Albertans vote to do away with equalization

·5 min read

Albertans voted to abolish equalization payments while continuing to change their clocks twice a year through two referendum questions by the provincial government.

As 2,872 of Hinton’s eligible voters experienced when they headed to the polls on Oct. 18, there were two ballots for them to fill out. The municipal ballot was used to elect mayors, councilors, and school board trustees across municipalities, while the provincial ballot was used to elect three Senate nominees and answer two referendum questions.

With 61.7 per cent, Albertans voted to remove the principle of making equalization payments from the constitution. Out of 2,763 votes in Hinton, 64.8 per cent voted in favour of removing equalization payments.

This vote is not binding. Since only the federal government is able to amend the Constitution Act, 1982, this referendum result only means that the provincial government will pursue this action. In order to remove or amend the Constitution, the federal government and the other provinces and territories would need to enter into discussions about the proposed change.

Alberta’s Premier Jason Kenney tabled a motion in the Alberta legislature on Oct. 26 asking MLAs to ratify the referendum results.

“If Ottawa and our fellow provinces want to benefit from the hard work and the resources of Albertans, then Ottawa must allow us to develop those resources, to grow our economy. Instead what we have faced is an endless series of discriminatory legislation and policies that have impeded Alberta’s economy, undermined our constitutional authority, including our ownership and control over our own natural resources,” Kenney said in a press conference on Oct. 26.

He talked about how the frustration of Albertans has led them to the result of this referendum.

The Government of Canada manages an equalization program to address fiscal disparities between provinces and ensure that all provincial governments can provide public services at an equal level. The program uses a formula that establishes a baseline fiscal standard; provinces that exceed the fiscal standard do not receive equalization payments and those that do not reach the fiscal standard receive equalization payments.

The fiscal standard is determined using financial indicators such as personal incomes taxes, property taxes, natural resource revenue, and others. Payments to qualifying provinces are based on individual fiscal measures in relation to the fiscal standard, and other factors like the population.

All money sent from the province to the federal level is through federal income and sales taxes. Alberta has not received an equalization payment since the 1964-65 fiscal year, despite contributing more than $100 billion between 2014 and 2019 alone through federal taxes, according to the province.

The current provincial government believes the program has many issues, including a formula that requires it to grow automatically with Canada’s economy, even if contributing provinces like Alberta are experiencing immense economic challenges. The referendum question did not ask about the specific formula used to determine equalization payments, but instead to remove Canada’s entire commitment to equalization payments from the Constitution Act, 1982.

Via the second referendum question and by a very small margin, Albertans voted against adopting year-round daylight saving time (DST).

50.2 per cent of voters in Alberta voted to maintain changing the clocks twice per year, while 49.8 per cent voted to permanently remain on DST throughout Alberta.

The consensus in Hinton looked a little different with 1,506 residents who voted to abolish changing the clocks and only 1,180 who voted to maintain changing the clocks twice per year.

The next time change takes place on Nov. 7, when Alberta falls back one hour.

Service Alberta asked Albertans in 2019 if they thought Alberta should shift to DST and 91 per cent of more than 141,000 Albertans were in favour of year-round summer hours.

Currently, Alberta changes clocks twice a year moving the clock one hour forward in the spring, and one hour backwards in the fall, which effectively changes the time of sunrise and sunset.

Without switching the time back to standard time throughout the winter months, Alberta would experience sunrise and sunset one hour later.

The result of the vote on this question is binding on the provincial government. Kenney stated they would respect the outcome and not pursue the issue further.

“The context here is that all of our neighbouring jurisdictions, British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Yukon, the Northwestern US states are all in the process of moving to year-round DST and we thought it was important to consult Albertans on whether they wanted to follow suit,” Kenney said on Oct. 26.

Alberta first adopted DST following a referendum in 1971.

More than 1,118,000 Albertans cast their ballot for Senate nominees and chose Pam Davidson, Erika Barootes, and Mykhailo Martyniouk, all from the Conservative Party of Canada to represent them in Parliament as senators. This vote is not binding but the Government of Alberta will now provide the names of these elected nominees to the prime minister for consideration of the Senate vacancies.

“If the Prime Minister respects the basic principle of democracy, he must appoint elected nominees to Alberta’s two vacant Senate seats,” said Kenney on Oct. 26.

The Senate is the Upper House in the federal parliament whose role it is to scrutinize legislation, suggest improvements, and fix mistakes before they pass a bill and it can become law.

Out of 2,767 votes in Hinton, 1,148 voted for Barootes, 1,098 for Davidson, and 822 for Martyniouk.

In the previous four senate elections, nine senate nominees were selected. Of these nine, five have received appointments to the Senate of Canada.

The election to select three Senate nominees took place to fill two vacancies relating to Alberta and one additional nominee in case of early retirement.

Between 1989 and 2012, Alberta was the only Canadian province to elect nominees for appointment to the Senate of Canada.

The provincial government also made promises to add referendum questions regarding a potential provincial police service and an Alberta pension plan, but these were not included in the 2021 municipal election. Kenney told Albertans that his government would not decide to establish an Alberta pension plan or provincial police service unless a majority of Albertans endorsed those proposals through a referendum.

A provincial police service would mean that Alberta forfeits roughly $160 million a year in federal government funding for police services through the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP).

Masha Scheele, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Hinton Voice

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