Alberta Politics
Ted Morton during the 2011 Progressive Conservative leadership race (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Ted Morton, worst premier Alberta never had, has had another big idea, this time about a sales tax

Posted on April 27, 2020, 2:26 am
8 mins

From time to time it’s worth reminding ourselves that Ted Morton is the worst premier Alberta never had.

That’s because now and then Dr. Morton, now 71, pops up like the proverbial bad penny with some scheme so ridiculous we need to give our heads a shake and recall this person was once minister of energy and later finance and could easily have become premier.

Alison Redford, eventual winner of the PC leadership in 2011, and later the first woman to serve as Alberta’s premier (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

COVID-19 and the collapse of the oilpatch notwithstanding, this is apparently Season Two in Alberta of the Firewall Manifesto, the ridiculous independantiste screed to which Dr. Morton once affixed his signature, so it should come as no surprise the man who once described himself as “every liberal’s nightmare, a right-winger with a PhD is back in the news.

There he was in black and white the day before yesterday in the virtual pages of the Calgary Herald outlining a risible scheme whereby Alberta could have a sales tax without having a sales tax — or, at least, without Jason Kenney’s United Conservative Party being blamed for it.

Before we think about that, let’s review the once and future University of Calgary political economist’s credentials for being taken seriously by the second-best Postmedia website in Alberta.

Premier Ed Stelmach, one of the better premiers in Alberta history (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Born Frederick Lee Morton in Los Angeles in 1949, Dr. Morton was raised in the Great State of Wyoming where his father was a prominent oilman, Republican Speaker of the state’s House of Representatives, and the party’s nominee for governor in 1982. I hesitate to mention this, for some bright spark o’ the right like Derek Fildebrandt, former UCP finance critic before being sent to Coventry by Premier Kenney for a multitude of political sins, is sure to accuse me of Alberta birtherism. In the name of public service, I’ll just have to take that chance.

The point is that this particular political acorn seems not to have fallen very far from the paternal oak tree, notwithstanding the significant change in jurisdiction.

Dr. Morton, who received his doctorate from the University of Toronto in 1981, ran successfully in Alberta’s meaningless and unconstitutional Senate-selection election in 1998, but was prudently never appointed to Parliament’s Upper Chamber by Prime Minister Jean Chrétien or any subsequent PM of either governing party.

Doug Horner, the best Opposition leader Alberta never had (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

He was elected to the Alberta Legislature in 2004 and ran in 2006 for the leadership of the Progressive Conservative Party, which had grown bored with Ralph Klein. He placed second on the first ballot, but, fortunately for Alberta, Ed Stelmach emerged from third place to win.

Despite turning out to be one of the better premiers in Alberta history, though, Mr. Stelmach was not immune from error, and one was to make Dr. Morton minister of finance.

Having played a significant role in persuading Mr. Stelmach being premier wasn’t worth the irritation that went with the job, Dr. Morton tried for the leadership again in 2011.

Our rescue that time came in the form of Alison Redford, who ran an excellent campaign for the PC leadership and went on to defeat Wildrose Party leader Danielle Smith in the 2012 general election despite the fond hopes and best efforts of the Calgary media. Alas, Ms. Redford’s talents as a campaigner exceeded her abilities as a premier, and the next few years were not a success for the Progressive Conservatives.

Gary Mar in 2011 when he announced his candidacy to lead the PCs — if he’d won, the party would now be nearing its 50th year in power (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

By 2011, Dr. Morton’s star had already begun to fall a little, no doubt in part because of his advocacy of more privatized health care. Despite a strong opening, he was not really a contender in that leadership race. There were better candidates like frontrunner Gary Mar and Doug Horner, the best Opposition leader Alberta never had. They eclipsed him early on and, had either won, the PCs would now be approaching a half-century in power.

Moreover, if we dodged a bullet with Dr. Morton, we certainly caught one right in the middle of our collective forehead with Mr. Kenney!

Which brings us back to Dr. Morton’s present, hopefully brief, public reappearance away from his role as “Executive Fellow” at the U of C’s right-wing School of Public Policy.

