The Alberta government is taking the next step towards a referendum question on equalization.
Premier Jason Kenney says his government will put before the legislature a motion on the wording of a referendum question.
If passed, the question would ask whether the section of the Constitution that commits the federal government to the principle of making equalization payments should be removed.
If passed, the referendum would be held in conjunction with municipal elections Oct. 18.
Kenney said if passed, will put the following question on a provincewide referendum ballot on Oct. 18, in conjunction with municipal and Senate elections:
“Should Section 36(2) of the Constitution Act, 1982 — Parliament and the Government of Canada’s commitment to the principle of making equalization payments — be removed from the Constitution?”
A yes vote would not change the equalization structure, but Kenney says it would give him some leverage as he tries to rally support nationwide for a constitutional amendment to make it happen.
Kenney says the equalization program is unfair to so-called have provinces such as Alberta that have been massive net contributors to equalization but are now experiencing difficult economic times.
“Albertans elected this government to get a fair deal for them,” Kenney said. “That’s exactly what this referendum is about.
“For too long, Albertans have been forced to subsidize public services in other parts of the country where politicians have been trying to block our pipelines and impair our vital economic interests, even during times of great economic hardship for us.
“This fall, Albertans will finally get a chance to tell the federal government that they’ve had enough of the unfair equalization program, and want reforms that recognize our province’s role in creating national prosperity.”
On Wednesday, Opposition leader Rachel Notley said she had written to federal Conservative leader Erin O’Toole to ask if he will proceed with removing equalization from the Constitution if he becomes prime minister, and Alberta’s equalization referendum succeeds.
“Amending the Constitution is a long and complex process at the best of times and it certainly won’t happen without the determined support of at least one leader of a major federal party,” said Notley.
“If Mr. O’Toole will not commit to this then the referendum exercise is simply a $10-million stunt to slow the collapse of Jason Kenney’s poll numbers and not a serious plan to get Albertans back to work.”
In a news release, the NDP said adding the equalization referendum question to the October municipal election ballot is expected to cost Albertans approximately $10 million.
“If he does not have a willing federal partner, then this is a totally insincere project,” Notley said. “It is irresponsible to stoke division in Alberta if there is no realistic path to delivering on the promise of this referendum.”
— With files from Global News