Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has made one thing clear: he’s not going to hand Alberta a fair deal on a silver platter. There’s only one way for Albertans to get a fair deal: fight for it. The next step in our fight for fairness is this year’s equalization referendum.
The equalization referendum on Oct. 18 is our chance to send Trudeau and the rest of Canada a clear message that the status quo must go.
We’ve paid more than $600 billion more to the feds, and by extension the other provinces, than we have received back since 1961. Even during the downturn that ravaged Alberta families and businesses over the last few years, we punched above our weight.
Despite our oversized contributions, politicians in other provinces are still making it harder to get our neighbours back to work and put food on the table.
In British Columbia, politicians pledged to “employ every tool available” to block our pipelines. In Quebec, Premier François Legault called our oil “dirty energy,” said there’s “no social acceptability” for another pipeline and acknowledged that cashing in on our equalization dollars is a key reason Quebec should remain in Canada.
The feds have also kicked us while we’re down by imposing the No More Pipelines Law (Bill C-69) and a discriminatory tanker ban (Bill C-48), rejecting Northern Gateway, moving the regulatory goalposts on Energy East, lying to us about increasing the carbon tax and setting the stage for a second carbon tax.
Equalization is a fundamental part of Alberta’s raw deal. Former Alberta finance minister Ted Morton estimates that equalization cost Alberta taxpayers about $3 billion in 2018 alone, which is a cost of more than $600 per Albertan. Since the equalization scheme was first established in 1957, Albertans have only received 0.02 per cent of the total spending and the last payment we received was back in 1964-65.
But the worst aspect of equalization isn’t its direct costs. It’s the fact that it forces Alberta taxpayers to directly subsidize politicians like Legault who seem intent on roadblocking our development. Through equalization, politicians can rely more on our tax dollars to fund their programs and less on growing their own economies. Even politicians receiving equalization, such as New Brunswick’s Blaine Higgs and Legault, have acknowledged this perverse reality.
Here’s why an equalization referendum is so important: a provincial referendum that results in a clear majority on a clear Constitutional question would push the feds and provinces to negotiate on equalization, according to Morton and Alberta’s Fair Deal Panel.
Rainer Knopff, a professor of political science at the University of Calgary, has also argued that the equalization referendum is needed to bring the rest of Canada to the table.
A referendum with a large majority opposing equalization would give Premier Jason Kenney the moral authority to push for change and could also encourage other provinces, such as Saskatchewan, to hold their own referendum.
Changes to equalization are needed, but the referendum is about much more than reforming an unfair federal program. Many Albertans feel that Trudeau and the rest of Canada aren’t listening to our grievances, don’t understand our hardships or just don’t care. The equalization referendum may be our best bet to put Alberta’s grievances directly on the kitchen tables in Victoria, Trois-Rivières and St. John’s, and send a clear message to Trudeau about how feel about the status quo.
It should be clear by now that we are not going to get a fair deal by yelling from outside of the ring. We need to be in the fight. Kenney’s equalization referendum will finally put us in the fight for fairness.
This column was originally published in the Calgary Herald on Feb. 12, 2021.