His proposal? That Ottawa be persuaded to hand over collection of the Goods and Services Tax to a coalition of English-speaking provinces, which would gather the dough for Ottawa plus their own provincial sales taxes. This would be done with the exception of Alberta, which, having no sales tax of its own, would keep all the cash and give nothing to the federal government.

That way, the feds, or the provincial coalition, or something, could take the blame, while Edmonton got the money. (And Quebec didn’t, Dr. Morton made a point of noting.)

Because we’re special, I guess. Why any federal government would consider such folly for even a moment, let alone agree to it, is not explained. Firewall 2.0 maybe? Who knows?

Dr. Morton did get one thing right in his article. To wit, that if Alberta is to survive its current bust it’s going to require a sales tax.

So thank you for that, Dr. Morton. Now it’s time for you to go and enjoy your retirement!

25 Comments to: Ted Morton, worst premier Alberta never had, has had another big idea, this time about a sales tax

  1. Alex C. Polkovsky

    April 27th, 2020

    How the the ever loving F%×! does Ted Morton think this will fly? I, mean, if Stephen Harper was hit on the head and thought letting some third party skim from the top of the GST collection was a good idea, he probably still wouldn’t do it. Besides, let’s play the reverse game. The federal government outsources GST operations to Quebec. Mr. Morton? Any reaction?

    As for the we do have, Jason Kenny could use some of his newly borrowed $25 billion to put let’s say 10,000 out of work O&G workers to the task of finally dealing with abandoned wells and disused pipelines littering our landscape. But that would be beyond uncharacteristic. It would mean that _this_ time the ghosts of past, present and future managed to break through. Why start to listen to your better angels now?

    Reply
  2. !?

    April 27th, 2020

    “…each province would agree to add whatever the federal GST rate is in that province to their existing PST.”

    This is the opposite of what BC did under the neo-feudal BC Liberals of Gordon Campbell where Gordo ‘harmonized’ the PST to the GST.

    Can’t see any government – minority, or otherwise – giving national tax authority to the wandering random disparate interests of the provinces. Alberta is the messy teenager who won’t clean up their bedroom demanding to be given control of the family finances.

    Reply
  3. tom

    April 27th, 2020

    Dave, the set-up was as funny as the punchline. Where do you get your material?

    Reply
  4. TENET

    April 27th, 2020

    If we ever needed proof that Manning Manna and Kenney Kool-Aid rot the brain. We should ship the old Yank back and demand reparations for all the damage Ken has done. If he had an ounce of honour he would drink a pint of Hemlock. He has besmirched U of C for decades to come. He is a pain in the ass, a political case of shingles, a crazy American here to poison our wells so we will drift South. Can I say Fuck Off Morton? If not, edit it out.

    Reply
  5. Kang

    April 27th, 2020

    An Alberta sales tax? One of the more tedious aspects of politics in Alberta is the adoption of the most regressive policies of the right by good hearted progressives and lefties. Insulated from cash flow problems and the other results of low, or no income, the left, apparently bereft of ideas or financial acumen, sooner or later buy into the nonsense of the Mortons of this world – the sales tax being a prime example, although Notley’s craven stand down on implementing the Stelmach royalty review would rank right up there. Think of this process as “crackpot realism of the liberal left” to borrow a phrase from one of Dr. Morton’s countrymen.

    Corporations and the oligarchs who own them have all the money and always have. High corporate income taxes incentivize corporations to invest in plant, equipment and labour to avoid higher income taxes. High royalties on fossil companies incentivize them to clean up their filthy ways. If they don’t like it, they can be nationalized and their market can be served by compliant companies and they can have their privilege to do business in Alberta rescinded. Why we could even develop honestly run Crown Corporations to create wealth, although corporate culture in Alberta is so corrupt, a few prime examples would need to be punished to correct the pernicious values so carefully nurtured by Alberta’s pathetic political and business class.

    Reply
    • Farmer Brian

      April 27th, 2020

      Kang I am certainly perplexed as to why you so dislike a sales tax or value added tax. Every province in Canada has one but Alberta. Every country in the EU has a substantial VAT. If you truly want to create sustainable government services with consistent funding there truly is no other way. Taxing private industry out of existence and then replacing it with a government owned crown corporation won’t work either. Private industry can respond to changes in the market much quicker than government. If you truly want a successful social democracy look at the best examples like the Scandinavian countries, they appear to have a workable business climate and a strong social safety net.

