Business Municipal Taxation

Unpaid taxes by oil and gas companies remains a concern for rural municipalities

In recent years, the issue of oil and gas companies owing money to Alberta municipalities has become a significant concern, with millions in unpaid taxes

Author: Chantel Downes

ALBERTA – The Rural Municipalities of Alberta (RMA) conducted a member survey identifying that, as of Dec. 31 2023, at least $251.8 million of municipal property taxes have gone unpaid by oil and gas companies. This marks the sixth consecutive year that the RMA conducted the survey, highlighting an ongoing issue of tax evasion within the industry, according to the RMA press release.  

“Year after year, rural municipalities provide clear, documented, and verifiable evidence that a select group of property owners are simply choosing not to pay their property taxes," said Paul McLauchlin, representing Rural Municipalities of Alberta.  

"While all other property owners in the province face strict penalties for non-payment of property taxes, oil and gas companies continue to exploit legislative and policy loopholes and hide behind an industry regulator that has, for many years, refused to hold some companies accountable for poor business decisions, high liability risks, and a lack of concern for the public interest.” 

In contrast to the unpaid taxes, data from Lac La Biche County shows the magnitude of the issue at the municipal level.  

Non-operational oil and gas companies have written off over $2 million in taxes from 2018 to 2023. Operational companies have not been written off, with their unpaid taxes totalling over $2.6 million. 

Jason Wallsmith, the County of St. Paul's CAO, acknowledged the cooperative nature of most companies.  

"We appreciate that the vast majority of companies operating within our region are good corporate citizens and meet their obligations to pay their share of property taxes,” he said.  

However, the total unpaid taxes for oil and gas in St. Paul County still amount to $51,024. 

The Municipal District (M.D.) of Bonnyville also provided an update on their outstanding taxes. 

"As of March 2024, the M.D. of Bonnyville has a total of $172,800.43 of outstanding oil and gas property taxes. This total comprises $73,088.11 in outstanding levies and $99,712.32 in outstanding penalties," reported Tracy Wasylow, Communications Supervisor for the M.D. of Bonnyville. 

Despite efforts by the Government of Alberta to address this issue, such as empowering municipalities to enforce tax payment and restricting approvals for companies with outstanding tax arrears, the problem persists.  

The survey showed that rural municipalities in Alberta are facing roughly $43 million in unpaid taxes for the 2023 property tax year. 

McLauchlin emphasized the impact of unpaid taxes on communities, stating, "Companies continue to profit from Alberta’s resources while ignoring their community obligations and funnelling profits to executives and shareholders."

While some progress has been made in recovering taxes, more needs to be done to ensure fair contributions from oil and gas companies to support local infrastructure and services, according to the RMA. 

Chantel Downes is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter with Lakeland This Week in Bonnyville and Lac La Biche County, Alberta. Image courtesy: Chantel Downes, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter.

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