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Provincial referendum during municipal election disrespectful: Calgary mayor

Three scenarios were presented to Calgary city council on Thursday, as there are renewed calls for federal and provincial aid.
Three scenarios were presented to Calgary city council on Thursday, as there are renewed calls for federal and provincial aid. Kevin Billo / Global News

Calgary’s mayor says adding a provincial referendum on equalization to the next municipal election is disrespectful to citizens who want to focus on local issues.

Speaking to reporters following Thursday’s city council Intergovernmental Affairs committee meeting, Mayor Naheed Nenshi said municipal elections are the one time every four years that citizens get a chance to really focus on local issues.

“If they want to do that, that’s their prerogative, they have their own political reasons,” Nenshi said of the move by the UCP government.

“I think it is disrespectful to citizens who want to vote in their local elections — to have their local elections, coverage of them and voter turnout influenced by non-local issues.”

READ MORE: Alberta premier promises referendum on equalization reform

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The day after the release of recommendations from the Fair Deal panel, Premier Jason Kenney told Danielle Smith on 770 CHQR Thursday that he believes a referendum on equalization should coincide with the municipal elections in the province in October 2021.

In addition to equalization, he said he wants to add more provincial issues to the municipal ballot.

“Our platform commits to a referendum on the constitutional entrenchment of property rights, we’re also going to have an election for senators and there may be other votes that get stacked on top of that.”

Kenney said it would be done for the convenience of voters.

Nenshi said while a provincial referendum may increase voter turnout, he would hate to have voters distracted from municipal issues.

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He jokingly added that the city should add a referendum on equalization as well.

“I’m just kidding, obviously, but honestly the real problem here on equalization, as I’ve said many times, is not actually equalization between regions; it’s equalization between cities and everyone else,” he said.

“City of Calgary taxpayers send about $3 to $ 5 billion more every year to the provincial government in taxes than we get back in provincial services.”

In a statement, a spokesperson for Alberta Municipal Affairs said holding referendums simultaneous to local elections is a common practice that exists in jurisdictions across North America

“It saves time and money, and leads to increased voter participation, which is a good thing,” Tim Gerwing said. “Holding a referendum at a separate time would cost tens of millions of extra dollars. For example, Calgary’s Olympic plebiscite cost $2.2 million.”

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