      Reply
      • Kang

        April 28th, 2020

        “Everybody is doing it” is hardly an argument. You are taking European VATs out of context. Norway also takes an 80% equity position in oil and gas plays along with substantial corporate income taxes. Sweden, Denmark, and the Baltic states also have substantial corporate taxes and very heavy regulation of the economy favouring cooperatives and going right down to telling farmers which individual trees they can cut. They also have complete cradle to grave welfare states, which means most of their population has considerable disposable income and the young people do not finish school with a debt on their backs.

        So, the higher the VAT, the higher the corporate tax has to be to balance the economy. Otherwise you end up with the situation in the US where there are local sales taxes on everything which are administered by both counties and the state. It looks like those take an aggregate of around 30% out of the economy through an amazingly complex system. Their system just grinds people into further poverty while government services disappear or are privatized, police state enforcement grows, while their corporate oligarchs move to low wage economies.

        Comparing private to government corporations is meaningless. They are both large organizations of people and the waste and general bungling in the private sector is just kept quieter than the same problems in Crown Corporations. The biggest difference is a Crown corporation is subject to public scrutiny, while the private corporations keep everything behind closed doors. The other big difference is how quickly and effectively the private sector can stick its hand out for welfare as the AIMCO mess indicates. Alberta’s problem is entirely its own fault. We have been a single party state so long that none of the normal checks and balances work, so the grifters end up being elected and they are still stripping the place. Adding a sales tax will just speed that process up.

        Reply
        • Anonymous

          April 29th, 2020

          KANG: I’d like to know where in the world did all this tax money go, from the taxes that the Alberta PCs put in? What did the Alberta PCs spend this revenue on? There are taxes on things like liquor, cigarettes, bottles and cans, health care premiums, staying in motels, with the purchasing of electronic goods, and with Video Lottery Terminals (VLTs). The idea of a P.S.T in Alberta is not something that Ted Morton just thought up. The Alberta PCs were looking at this idea, at least 13 years ago. Ted Morton was part of that government then.

          Reply
          • Kang

            April 30th, 2020

            During Stelmach’s time, the Govt. of Ab collected more money from gaming and liquor than from oil and gas royalties. Stelmach commissioned a group of independent academics to review the royalty rates and they recommended a substantial increase. The oil companies created a campaign to throw Stelmach out, which they did.

        • Farmer Brian

          April 29th, 2020

          Kang I did a quick bit of googling on Wikipedia on corporate and VAT rates. Denmark corp. tax rate 22% VAT 25%, Finland corp. tax rate 20% VAT 24%, Norway 22% VAT 25%, Sweden 20.6% VAT 25%. So your wrong on these countries having high corporate tax rates. Do they have a lot of regulations? Absolutely. My thought is that most government programs like education, health and welfare are for the benefit of the citizens and therefore they should pay for it. As you point out these countries provide social programs from cradle to grave, therefore the VAT is not as great a burden on the poor as one would think. Does the VAT make it expensive to live there? I am sure it does.

          Reply
          • Kang

            April 30th, 2020

            So, the Nordic countries have corporate tax rates between double and three times our rates, and those are not substantially more? Thank you for reinforcing my point.

            In my value system, the organizations with the most income should carry most of the tax load. In our country the huge profits corporations make mostly come from exploiting natural resources owned by the people, especially in Alberta which adds another reason to tax them substantially more. Since they are largely nonrenewable resources, an 80% corporate tax rate seems entirely appropriate.

            Aside from Norway, the Nordics have almost no natural resources, so their system runs on corporate taxes and VAT, yet their people have more disposable income and a much higher quality of life and social services than we do.

            As you say, their lower income people are not ground into poverty as happens in the US with their sales taxes. We have a very inadequate social safety net by comparison with the Nordics. Our first order of business should be to tax the corporations that are sucking all the wealth out of our nation and contributing little except a shrinking number of jobs as automation increases.

