When it comes down to it, Alberta’s referendum on equality is not about a federal spending program, as Quebec’s two sovereignty referendums were about secession.
Hundreds of thousands of Quebecers voted “yes” for sovereignty-union (in 1980) and sovereignty-partnership (in 1995), without a clear meaning in their minds as to what any of those words meant. Yet he wanted to send a message to the rest of Canada that the grievances of his province in Ottawa needed to be taken seriously.
Similarly, many Albertans preparing to vote “yes” in Monday’s referendum on equality may not be clear on the details of the 64-year-old federal program that transfers cash to “have-nots” provinces. But he believes the current system of fiscal federalism seriously undermines his province and wants the rest of the country to take note.
Monday’s referendum specifically asks Albertans whether they believe the equality principle should be removed from Canada’s constitution. It is part of Alberta Premier Jason Kenney’s effort to have more autonomy for his province, in the same way as Quebec.
Clearly, the stakes in Monday’s referendum are nowhere near as high as municipal elections in Alberta, as they were when Quebecers twice took the fate of the nation in their own hands. Mr Kenny is seeking a “yes” mandate not to disband Canada, but to pressure Ottawa to rework the equalization formula.
as a country most unpopular premiereMr. Kenny needs a massive vote in favor of change on Monday if he has any hope of forcing equality reform on the national agenda. However, that would be a tall order, as low turnout and voter apathy threaten to deprive the beleaguered Alberta premier of the strong mandate he is seeking. If so, the referendum could prove to be a costly, perhaps fatal, political miscalculation on Mr. Kenny’s part.
In politics, timing is everything and the last thing Albertans want is an equality referendum.
Alberta is holding a referendum on draws – and you’d never guess what’s not going to happen next
Most Canadians feel that their province is treated unfairly in some way or another by Ottawa and the rest of the country. But those sentiments run the most in Alberta and Quebec, and residents of each province dismiss the complaints of the other.
There is a high degree of subjectivity in any assessment of which province gets the short end of the stick. When it comes to fiscal federalism, the numbers don’t lie. Alberta has been a net contributor to the federal treasury for more than five decades, while federal spending in Quebec has exceeded the amount it collects in taxes in the province of Ottawa.
The federal equalization program is a big reason why this is so. Established in 1957, and enshrined in the Constitution since 1982, the program aims to ensure that provincial governments have “sufficient revenue to provide reasonably comparable levels of public services at reasonably comparable levels of taxation.” In the current fiscal year, Ottawa will deliver approx. 21 billion dollars In equal payments to the five “have-nots” provinces, with Quebec receiving about 62 percent of the total amount, or $13.1-billion.
There is nothing reprehensible about transferring money from one region to another if it is aimed at maintaining the internal Canadian market and leveling living standards. But many Albertans believe that Quebec and the Atlantic provinces rely on equal payments to avoid developing their own non-renewable resources. They are particularly outraged when Quebec politicians denounce Alberta’s “dirty energy” while their province collects billions of dollars each year that is disproportionately funded by Alberta taxes.
Misconceptions about the federal equality program abound and many of them have been exploited by supporters of the “yes” side in the current Alberta campaign. But this does not mean that the program, in its current form, does not need to be reworked.
The current equalization formula dates from 2006, although it was changed in 2009 by the Conservative government of former Prime Minister Stephen Harper to prevent the program from becoming more liberal than it was otherwise slated to become. Nevertheless, the equalization pot has continued to grow every year according to the size of Canada’s economy, even as the wealth disparity between Alberta and the rest of the country has narrowed.
Addressing that fundamental design flaw will go a long way to quelling the anger in Alberta. Such a change would not suddenly save Albertans any more money in their pockets or alleviate the Alberta government’s own financial problems, which mostly made its own and brought the province’s unusually low tax rates close to the national average. are within the power to go and address. But it will solve a legitimate grievance which, if left to rot, will harm the entire nation.
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