Time for Alberta to finally enter the equalization fight
If Albertans want to deliver a message that Quebec politicians will understand, then we need to stop talking, put on the gloves and enter the equalization ring. It’s time for Premier Jason Kenney to commit to a referendum on equalization, regardless of action on pipelines.
The latest rendition of “East-splaining” comes from Pascal Bérubé, the Parti Québécois’ parliamentary leader. In his column to Albertans, Bérubé argues that “Albertans should not complain about paying for any of Quebec’s social programs.”
Apparently Bérubé believes Albertans should feel privileged to subsidize a provincial government that opposes our natural resources development.
“Premier Jason Kenney is the latest in a long line of Western politicians claiming that Alberta pays for Quebecers’ social programs … This is simply not true,” asserts Bérubé.
If Bérubé doesn’t think Albertans are paying the bills, then he should have no problem kissing equalization goodbye, along with the other federal transfer dollars.
But Albertans are picking up the tab.
In his column, “Canadians have taken Alberta for granted – that’s dangerous for us all,” renowned economist Jack Mintz explains that Albertans have paid more than $600 billion more to federal coffers than we have received back in federal spending since 1961.
“In 57 years, Albertans have paid almost as much in transfers to the rest of the country as the total of our entire federal debt today,” explains Mintz. “It totals $209,418 per Albertan.”
Mintz asks the question that’s on our minds: “So, who gained the most from Albertans’ money?”
“Quebec got the largest chunk, obviously, with $476 billion dollars.”
Quebec politicians know this, but they won’t stop throwing cheap shots at us until Alberta shows it can punch back. Right now, Alberta is just complaining from outside of the ring while Quebec and Ottawa fire shots.
Round one should be holding a referendum on equalization.
The Supreme Court of Canada has declared that if a provincial referendum on a constitutional amendment results in a clear majority on a clear question, then Ottawa and the provinces must all negotiate in good faith, explains former Alberta finance minister Ted Morton.
The referendum won’t automatically or immediately solve all issues with equalization. But it will put us in the fight. The referendum will kick in the constitutional door and get Ottawa and the provinces to the table to discuss what does and doesn’t work.
In 2017, Kenney promised a referendum if the federal government forced its carbon tax on Albertans. He has since backtracked and said he’ll hold the referendum if there is no progress on a pipeline and legislation that will block further pipeline development. But Kenney should be taking on the equalization program regardless of what happens with carbon taxes or pipelines.
Albertans often feel like we have little sway in Canada, like the draft horse constantly getting kicked and told to work harder. It's time to be a different kind of Boxer. It's time to recognize the weight we have and start pushing back.
Albertans won't get anything from Ottawa or the other provinces if we're not even willing to fight for it. Albertans are ready to fight for fairness on equalization. It's time for Kenney to put us in the ring.
This column was originally published in the Edmonton Sun on December 4, 2019.