          • Farmer Brian

            May 2nd, 2020

            Kang you are apparently under the impression that Alberta is a sovereign nation. You state that Nordic countries have corporate taxes that are 2 to 3 times higher than ours. So yes at 22% to Alberta’s 10% that is over twice our rate but you are forgetting those same corporations in Alberta pay a 15% federal corporate tax for a total of 25%. Also interesting to note that Nordic countries do not have provincial or state governments adding to the corporate tax burden, so actually a corporation in Alberta, Canada pays a higher corporate tax rate than any of the Nordic countries!

    • jerrymacgp

      April 30th, 2020

      Sir: I too have been troubled by the notion being put forward by many centrist pundits that Alberta needs a sales tax, which is regressive, rather than a truly progressive personal income tax system, fairer corporate taxes, plus perhaps a wealth or inheritance tax. However, not all sales taxes are created equal. I wouldn’t support an HST, which adds on a provincial tier to the federal GST, and is applied on virtually everything, just like the GST. But a targeted PST, applied for example on luxury goods and the kinds of financial services used only by the wealthy, is something I could stand behind. One strength of a sales tax is that it generates revenue from people using provincial services that don’t pay other taxes here … i.e. visitors, workers from other provinces working here, tourists, etc.

      Reply
  6. John McManus

    April 27th, 2020

    Why , Mr. Horton, don’t all Albertan’s just move to Quebec where they can get their share of all that free money,

    Reply
  7. Athabascan

    April 27th, 2020

    Even a broken clock is right twice a day.

    Alberta has needed a sales tax for over a decade. Albertans and Kenney do not understand that whining about fictitious transfer payments, and the need for Ottawa to give them money, is a non-starter in the rest of Canada. The reason? We don’t have a sales tax like other provinces.

    When Alberta whines about needing money, Canadian citizens in other provinces, rightfully point out, that if the province has a revenue problem, then they should raise a sales tax like everyone else. Otherwise, it would be the rest of Canada subsidizing Alberta, um, I mean the oil and gas industry.

    So, bottom line: no provincial sales tax, then no bailout money from the rest of Canada. Got it?

    Reply
  8. Murphy

    April 27th, 2020

    The Kalgary Skool Klowns are an endless source of amusement, even into their golden years. I would never describe Morton as an economist given that his principal contributions to society have been as a propagandist and political agitator since he first blighted the Calgary landscape. In an era in which the US Empire has Special Forces operating in at least seventy percent of the globe’s countries and the Fed and Treasury are backstopping trillions in bailouts for corporate entities, the “progressive” media that warns us to be wary of “conspiracy theories” is a source of equal merriment. I have mentioned this before, but it is of no small significance that the first head of the Political Science department at Klown Kollege came right out of the US military intelligence complex.
    I looked at Morton’s wikpedia page, and it has an unsourced claim that he was involved in Vietnam War protests. Considering that he’s a leading Kalgary chickenhawk, one’s imagination can run wild conjuring Morton’s role in anti-war activities.
    https://thewalrus.ca/the-man-behind-stephen-harper/

    Given that the Chupacabra Panicdemic is going to be the altar upon which consumer demand will be sacrificed in the war against China, I have to wonder how effective a sales tax in Alberta will be as we reach our full potential as the new Oklahoma, 1932 vintage.. I noticed that the toll of the new plague still includes a grand total of four deaths under the age of sixty, out of 3500-odd positives for that cohort in Oklahoma North. Given the potential margin of error in the PCR tests used to establish infection, the result is essentially zero. Keep flattening that curve as the old-folks pass gently into that good night!

    Reply
  9. David

    April 27th, 2020

    Mr. Morton is one of those people that just can’t take a hint and stop talking. No one really buys his twisted logic, certainly not the PC’s, nor I suspect the UCP, although both were polite enough to humour him as he had and still does have some political following among their members. He is also the caricature of what the UCP often lampoons, an academic out of touch with the real world and certainly the political world.

