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Draft policy: Alberta United Conservatives eye flat tax, private health delivery

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EDMONTON — Alberta's governing NDP says draft policy ideas put forward by the Opposition United Conservatives are risky and would benefit the wealthy — but the new party calls that baseless fearmongering. Finance Minister Joe Ceci says a proposal to return to a flat personal income tax rate would take $700 million out of revenue for the benefit of the highest-income earners. "This is a glimpse of what the future Alberta will look like under (UCP Leader) Jason Kenney, and I can tell this is not what Albertans want," Ceci said at the legislature Thursday. The tax cuts would have to be made up somewhere in the budget, he said. "A life under Jason Kenney and gang would be back to the bad old days when they cut, cut, cut, cut and they said, 'Everybody go ahead and take care of yourselves.'" Kenney declined comment, but Janice Harrington, the party's executive director, said the proposals are just that — proposals. "This is just the starting point of the whole process," she said in an interview. There will be extensive consultation on the policy ideas, she said, and opportunities to reject or alter them — or introduce new ones —before a final vote in early May at the United Conservative Party's founding convention in Red Deer, Alta. Harrington said the NDP is deliberately stoking anxiety. "What more do they have to fight us on but fearmongering?" she said. The proposals are a distillation of policies from the two parties — the Progressive Conservatives and the Wildrose — that joined last summer to create the United Conservatives. They also come from a committee's proposed items for discussion. The ideas include a return to a 10 per cent flat tax, reducing or cutting business taxes and scrapping the carbon levy. The proposed platform also says the United Conservatives would respect publicly funded health care, but would explore private delivery of services within the public system to improve care and reduce wait times. Premier Rachel Notley's government scrapped the flat tax shortly after the NDP won the 2015 election. Anyone making less than $126,000 a year pays the 10 per cent. The rate goes up progressively on higher incomes. Friends of Medicare, a lobby group for public care, said the United Conservative plan is a step backwards. "Albertans deserve quality public and universal health care, not disproven privatization experiments and 1990s-style budget slashing," said executive director Sandra Azocar. "These proposals would drain the public system of funds, and allow profit-driven medicine to take needed staff resources away from public delivery." Colin Craig, of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, said tax cuts do not automatically translate into reductions in services. Craig said lower tax rates attract businesses and investment, which in turn raise revenue for the government. "The old Alberta advantage served this province for so many years. That has been eroded," said Craig. "We don't have that same shine that we used to have, so anything that the government can do to reduce taxes and put us back at the front of the pack ... that's a good thing." Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press

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