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Albertans are ready to fight for fairness and tackle equalization

Author: Franco Terrazzano 19/06/2020

The Fair Deal Panel’s report had two key takeaways: Albertans are tired of being treated as the cash cow for politicians in other provinces, and there is no fair deal for Albertans until we tackle equalization.

About two thirds of Albertans think we aren’t getting our fair share from Confederation, according to an Ipsos poll referenced in the Fair Deal Panel’s report.

“Whether it was Bill C-69, Bill C-48, the carbon tax or the equalization system, many respondents felt that the rest of the country was conspiring against Alberta,” explains the report. “One respondent in Edmonton told us she used to have hobbies and enjoyed life with her family. Now she struggles to ‘eat and live,’ and felt that her livelihood was being threatened.”

And there’s good reason for Albertans to feel like we are getting a raw deal.

Since 2007, Albertans have paid $240 billion more to Ottawa – and by extension to the other provinces – than we have received back in federal spending. Even during the downturn that ravaged Alberta families and businesses, we still punched above our weight for the rest of Canada.

Our over-sized contributions to Canada are staggering when you look at the numbers since 1961. Over the last six decades, Albertans have contributed $661 billion more to the feds than we have received back in spending.

But there are still politicians outside Alberta that call our natural resources “dirty energy,” promise to “employ every tool available” to block our pipelines and impose laws such as the no more pipelines act and the discriminatory tanker ban that could put the dagger in our battered economy.

Fortunately, Alberta has some big tools that we can use to push for fairness.

“Steps that the province can take together with other provinces and the federal government include, first and foremost, equalization reform,” explains the Fair Deal Panel. “Many Albertans told the panel that they were very angry with the federal government’s treatment of Alberta, especially on the subject of equalization. The proposed referendum on equalization would give Albertans an opportunity to engage actively and express their opinion on this question.”

To put it simply: there is no fair deal for Albertans unless we tackle equalization.

That’s because through equalization, Albertans are forced to directly subsidize politicians who seem intent on roadblocking our development. And it’s these ever-growing equalization cheques that allows other politicians to rely on money coming from entrepreneurial provinces such as Alberta and less on growing their own economies.

While there are many helpful recommendations in the Fair Deal Panel’s report such as pushing for free trade in Canada and increasing autonomy over our health-care system, the key recommendation is holding the referendum on equalization.

As explained by former Alberta finance minister Ted Morton, and reiterated in the Fair Deal Panel’s report, a provincial referendum that results in a clear majority on a clear question would force the feds and provinces to the constitutional negotiating table. 

A referendum won’t automatically or immediately solve all issues with equalization. But it will put us in the fight. And if we’ve learned anything from our high school history textbooks, it’s that Alberta won’t get anything from the feds or the other provinces if we’re not willing to fight for it. Albertans aren’t getting a fair deal from Canada. But we are willing to start fighting for one.

This column was originally published in the Edmonton Sun on June 19, 2020.