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Wildrose strikes equalization fairness panel to address flaws in the current system

Wildrose leader Brian Jean announcing the creation of the equalization fairness panel while sitting next to economist Dr. Frank Atkins. 660 NEWS Ian Campbell

Alberta’s Official Opposition has created an Equalization Fairness Panel comprised of four blue-ribbon experts because it believes the system is flawed.

Leader Brian Jean has tasked a group of economists from across the country to come up with recommendations to be presented by the fall to government.

“Albertans and all Canadians deserve to know they have an equalization system that treats everyone fairly,” he said. “A thorough review of our country’s current equalization formula, as well as a call for an independent set of recommendations on what Alberta should bring to the bargaining table in 2019.”

According to its figures, Alberta has paid between $15 and $20 billion in equalization payments a year over the last decade.

One of the panel’s members, economist Dr. Frank Atkins of the University of Calgary, wanted to assure those in the room that their findings will be non-partisan.

“I think it’s exciting to have the opportunity to make recommendations to help fix what can only be perceived as a broken system,” said Atkins.

He told media the original intent of the system was correct but over the years there has been unintended consequences that have allowed the program to stray.

“As researchers we follow scientific methods … in my opinion there is nothing fundamentally partisan about equalization. I want to assure everyone that any recommendations that come out of this panel will be completely, politically neutral.”

Jean says the mandate he’s placed with them is to assist in developing a position on equalization that meets its original intent.

He was asked why now if the formula won’t be looked at for another three years, the Fort McMurray MLA says there are things the NDP government could be doing now.

“We actually suggested to the NDP government that they should start negotiating on the many contracts that are coming up in September for instance, for labour in Alberta,” he said.

Atkins will join two experts from Ontario and one from Nova Scotia.

Equalization was first developed in 1957 and Alberta has not received an equalization payment from the federal government since 1963.

Albertans have been invited to provide their feedback to the panel.