By Liam Vaillancourt

A Sales Tax for Alberta: Why and How?

A look at the Carleton alumni Bob Ascah’s (MAPA 1979) contributions to A Sales Tax for Alberta: Why and How?

About the Editor

Bob Ascah, MAPA 1979

Bob Ascah, MAPA 1979

A Sales Tax for Alberta: Why and How? is a new book that was co-written and edited by MA in Public Administration alumnus, well-accredited author, researcher, former Alberta public servant and Crown corporation executive Bob Ascah.

Ascah was born in Lachine, Quebec where he remained for most of his youth. Ascah attended Carleton University in 1971 and completed a Bachelor of Commerce and Master’s in Public Administration. He was very involved in Carleton’s residence community and was elected student representative to Carleton’s Board of Governors. While in Ottawa, he also worked at the Auditor General’s Office where he became interested in the policy consequences of high levels of borrowing. In his PhD thesis “Politics and Public Debt” published by the University of Alberta Press in 1999, he explored federal debt management from the First World War to the mid-1950s in Canada.

In 1979, Ascah moved west to Edmonton to attend the University of Alberta for a PhD in political science. He remained very involved in the university community with his peers, participating in roles like the president of the Graduate Students’ Association in1982-83. He graduated from the University of Alberta in 1984 with his doctorate in political science.

After graduating, Ascah worked in the Alberta Public Service in Federal and Intergovernmental Affairs and then the Alberta Treasury where he was responsible for financial policy development. He moved to the Alberta Treasury Branches, a publicly owned “bank” where he was responsible for planning, economics and government relations. After his time in the public sector, in 2009 he was appointed as the director of the Institute for Public Economics at the University of Alberta. He also remained involved in his work holding roles such as the academic liaison for the Edmonton Regional Group of the Institute for Public Administration of Canada and on the board of the Economics Society of Northern Alberta. In 2019, he became a research fellow with the Parkland Institute. Bob’s current work involves commenting on public economics, writing blogs (, as well as contributing to and editing books such as A Sales Tax for Alberta: Why and How?

About the Book

A Sales Tax for Alberta: Why and How? is a compilation of various authors’ and Ascah’s analysis of the forever controversial sales tax in Alberta. In these days of high inflation, climate change and an increasingly scrutinized oil industry, Alberta’s economy will be challenged in remaining dependent on fossil fuels to sustain its economy in the future. Despite this challenge and Alberta’s over-reliance on royalties from four big oilsands producers, the implementation of a sales tax continues to be ignored by Alberta’s political class and media. That said, every other Canadian province has a sales tax.

The book combines the input of academics, journalists, accountants and the editor’s experience in policy analysis, economics and public finance. In this collaboration, Ascah attempts to map out why and how a sales tax should be implemented in Alberta.

So, A Sales Tax?

The book first explains the “why” of a sales tax. Alberta’s revenues are notoriously volatile because of the fluctuations in the price of oil, natural gas and bitumen. Grant MacEwan economist Ergete Ferede shows how stable a sales tax is when compared with corporate and personal income taxes. Ken McKenzie from the University of Calgary notes that the marginal cost to raise a dollar of sales tax is considerably less than the cost to raise a dollar of personal or corporate income tax. A sales tax also captures the consumption of inherited wealth and visitors to Alberta. The book points out that if Alberta taxed at rates like other provinces over $10 billion extra would be collected. But as journalist, Graham Thomson points out that successive finance ministers who have mused about a sales tax get shut down immediately by their premier. Alberta’s new premier Danielle Smith has gone on record twice in supporting a sales tax. Smith immediately distanced herself from a sales tax when campaigning for premier confirming Alberta politicians do not want to discuss a sales tax unless it allows them to attack a political foe.

As for the “how” of a sales tax, Ascah’s concluding chapter recommends a government fiscal sustainability commission to study spending, savings and revenue choices with the goal of achieving a broad public understanding of Alberta’s fiscal dilemma. At the end of the day, Ascah believes that a fiscally rational, long-term approach will be driven by the demands of Alberta citizens not the short-term thinking of politicians.

Liam Vaillancourt, Work-Study 2022-23

Liam Vaillancourt is music student at Carleton and an SPPA work-study student. Liam came to Carleton from Algoma University, where he studied music and geography. While at Algoma University, Liam worked in the music department managing social media and events. When he’s not helping out in SPPA or the music program, you can find him practicing guitar or spending time outside exploring nature.