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Grill Candidates Who Knock on Your Door

Colin Craig

As we get closer to Edmonton’s municipal election, don’t be surprised if a candidate asks your business to make a donation to their campaign or pops by your house to ask for your vote.

With that in mind, have you thought about what you might ask a candidate if they seek your support? Here are a few questions you might want to consider.

Let’s start with everyone’s favourite subject: property taxes. Since the recession took hold in 2015, many businesses and families in Edmonton have felt the pinch; through job losses, a drop in sales and other challenges. Edmonton hasn’t been impacted as hard as Calgary, but some observers fear Alberta’s capital could feel additional pain in the near future as construction activity slows down.

If an incumbent councillor asks for your support, why not ask about their track record when it comes to voting on tax increases over the past few years? Have they voted for tax increases above the rate of inflation? Or have they been fighting to curtail spending to keep tax increases to a minimum?

For both incumbents and new candidates, you could ask if they would commit to keeping any future property tax increases at or below the rate of inflation. You could also probe their thoughts on the city’s finances overall. Do they think the city needs more taxing powers? Or do they understand city hall still has lots of room for improvement?

Speaking of the expenditure side of the ledger, a good question to ask candidates is: would you vote to reduce city salaries by five or 10 per cent? If he or she balks at the idea that’s a good indication they’re just not ready to make difficult decisions.

Since the recession gripped Alberta, lots of people in the city’s business sector have been laid off or received pay reductions. So far, city employees have been immune from such difficult decisions. Taxpayers would be wise to elect a council that has the fortitude to require city employees to tighten their belts as well.

Another problem that needs to be addressed are the city’s golden pension plans. In short, the city’s defined benefit pension plans are hardly fair for taxpayers; they’re costly, they put tremendous risk on taxpayers and the plans are far too generous. Will the candidate you come into contact with commit to putting new employees into a far less costly pension plan (defined contribution)?

To understand why tackling this is a crucial activity, note that labour costs represented 54 per cent of the city’s expenses in 2016. Thus, it’s a spending category that’s too large to ignore.

Perhaps you might also consider asking local candidates if they would contract out city services to local businesses in order to reduce costs. For example, if a lawn-care company could cut the grass in your local park for a lower cost, why not hire them to do the work?

Finally, you could also ask local candidates about priority setting. Do they consider funding activities like public art a priority? Or would they behave like most households and halt such spending, instead focusing on true priorities while times are tough?

Those are just a few questions to consider asking local candidates this fall. Let the grilling begin!

Colin Craig is the interim Alberta director for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.