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Referendum on Equalization

The issue

Does Alberta receive a fair deal from the Federal Government?

As Calgarians decide their next mayor, they will also get to vote on the provincial government’s referendum on the federal equalization program

The program was established in 1957 to even out fiscal disparities between provinces and ensure similar service levels across the country, based on a formula determined by the federal government. For Alberta, it’s meant large transfers of funds to the rest of the country, particularly Quebec, and stoked resentment that the province is being unfairly treated by Ottawa.

Those concerns escalated during the last six years, when Alberta continued to pay heavily into the program despite suffering from a recession caused by the meltdown of its oil and gas industry. The decline in oil and gas activity has sharply curtailed provincial revenues.

The referendum was an election promise of the United Conservative Party and was recommended by the Fair Deal Panel, established by Alberta Premier Jason Kenney in November, 2019. The panel found that a substantial majority of Albertans do not believe they are receiving a fair deal from the federal government and want the province to re-assert its position in Confederation.

In the referendum, Albertans will be asked whether they support the removal of Section 36, which deals with the principle of equalization, from the Constitution Act, 1982.

Alberta doesn’t have the power to change the Canadian constitution on its own, but Premier Kenney said a clear message that Albertans support the constitutional change would obligate the federal government and other provinces to start discussions for a fairer equalization deal.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he’s prepared to listen, but noted that the current equalization formula was implemented by the previous Conservative government, in which Premier Kenney was a cabinet minister. He said his Liberal government simply rolled over that same formula.

Albertans contributed almost $240 billion in equalization payments to the rest of Canada from 2007 to 2018. It’s estimated Alberta’s contribution from 1961 to 2018 added up to $661 billion. Meanwhile, Quebec has been the largest recipient of federal equalization payments, receiving an estimated $497 billion since 1960.

fair deal
Ottawa Cityscape wide view summer time

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Public Poll: how do you feel about equalization?

Strongly DisagreeDisagreeNeutralAgreeStrongly Agree
Alberta gets a fair deal on equalization
Quebec benefits disproportionally from equalization payments
Alberta gives more to Canada than it gets
Alberta should have its own provincial police force
Alberta should have its own pension plan