjoy a lot of what CBC has to offer. It’s excellent stuff if you give it a chance.

      In the end, all you have to do is compare the news and editorial offerings of the Postmedia chain with that of CBC; I think you will find one of these two media outlets is very biased and it’s not the CBC.

      Reply
      • Chris

        March 29th, 2016

        Ah yes, the same old argument. You stupid, conservative yokels! You are not evil, you are simply wrong and uneducated. Only upstanding progressives know the truth. Quickly, tune in to the glorious CBC and the other “approved” sources of information (ahem, Rabble), and become enlightened. The government knows what’s best for you.

        Reply
        • Expat Albertan

          March 30th, 2016

          No, Chris. I’m saying that “yokels” are actually smart people who would enjoy many offerings of the CBC if they gave it a chance.

          Reply
    • PIGL

      March 28th, 2016

      Yawn. The CBC does not hate Trudeau enough for you, no doubt, such that you mistake reportage of the activities of the Prime Minister, with “publicly funded advertising”, a laughable delusion especially when we recall that Harper and Crew subverted the entire Federal Government to this purpose….go check out a departmental webpage some time. Only someone with Deform-coloured glasses on could imagine the CBC is “very biased to the left”. It is a common affliction among the right, this desperate need to have the entire world silvered so that they see only their own reflection; but the the rest of us don’t share it. The Government boosted CBC funding, and are keeping an election promise in so doing….seeing it as a payoff says more about you than about the event as such. Go have fun at The Rebel, is my advice to you.

      Reply
    • Athabascan

      March 28th, 2016

      The CBC belongs to Canadians. It is a Crown corporation. Sports teams such as the Flames of Oiler are privately owned. As for Post Media it is also privately owned.

      To put them all in the same basket to make a point is idiotic.

      Using your logic we (the taxpayers) shouldn’t be paying for schools and hospitals either since they could educate Trudeau’s kids, or maybe even treat one in an emergency. Your whole argument is indefensible.

      Reply
  19. Martin d'Entremont

    March 27th, 2016

    The Alberta Laxative

    Reply
    • Expat Albertan

      March 28th, 2016

      Either that or The Daily Purge.

      Reply
  20. ronmac

    March 27th, 2016

    How about “Wildrose Whispers?” Or something like that. Okay that sounds stupid. Forget I said that.

    Reply
  21. Lorenzo Garratt

    March 28th, 2016

    Personally, I favour “Pravda.”

    Reply
  22. Farmer B

    March 28th, 2016

    Expat, I would say that your affinity for CBC over as an example post media would be evidence enough of a left of center bias. One example that comes to mind is the CBC’s coverage of the senate before and after the election. Since the Liberal win we have heard very little on the senate, it no longer seems important. Another would be during the recent first ministers meeting in BC, the national had numerous days devoted to green energy. Political organizations such as the NDP socialist caucus are strong proponents of green energy and shutting down the oilsands, right of center politicians favour a more gradual and less invasive transition. I don’t expect either of us to agree with the other but your comments that the CBC’s programming is of an intellectual nature and that a right of center person would be unable to tell the difference between that and left wing beliefs simply shows your arrogance but certainly made me laugh. Have a good day:-)

    Reply
    • Expat Albertan

      March 30th, 2016

      The senate issue has been quiet for quite a while, long before Harper left power. It flared up during the Duffy trial, but that too is on hiatus.

      As for your odd classification of green issues as left of centre, even Preston Manning would disagree with you on that. For the life of me, I can’t understand why conserving (note the root of that word) the environment would not ring a bell for people who are constantly worried about leaving deficits to our grandchldren. Mind you, perhaps I do understand; the conservative movement has been taken over by the oil and gas industry, so what would have been a textbook conservative issue (preserving the ecosystem) was hijacked and driven into a ditch by those whose business interests were threatened. The left just filled a void left by conservatives.

      As to my arrogance…well your last sentence just proved my point. Glad I made you laugh, though.

      Reply
      • Farmer B

        April 2nd, 2016

        Farming by its very nature is a multigenerational occupation, I am the 4th generation to farm this land. So the preservation of the environment is important to our survival, as is surviving what mother nature throws at us.

        I wonder the opposite of you. How is it that those so concerned about the environment have no problem with large deficits left for future generations and how the increased costs of increasing deficits affect our ability to fund social programs. With Ontario’s 300 billion dollar debt how much debt is every New resident of Ontario born into? Is it fair to take away future generations prosperity so we can spend more today? Have a good day:-)

        Reply
  23. Keith

    March 29th, 2016

    “the four daily newspapers operated by Toronto-based Postmedia Canada Network Corp. in Alberta have now been rolled into a single publication”

    Reply

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