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Wildrose rink lotto scheme: A new tax on the prodigal and the poor

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It was almost a relief yesterday when Danielle Smith, leader of Alberta's right-wing Wildrose Opposition, announced the scheme her party had come up with to finance the millionaires and billionaires of professional hockey through the use of … wait for it … keno!

Alert readers will recall that the Wildrose Party stands against all tax increases but in favour of big breaks for billionaires, so the desire by Edmonton's mayor and council to spend half a billion or so of public funds to help out a needy billionaire, drugs and hockey magnate Daryl Katz, must have just about driven them 'round the bend.

That said, possibly not as far 'round the bend as it might have if Katz hadn't donated a sum not un-adjacent to $400,000 to Premier Alison Redford's Progressive Conservative Party in the dire final days of the last election campaign, just before Pastor Alan Hunsperger was discovered to have fired the torpedo that circled around and sank the Good Ship Wildrose right in the middle of a Lake of Fire.

But that said, Smith has promised to patch up her troubled relationship with Edmonton Mayor Stephen Mandel -- which she has rightly concluded hurt her party in the April 23 provincial election -- and a plan to divert loads of dough to His Honour's favourite hobbyhorse must have seemed like a great way to do it.

Plus, of course, it was an excellent way to drum up some news coverage on a short, slow, post-holiday week.

Still, a party with a conflict that deep could have come up with just about anything -- and when we learned they’d be out the next day with a big announcement on arena-financing, many of us must have felt much as we did when we were informed the National Rifle Association had a plan to make American students safe from deranged gunmen -- curiosity mixed with profound dread.

So you have to admit, the solution they came up with was positively Solomonic compared with some of the ideas that must have been bouncing around inside their market-fundamentalist skulls. At least they didn't propose giving “concealed carry permits” to all the ticket takers at Oilers games! (Property rights, ya know!)

Instead of taxing everybody in the town equally to build a new platinum- and diamond-encrusted rink for the Edmonton Oilers or, God forbid, asking the team's billionaire owner to actually pay for his own playpen, the Wildrose proposed a new tax only on the prodigal and the impoverished.

To wit, another lottery -- this one, a complicated form of bingo that would be offered in 1,000 or more bars on the theory, I guess, that the patrons would be too stewed to figure out how heavily the odds are stacked in favour of the house.

"Wildrose remains steadfastly against provincial tax dollars going toward these facilities, especially considering the bleak fiscal hole that we find ourselves in," Smith said, tossing in one of the party's standard talking points, although surprisingly omitting the other one, about government "corruption."

The details of the game Smith proposes using to pay for new corporate-style hockey rinks in Edmonton and Calgary (but not Red Deer, Lethbridge and Grande Prairie, just yet, anyway) are too complicated for normal folks to figure out -- as befits a scheme to fleece the improvident, imprudent and intoxicated.

But the proposed disposition of the revenue is pretty simple: it will flow out of the pockets of mostly poor people and into the pockets of extremely rich people, none of whom will have to part with any of their own cash or pay anything more in taxes.

As Edmonton political commentator Mimi Williams observed about the story in the Edmonton Journal's comments section, what Smith is in effect proposing is taking money that would be spent on existing lotteries and VLTs and diverting it from the legitimate charities it now supports. That way, Williams explained, "we can play a little shell game that sees us channel the money, via our municipalities, to sports venues that, in turn, turn over 100 per cent of their revenues to their for-profit, NHL tenant that pays absolutely nothing for the privilege."

I must say, this sounds about right to me.

Now, the Wildrose likes to style itself the party of old-fashioned Christian values as well as new-fangled market fundamentalist values -- at once serving God and mammon, as it were.

There was a day when a lot of Christians would have objected to plundering the poor, if not to gambling itself, a topic on which the Bible is all but silent. But apparently those days are gone, with the brand of Christianity favoured in Wildrose circles at least.

Still, one can't help wondering, where's Pastor Hunsperger now that they actually need him?

Oh well, other than death and taxes, you can really only count on one additional thing: that arena's going to get built, and the people who can least afford it are going to have to pay for it.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, Alberta Diary.

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