    Conservatives in Alberta have tried forever to square the circle when it came to finances. Low taxes and a high enough level of services so the voters do not kick them out of office. At the end of Ralph’s world, the PC’s had tired (as had Albertans) of all his talk and image of austerity and needed a new more modern image – gushing oil and gas royalties allowed them to at least for a brief while to try square the circle. Spend more, keep taxes low and have a surplus. Unfortunately, for Mr. Stelmach and his successors, oil and gas is cyclical and they came in when it was headed towards the downside. Perhaps, Mr. Mar or Mr. Horner would have been more successful in getting Albertans not too look in the mirror as much, but I doubt in the end they could have squared the financial circle either.

    The problem is also a political one, partly of the Conservatives own doing. After decades of boasting that Alberta has no PST and trying to take credit for this, Albertans of course really do not want one. I suspect the UCP knows that if they bring one in, which also goes against their ideology, they will be political toast like Mulroney’s government that brought in the GST. However, even they realize the financial situation in Alberta is unsustainable although they wouldn’t admit it out loud, so how to bring in a PST without the voters sending them to their political graves.

    Conservative have tied themselves in knots and over the years come up with a number of clever schemes to make a PST more palatable and Dr. Morton’s latest idea is just one more of those. A shell game in which the existing GST essentially becomes the Alberta PST. Perhaps voters may not notice something already there. However, I think the problem is the Feds will not go for it and simply tell Alberta that if it needs a PST, it should make one itself and not try steal or borrow the Federal one. I doubt all the grovelling from Mr. Kenney to the Federal Liberals will change that, even if he starts to send love letters to the PM and start referring to him as the dear leader.

    So yet again another idea from Mr. Morton that will not fly politically. He should retire soon, rather than waste his time on such stupidity. However, I suppose it gives those in the media here who are UCP leaning something to write about to briefly distract from all the problems the Kenney government is not handling so well.

    Reply
  10. Andy M.

    April 27th, 2020

    You, David, and Athabascan are right. Of course, Alberta has to introduce a provincial sales tax. Thanks to moronic Morton for raising the topic. Should have been done in the final death throes of the ND government. I remember asking Joe Cecci, former ND finance guy, under what conditions would he consider a sales tax. He twitched a bit and looked away. Well, godammit, Albertans’ avoidance of a sales tax is just perverse. The current crisis offers the opportunity to do the dirty deed. Hey, thanks, Teddy. (Remember, he wanted to destroy CPP, just like the Kenney lot are inclined to do)

    Reply
  11. Scotty on Denman

    April 27th, 2020

    The Hand Maiden for Big Petroleum returns in shimmering alpenglow to blow the bible-school drop-out’s trombone and help wring another dram of 100,000 Proof constitutional quackery from the tarry grit of provincial-federal relations of which Alberta apparently has the largest natural deposit in the cosmos, source of its exceptionalism and, as if we needed reminding, also the purest and most holy.

    Without mortification, the echo of this tom turkey’s econo-crow is geoclimatically inhaled as his latest dollop evacuates a slow-mo cavity into the placid peter pond and belches in bib-splashy rebound, whiffs and ripples radiating almost to the boundaries of Landlockia and Firewallacia, but not much farther beyond.

    Once again, Alberta and Alberta-heroic Canada has lead the way in dorky constitutional absurdism, long before chlorox-injector tRump or busted-state McConnell ever tried it out: it’s well practiced rhetorical distraction from political scrapes, a goat to scape away on, a read-palmed herring or a chaste wild gander. It differs markedly from the rustic Habitants’ earthy “sovereignty association” by its quickly dulled anti-Ockhamhandedness and pretzel-knotty logic. Recall, for example, the PseudoCon PM Harper who, whenever scalded by scandal or more unusual predicaments, would coyly deploy decoys like Triple-Moot Senate Reform or one of his most obtuse ruses: the amalgamation of the three Maritime Provinces, they of the defeatist try-light zone—by prime-ministerial decree, no less—a proposal immediately subjected to news media punditry remarkably supportive for such an allegedly ‘liberal’ institution. (Still, these feints were mere drops in the bucket compared to the tidal waves Liberal PMs like PET and le petit gars de Shawinigan could stir up with a few well placed spit-balls —like the riling NEP or wily “if-Canada’s-divisible-Quebec-is-divisible”.)

