Alberta set to vote on rejecting equalization; premier says it’s about leverage

EDMONTON — Albertans will solid ballots Monday in a referendum that’s technically about rejecting equalization however has morphed into extra of a Prairie festivus airing of grievances.

“(This) is just not about partisan politics,” Premier Jason Kenney has mentioned at numerous occasions in latest days, when requested in regards to the referendum query.

“That is about whether or not or not Alberta ought to push exhausting to get a good deal.”

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It’s symbolism, he mentioned, but additionally a bargaining chip.

“The purpose of it’s to get leverage for constitutional negotiations with the federal authorities about reform of the whole system of fiscal federalism, which treats Alberta so unfairly,” he mentioned.

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The query is easy for voters, who’re additionally heading to the polls in municipal elections: Ought to the part of the Structure enshrining the precept of equalization funds be eliminated?

Equalization sees some tax cash collected by the federal authorities redistributed from wealthier provinces to lower-income ones to make sure a fundamental degree of service for all.

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Kenney has mentioned Alberta has issues over billions of {dollars} its residents pay, whereas provinces reminiscent of British Columbia and Quebec impede oil and pipeline initiatives that underpin that wealth.

Alberta Finance Minister Travis Toews estimated the provincial contribution at $20 billion a 12 months in a public letter this week. It was signposted by the phrases “extra unfair,” “clearly unfair,” “essentially unfair,” “lack of equity” and “battle for equity.”

Political scientist Jared Wesley, the lead on a latest College of Alberta survey on referendum voting intentions, mentioned the ballot prompt the Sure aspect stays within the lead. However he mentioned a disturbingly excessive proportion doesn’t perceive how equalization works (44 per cent), wrongly believes Quebec will get essentially the most per capita (85 per cent), and fails to grasp Ottawa doesn’t want provincial buy-in to alter the equalization system (62 per cent).

“I don’t blame Albertans for being confused,” mentioned Wesley. “They’ve been fed a number of misinformation by governments on this province for lots of a long time, and that’s displaying up in our analysis.”

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Wesley mentioned it’s a muddy referendum query designed to ship “strategic ambiguity” for the United Conservative authorities because it seeks broad leverage.

However leverage, he mentioned, is just not what you suppose you’ve gotten. Somewhat, it’s what others suppose you’ve gotten.

He mentioned the remainder of Canada is seeing a province that has obtained beneficiant federal COVID-19 funding, has referred to as within the navy to rescue its COVID-19-ravaged well being system and has seen Ottawa actually purchase the Trans Mountain pipeline to assist its oil trade.

“As a lot because the premier and Sure supporters are on the market saying, ‘We wish a good deal,’ the remainder of Canada doesn’t take a look at it that manner,” mentioned Wesley.

“I’ve referred to as this the festivus referendum,” he added, referencing the fictive secular vacation made well-known within the TV sitcom Seinfeld when members of the family collect round a steel pole to swap festering complaints.

Invoice Bewick, head of Equity Alberta, a gaggle stumping for a Sure vote, mentioned critics confuse the message being despatched with the extra essential precept of sending a message.

He mentioned equalization is profoundly unfair to Alberta and {that a} referendum is a authorized, sensible, efficient technique for Albertans to get Ottawa’s consideration whereas offering a helpful launch valve for many who would in any other case search extra radical options to make their voices heard.

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“(The vote) is folks talking and expressing their displeasure.”

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Bewick mentioned a Sure vote from Alberta may push different provinces to strain the federal authorities for significant adjustments to enhance the equalization system for all.

“It may possibly get the ball rolling,” he mentioned.

Some Sure supporters, together with ousted UCP backbencher Drew Barnes, fear that with Kenney’s low reputation numbers, the No vote will get a lift from those that wish to ship a message to the premier.

“There isn’t any query that the premier has failed our province on quite a lot of points,” wrote Barnes in an open letter on social media.

“He’s the least standard premier in Canada for good cause. Nevertheless, on Oct. 18th I might encourage Albertans to concentrate on the larger image.”

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College of Calgary economist Trevor Tombe, who has taken the No aspect in latest debates with Bewick, mentioned Alberta already has the facility to debate its equalization issues with Ottawa.

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However he mentioned the referendum query — on its face — is a dismaying rejection of long-held Alberta values towards fellow Canadians.

“Alberta (by means of its authorities) has all the time and constantly supported the precept of equalization,” mentioned Tombe.

“It’s unlucky that Kenney is asking us to reject it.”

© 2021 The Canadian Press

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