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

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

“(This) will not be about partisan politics,” Premier Jason Kenney has mentioned at numerous occasions in latest days, when requested concerning the referendum query.

“That is about whether or not or not Alberta ought to push arduous 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 primary stage of service for all.

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

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

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

“I don’t blame Albertans for being confused,” mentioned Wesley. “They’ve been fed a variety 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, will not be what you suppose you could have. Somewhat, it’s what others suppose you could have.

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 business.

“As a lot because the premier and Sure supporters are on the market saying, ‘We would like a good deal,’ the remainder of Canada doesn’t have a look at it that approach,” 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 relations collect round a metallic pole to swap festering complaints.

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

He mentioned equalization is profoundly unfair to Alberta and {that a} referendum is a authorized, sensible, efficient methodology for Albertans to get Ottawa’s consideration whereas offering a helpful launch valve for individuals who would in any other case search extra radical alternate 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 might push different provinces to stress the federal authorities for significant modifications to enhance the equalization components for all.

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

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

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

“He’s the least fashionable premier in Canada for good purpose. Nevertheless, on Oct. 18th I might encourage Albertans to deal with the larger image.”

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College of Calgary economist Trevor Tombe, who has taken the No facet 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 its authorities) has at all times and persistently supported the precept of equalization,” mentioned Tombe.

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

© 2021 The Canadian Press | Alberta set to vote on rejecting equalization; premier says it’s about leverage


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