Alberta set to vote on rejecting equalization in a referendum Jason Kenney says is about leverage

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Albertans will cast the ballot on Monday in a referendum that is technically about rejecting equality, but has morphed into more of a prairie celebration airing complaints.

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“(It) is not about partisan politics,” Premier Jason Kenney has said several times in recent days, when asked about the referendum question.

“It’s about whether Alberta should work harder to get a fair deal.”

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It is the symbolism, he said, but also the bargaining chip.

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“The point of this is to take advantage of constitutional negotiations with the federal government about reforming the entire system of financial federalism, which treats Alberta so unfairly,” he said.

The question is straightforward for voters, who are also voting in municipal elections: should the section of the Constitution establishing the principle of equal payments be dropped?

Equalization redistributes some of the tax money collected by the federal government from wealthy provinces to lower-income people to ensure a basic level of service for all.

Kenney has said that Alberta worries about paying its residents billions of dollars, while provinces such as British Columbia and Quebec hinder oil and pipeline projects that deplete that money.

Alberta Finance Minister Travis Toes estimated the provincial contribution to be $20 billion annually in a public letter this week. It was signed by the phrases “more unfair,” “clearly unfair,” “fundamentally unfair,” “lack of fairness” and “fight for fairness.”

Jared Wesley, the lead political scientist for a recent University of Alberta poll on referendum voting intentions, said the poll suggested the Yes side remains ahead. But he said a disturbingly high percentage doesn’t understand how equality works (44 percent), incorrectly believes Quebec gets the most per capita (85 percent), and fails to understand. that Ottawa does not require provincial purchases to replace the equality formula (62 percent).

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“I don’t blame Albertans for being confused,” Wesley said. “They’ve been given a lot of misinformation by governments in this province for decades, and it’s showing in our research.”

Wesley said it is a sloppy referendum designed to give “strategic ambiguity” to the United Conservative government as it seeks wider gains.

But leverage, he said, isn’t what you think you have. Rather, it is what others think you have.

He said the rest of Canada appears to be a province that has received generous federal COVID-19 funding, called on the military to protect its COVID-19-ravaged health system, and called Ottawa literally Trans Mountain. Have looked to help you buy plumbing. industry.

“As much as the Premier and Yes supporters are saying, ‘We want a fair deal,’ the rest of Canada doesn’t see it that way,” Wesley said.

“I called it a celebratory referendum,” he said, referring to the fictional secular holiday famous in the TV sitcom “Seinfeld,” when family members gather around a metal pole to swap celebratory grievances.

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Bill Bewick, the head of Fairness Alberta, a group that is stumping for the yes vote, said critics confuse the message being sent with the more important principle of messaging.

He said equality is completely unfair to Alberta and that a referendum is a legal, practical, effective way for Alberta to get Ottawa’s attention, while providing an easy-release valve for those who would otherwise have lost their lives. Will seek more radical alternatives to make the voice heard.

“(Vote) people are speaking up and expressing their displeasure.”

Bewick said a yes vote in Alberta could prompt other provinces to pressure the federal government to make meaningful changes to reform the equality for all formula.

“It can get the ball rolling,” he said.

Some Yes supporters, including ousted UCP backbencher Drew Barnes, worry that Kenny’s low popularity numbers with No Vote will lead to a boost from people who want to send a message to the premier.

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“There is no doubt that the prime minister has failed our province on a variety of issues,” Barnes wrote in an open letter on social media.

“She is the least popular premiere in Canada for good reason. However, on October 18th I would encourage Alberto to focus on the bigger picture.

Economist Trevor Tombe of the University of Calgary, who has taken no sides in the recent debate with Bewick, said Alberta already has the power to discuss its equities concerns with Ottawa.

But he said the referendum question – on the face of it – is a blatant rejection of long-held Alberta values ​​toward fellow Canadians.

“Alberta (through its government) has always and consistently supported the principle of equality,” Tombe said.

“It’s unfortunate that Kenny is asking us to decline it.”

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