    Remarkable is how old-hat Morton’s old hat is: sales tax? Quebec? —Really? Hasn’t the K-boy already pushed the petulant orphan phase well ahead into the new “we’re-gonna-build-a-pipeline…and-get-ROC+Q-to-pay-the-Americans-for-it”? Hasn’t crow-rated, social-credited, National-Energy-programmed revivalism reduced absurdism’s best-before date to Wexiteerian flash-in-the-pannedness? Why distract from the latest distraction with a late distraction? Especially with a Cleavon Little-like “hey!—where the white women at?”—at a sheety Klan-gas rally. Funny? Perhaps in a bad-taste sort of way (that quote was the only one of the three most funniest lines in the acclaimed funniest movie ever made to survive censorship, the others being the deleted soundtrack in the bean-eating scene and the edited-out, night-scene rejoinder to Madeline Khan’s, “It’s twue! It’s twue!”—which was, “Ma’am, that’s my arm…”, never to be heard except on the DVD’s ‘special features’ menu).

    Or perhaps what needs distracting from in Alberta these days is so gorilla-in-the-war-room-like that any distractive contribution is much appreciated, no matter how absurd or antiquated. I mean, sales tax?—in Alberta? Come, now: a sail-tax on Lesser Slave Lake wind-surfers would be more likely, I should think.

    Reply
  12. Northern Loon

    April 27th, 2020

    I really enjoyed reading this until you came to your conclusion that Alberta needs a Provincial Sales Tax. Sales taxes are one of the worst and most regressive tax systems. A sales tax claws back a greater percentage of spending from discretionary spending from those with the lowest incomes, as virtually all of their spending is subject to sales tax, whereas higher income earners like myself and Mr. Climenhaga are able to protect our income from a sales tax by investing or going to other areas with less or no sales tax or where foreigners are able to get sales tax rebated.

    A far better solution would be to progressively increase income taxes as those with higher incomes can afford to pay more, and to remove tax loopholes that allow those with higher incomes to actually reduce their taxes where some higher income earners pay virtually no taxes.

    Yes I’m aware that taxes can be rebated, but that means that those with meager incomes who are trying to decide which bill they are going to pay this month have even less end of the month money while they wait for their rebate.

    Reply
    • Athabascan

      April 28th, 2020

      You are wrong Northern Loon.
      A sales tax is in fact the most progressive tax of all. The richer you are the more you buy. Therefore, the more you buy the more taxes you pay.
      If you are poor, then you have less money to spend, and as a result you buy less. If you buy less you pay less taxes.
      A sales tax is by definition progressive, which means it is fair.

      A province (Alberta Government) cannot claim poverty relative to other provinces, because it refuses to adopt a sales tax like everyone else.

      Reply
      • Farmer Brian

        May 2nd, 2020

        Athabascan I would agree 100%, a very succinct and accurate response. There is no doubt that other provinces look at Alberta with very little sympathy when our government cries that we are broke when there is no provincial sales tax applied in Alberta. The unfortunate reality is that by the time Albertans and by extension the government realize a sales tax is necessary and unavoidable our debt will be so large that the revenue from the sales tax will all go to pay the interest on the debt with nothing left over to pay for government services, sad really.

        Reply
  13. Just Me

    April 27th, 2020

    Ah, yes. That Teddy Morton.

    The one who disavowed his own budget just days after he delivered it. That’s Trump-speed revisionism.

    At 71 years of age, I suppose Morton can claim that his insane ramblings are a symptom of the onset of early-stage dementia. That is a far better situation that the younger Morton, who could only blame his insane ramblings on stupidity, youthful inexperience, slavish love of all things Republican, and his ever present desire to shove his sucking face into the public trough.

    And judging by the recent social media post of Kenney and the gang posing on the burg of Ft. McMurray’s brand new ocean front property, it seems that the dark comedy that the UCP is spinning maybe causing Alberta into consider another round of binge drinking.

    Reply
  14. Comment

    April 27th, 2020

    I literally slapped my knee 5 times reading this gem.

    Reply
  15. Tim

    April 28th, 2020

    Interesting read, but I don’t understand why you say that a sales tax is required to save Albertans from our financial problems.

    Sales taxes are regressive. Why not tax the rich more instead?

    Reply

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