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Alberta energy companies still owe millions in unpaid taxes as industry booms


Alberta municipalities want energy companies to settle up millions of unpaid and overdue property taxes now that commodity prices are booming once again. 

Billions of dollars in financial aid have been doled out to struggling companies over the years. Governments believed keeping them afloat was beneficial for the economies of some Alberta towns and villages. 

But this week – as the price of oil and gas products soar – some places that hosted companies are raising a stink over millions in overdue property taxes. 

The organization Rural Municipalities of Alberta (RMA) estimates $253 million have gone unpaid.

"This appears to be a boom that is not being spread out across the population," Mount Royal University political scientist Duane Bratt said. "It's concentrated in some companies and in the provincial government. You can imagine mayors and reeves, as they're filling up their gas tanks, wondering 'Why can't we get paid too?'"

University of Alberta associate professor of economics Chetan Dave agrees. He says the urge to keep the money is likely a strong one, but one that companies must suppress. 

"This is a time you're flush with cash: pay what you owe," Dave told CTV News. "They have a corporate social responsibility in terms of taking these windfall gains they're getting, paying back the taxes they're supposed to, and then potentially using those funds to modernize the industry."

But municipalities claim they're having a tough time collecting. 

Previously-introduced legislation offered them the ability to place collateral on energy company property, but that didn't solve the issue. 

In fact, the debt is only increasing. 

The RMA would like the province to step in. And the Municipal Affairs Minister says he understands. 

"If there is an operating energy company not paying their taxes, there is no excuse," Ric McIver said Wednesday.

"So now we go back to collaboration and cooperation and get together with everyone again and talk about what we can do next."

The province could introduce regulator rules that halt licence applications or asset transfers for those who have outstanding debt. That process would likely need legislation, and would involve some digging. 

The RMA believes about half of the unpaid taxes are owed by companies that are no longer operating -- and the group claims some of those are numbered companies based overseas that are subsidiaries of larger organizations. 

ATB Financial says the value of energy exports grew by $673 million in January alone. Top Stories

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