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Economist says referendum on equalization may not work

Last Updated Jun 8, 2021 at 7:46 am MDT

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney makes his way to the chamber as the Alberta Legislature sits through the weekend to pass a series of emergency bills, in Edmonton on Friday, March 20, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson

CALGARY – A referendum on equalization payments will take place during our municipal election this October.

The premier, along with others from the Fair Deal Panel, wants a mandate from Albertans on whether or not they should take the fight to Ottawa, asking to remove equalization payments from the constitution.

But at least one economist is doubtful the referendum will actually lead to change.

Premier Jason Kenney says Albertans are frustrated, and this is part of the promise he made while campaigning.

“When the politicians who benefit from the hard work and resources of Alberta turn around and cut us off at the knees—blocking pipelines and imposing policies that damage our economy—well, that’s where Albertans will draw the line,” the premier said.

READ MORE: Referendum on equalization payments scheduled for the fall

This fall, you’ll be asked whether or not the federal government’s commitment to the principle of making Equalization payments should be removed from the constitution. The question will appear on the same ballot you use to vote for your ward councillor and the mayor of Calgary.

Professor of Economics at the University of Calgary Trevor Tombe says it’s a bold move.

“There’s no way that this referendum–regardless of the outcome–will actually result in the Constitution being changed to remove the principal for the equalization program,” Tombe said.

“This is something that was added to the Constitution with very broad support–Alberta included.”

Tombe says Albertans have issues with equalization payments, but the question being asked isn’t whether or not there are issues with the program that need to be addressed, it’s whether or not Canada should get rid of it entirely.

“I think this referendum should be seen as a mechanism that the government hopes to use to put pressure on the federal government and other provinces,” Tombe said.

“I’m not sure that it’s going to work, I would encourage Albertans to genuinely think about the question that is being asked of them, about whether Canada should have a commitment to this principle of equalization in the Constitution. Historically, Alberta supported that.”

Calgarians hit the polls for a municipal election on Oct. 18, where the city will elect a new mayor after longtime leader Naheed Nenshi announced he would not seek re-election.