Alberta municipal elections to include equalization referendum

·3 min read

Albertans heading to the polls to elect municipal leaders Oct. 18 will also have the chance to voice their opinion on the federal equalization payment program.

Premier Jason Kenney introduced a motion in the legislative assembly today to set the wording of a constitutional referendum question regarding the federal government’s commitment to the equalization payments.

If the legislative assembly approves the motion, cabinet will ask the lieutenant-governor to order a referendum. If the majority of responses support removing equalization payments, the Alberta government will move forward with pursuing the issue with the federal government.

Holding a referendum was recommended by the Fair Deal Panel as one of the strategies to secure a fair deal in the Canadian federation and advance Alberta’s economic interests. The panel conducted town hall meetings and interviews across the province from December 2019 to February 2020.

With the federal government passing legislation restricting Alberta’s economic development — most notably through laws limiting pipeline construction and oil tanker activity on the west coast — while also extending the equalization for another five years, Premier Kenney said the program had become a powerful symbol of Alberta’s unfair deal in Confederation.

“Most Albertans I’ve spoken with about this issue say that they don’t mind helping out their fellow Canadians,” the premier said during the June 7 press conference. “They’re proud and have always been willing to share in the spirit of patriotism and generosity when times are good here and bad elsewhere.”

“But when our generosity is met with hostility to our largest job-creating industry,” he continued, “and when public politicians benefit from the hard work and resources of Alberta turn around and cut us off at the knees, that’s where Albertans will draw the line.”

The referendum question will be included on voter ballots during the upcoming municipal election. The question’s wording is subject to change but currently reads: “Should Section 36(2) of the Constitution Act, 1982 — Parliament and the Government of Canada’s commitment to the principle of making equalization payments — be removed from the Constitution?”

Opposition leader Rachel Notley criticized the wording of the question because it does not address the formula the federal government uses to determine how much money is transferred between provinces.

The last time the formula received significant changes, she added, was under Prime Minister Stephen Harper when Premier Kenney was a member of the federal cabinet.

“He is the least-trusted premier in Canada, and he might be the least-trusted person in Alberta today,” said Ms. Notley. “We have to ask if this referendum project is really about trying to solve the fiscal problems that concern Albertans or whether it’s actually about trying to solve a political problem for Jason Kenney.”

Information on the Fair Deal Panel’s recommendation on the equalization program can be read online on pages 16 to 18 at bit.ly/AB_FairDeal.

Sean Oliver, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Shootin' the Breeze