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‘You are the victims but we are all the losers’: Calgary conference discusses Alberta’s place in Confederation

Calgary conference discusses Alberta’s place in Confederation
WATCH: A conference aimed at discussing Alberta's place in Confederation was held in Calgary on Saturday.

Around 700 people attended a one-day conference in Calgary on Saturday to discuss Alberta’s place in the Confederation.

The Value of Alberta conference was hosted by Alberta Proud.

One of the speakers was Joe Oliver, who was finance minister in Stephen Harper’s government when changes were made to Canada’s equalization payment formula.

In Calgary on Saturday, he said more fairness is needed when it comes to transfer payments.

“If Alberta suffers a downturn and it is still a contributor, then clearly there is a problem with the formula,” Oliver said.

“Sometimes it relates to the nature of the formula, which kind of responds in a slow way to economic change. So that is something that I know the premier [Jason Kenney] wants to talk about. It’s very complex but I think some changes are needed.”

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More autonomy for Alberta was the biggest topic at the conference.

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As for talk of separation, Oliver said he is opposed.

“It would be highly regrettable if it ever came to that but there is a deep alienation that people in the east don’t fully appreciate,” Oliver said.

Calgary economist Jack Mintz said at the conference that the equalization formula needs an overhaul in part because the transfers are not supportive of provinces that face a downturn.

“It needs to catch up but I think it also needs to be revamped because there are a number of rules that have been brought in, some by the Harper government, that actually have made equalization, I think, a less helpful program,” Mintz said.

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Conrad Black generated cheers from the crowd over his attacks on climate change science, saying Alberta’s energy industry has become a casualty.

“You are the victims but we are all the losers and it will change,” said the former newspaper publisher.

The prime minister’s special representative for the Prairies told a Calgary audience this week that the federal government is open to reforming federal policies, including equalization payments.

“The government of Canada in federalism has to be flexible,” Jim Carr said in Calgary on Tuesday. “We should always be looking at ways of making our transfer system equitable and fair regionally.”

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Many of the ideas discussed at the conference were the same as those being explored by the Alberta government’s Fair Deal Panel, which is looking into ways the province could have more autonomy within Canada, as well as ways to further provincial economic interests.