Equalization Referendum Is A Must Win
In July 2020, I was among a handful of prominent signatories of a letter directed to Premiers Jason Kenney of Alberta and Scott Moe of Saskatchewan, which stated that “constitutional change must happen within Confederation or a referendum on Alberta’s independence is an inevitability.”
Since then, another federal election has come and gone - yielding nearly identical results to the election we had two years ago, and there has been no constitutional change.
I worry sometimes that we might be getting tired, a symptom of decades of abuse at the hands of a government in Ottawa with a seemingly single-minded approach to intergovernmental affairs: dismantle Alberta’s energy industry at all costs.
However, we cannot give up. We must continue to fight. And the first step of that fight will come on October 18th, when we vote in perhaps the most important referendum of our time - short of some hypothetical independence referendum, at least.
The equalization question is:
“Should Section 36(2) of the Constitution Act, 1982 - Parliament and the Government of Canada’s commitment to the principle of making equalization payments - be removed from the Constitution?”
Last month's election is evidence that the path to a fair deal will be incredibly difficult. Our politicians can’t just waltz down to Ottawa, play nice with the feds and get a fair deal. Lines will need to be drawn.
The first line is equalization.
Since the transfer program was implemented in 1957, it has become a flashpoint for regional tensions. While a net $600 billion has flowed out the wallets of Albertans since equalization was contrived, over $240 billion has been transferred out of Alberta in the past thirteen years alone. In those thirteen years, Quebec alone received over $170 billion in equalization transfers.
We cannot, under any circumstances, lose this referendum.
Two years ago, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney declared to a captive audience at the Alberta Manning Networking Conference that “Albertans have been working for Ottawa for too long, it’s time for Ottawa to start working for us.” This is the first step in a long-overdue-and-still-a-long-ways-to-go process. Yes, I know most of you wish this had been moving faster. It’s a process we’ve been fighting to speed up every day since Project Confederation was founded.
As the federal government takes on more and more debt, the importance of taking steps to alleviate some of the financial burden placed on Alberta through equalization becomes more and more essential. If we don't, you can bet that Ottawa - and by extension Quebec - will turn to Albertans expecting us to contribute more per capita to pay back that debt than any other province.
And don't expect the federal government to stop trying to shut down the industry that pays those bills either. They'll expect us to keep handing over the cash while taking away our primary means of raising it. But why should we be the one province expected to carry more than our share of the burden if we have a federal government hellbent on destroying our way of life?
Alberta has had a tough few years.
The Supreme Court has created a backdoor way around provincial rights with their ruling in March to uphold the constitutionality of the carbon tax.
The United States, our largest export market for our energy products, elected a president who immediately vetoed a major export pipeline - Keystone - with the stroke of a pen.
We’ve been told, over and over again, for nearly two years now, that we’re all in this together when clearly that is not the case. Why should we be expected to contribute $20-billion per year to a country that seems to think we owe them our economic interests as well?
The Canadian constitution makes clear that the provinces and the federal government are intended to be equals who each have jurisdiction over different issues.
The purpose of this equalization referendum is not to “blow off steam,” but it is an attempt to force the Canadian government to open constitutional negotiations and provide Alberta with a path back to membership in a country that respects that jurisdictional separation.
The only way to demonstrate clearly that constitutional reform is required to strengthen national unity and give Alberta an equal footing in this - perhaps doomed - confederation is to win this referendum.
A loss would be a major setback, not just for those fighting for a fair deal but for those who believe in independence, too. It is not a “red herring,” nor is it a waste of time. It is absolutely essential to the entire subsection of the Alberta population who believes that Alberta is not getting a fair deal.
If we lose this referendum, whether you like it or not, we are screwed. And for the separatists who I know are going to be coming at me for this, I leave you with this:
How do you expect to win a referendum on independence if we can’t even win a referendum on equalization?
Whether you want more independence for Alberta within Canada or complete independence for Alberta outside Canada, the equalization referendum is only the first step.
But in either scenario, it is an absolutely necessary step and one we cannot afford to lose.