Alberta money man plugs a sales tax. Can you hear the laughs in Toronto?

These are stories Report on Business is following Wednesday, Dec. 3, 2014.

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Think I’ll go out to Alberta, weather’s good there in the fall
Given my righteous indignation over high taxes, it always irks me when I hear about Alberta.

Not that I wish higher levies on my Calgary friends – for sure, I do not – but I snapped to attention when a well-known pension fund manager raised the prospect of a sales tax.

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I chuckled because of our envy of Alberta’s tax regime – as in, let’s see how you like it – but then remembered I have friends there and it’s never going to happen anyway.

Leo de Bever, who’s about to leave his CEO post at Alberta Investment Management Corp., the pension fund manager known as AIMCo, said yesterday that the province shouldn’t rule out the idea of a sales tax given its reliance on oil and the recent plunge of said commodity.

“You can’t demand a lot from your government but not give the government the resources to finance it,” said Mr. de Bever, who’s leaving the job next year anyway, so what the heck.

“At some point, we have to do what every jurisdiction in the developed and even in the non-developed world has concluded. We have to diversify the sources of revenue.”

He also noted that many people – are you listening out on the east coast? – work temporarily in Alberta but pay their income taxes in other provinces.

So Alberta doesn’t get that revenue. Nor does it get any sales tax benefit from what they buy.

Regardless, the newly minted premier, Jim Prentice, says a sales tax isn’t on the table.

And the province is pretty much sticking to its guns despite the rout in the oil market.

Note, too, that Alberta is unique in Canada when it comes to debt.

On a per-capita basis, net debt isn’t net debt. It’s net asset, to the tune of $1,630 in the 2014-2015 fiscal year.

The province has been in a net asset position since 2000-2001.

And every other province is on the opposite side of the ledger, with the highest in Quebec, at $23,426, and Ontario, at $20,877.

(Alberta, by the way, uses a flat income tax, while other provinces use a sliding scale for taxable income levels.)

Hey, maybe if things get really tough Mr. Prentice can do what Ontario did, and tax the rich.

God knows there are enough of them in Alberta.

And my friends wouldn’t be part of that group. Just like I’m not, in Toronto.

Poloz sees signs leading to sustained recovery
The Bank of Canada is sticking to its neutral policy, though it does see signs that would lead to a sustained recovery.

As expected, the central bank today held its benchmark interest rate steady at 1 per cent, and said that, at this point, the “current stance of monetary policy is appropriate.”

That means that, again, it’s sending no signal to the markets of where rates might go, or when, though no one expects the central bank to cut.

“Canada’s economy is showing signs of a broadening recovery,” Governor Stephen Poloz and his colleagues said in their statement today.

“Stronger exports are beginning to be reflected in increased business investment and employment,” they added.

“This suggests that the hoped-for sequence of rebuilding that will lead to balanced and self-sustaining growth may finally have begun. However, the lower profile for oil and certain other commodity prices will weigh on the Canadian economy.”

The central bank also warned again that consumer debt levels “present a significant risk to financial stability.”

The statement appears to be “somewhat more hawkish than expected,” said Nick Exarhos of CIBC World Markets, “although the fact that the bank does not mention recent improvements in the labour market implies some doubt regarding the sustainability of recent gains there.”

RBC profit jumps
Royal Bank of Canada closed out the year with an 11-per-cent pop in fourth-quarter profit.

RBC today posted a quarterly profit of $2.3-billion, or $1.59 a share, which met the estimates of analysts, The Globe and Mail’s Tim Kiladze reports.

Yesterday, Bank of Montreal fell shy of what was projected.

The fourth-quarter results brought its annual profit to $9-billion, or 8 per cent better than last year.

Markets mixed
Global markets are mixed so far this morning, trying to decide just where to go.

Tokyo’s Nikkei gained 0.3 per cent, while Hong Kong’s Hang Seng lost 1 per cent.

In Europe, London’s FTSE 100 and the Paris CAC 40 were down by between 0.1 per cent and 0.3 per cent by about 8:45 a.m. ET, though Germany’s DAX was up 0.3 per cent.

North American futures were little changed.

The Canadian dollar, which has certainly had its ups and downs over the past several days, touched a low point of 87.63 cents U.S. and a high mark of 87.91 cents in the run-up to the Bank of Canada’s policy statement.

“After being dominated by the oil price for the first few days, markets finally be able to look to the economic calendar for direction today as data come flooding in from across the globe,” said chief market analyst James Hughes of Alpari in London.

“Oil prices are still likely to remain in focus of course, but with data kicking off in Asia and running throughout the day, and continuing for the rest of the week. investor attention is likely to turn towards the bigger releases.”

Reports this morning also suggest Russia intervened again in currency markets to ease the ruble’s troubles.

Britain ups forecasts
The British government is heading into next year’s election with a rosier forecast.

In his Autumn Statement today, George Osborne, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, boosted its projections for economic growth this year and next, to 3 per cent and 2.4 per cent, respectively.

That’s up from earlier projections of 2.7 per cent and 2.3 per cent.

But, oops, the government is going to fall shy of its deficit goal.

“Today against a difficult global backdrop I can report higher growth, falling inflation, falling unemployment and a deficit which is half what we inherited,” Mr. Osborne said.

Keep on truckin’
The Insurance Bureau of Canada is having a little fun today with its annual list of the vehicles most often stolen in the country.

The headline on its news release is “What the ‘F’ … series?”

That’s because an amazing seven of the top 10 are versions of Ford Motor Co.’s F-series pickup trucks.

As the industry association put it, this shows “a growing interest by organized criminals” in the vehicles.

There was, by the way, a 50-per-cent jump in thefts of the trucks in Alberta.

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