Alberta opens a box of worms, but will British Columbia bite? – Williams Lake Tribune

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By Bruce Cameron, Black Press Political Affairs Columnist

Next door, in Premier Jason Kenney’s Alberta, where his beleaguered United Conservative Party is 15-20 points ahead of Rachel Notley’s NDP in the polls, his small base of loyal supporters (roughly one in five Albertans) intends to create a battle with the federal government. on equalization payments to restore some political momentum. The question is, will British Columbia, or any other province, join with Alberta in opening this constitutional box of worms?

Equalization payments have often been used to incite political anger in Canada, but they are at the heart of the federation and the separation of powers between the federal and provincial governments.

The sums are massive. Each year, more than $ 100 billion is redistributed from the federal government to the provinces, of which about 80% in the form of transfer payments dedicated to health and social care programs, and just over $ 20 billion in so-called payments. Equalization, designed to compensate for the lack of resources in a region (the “have-nots”) by making the more prosperous regions (the “haves”) pay more into the collective pot.

Alberta and British Columbia have traditionally been “have” provinces. The “have-not” provinces include Quebec, most of the Atlantic region (with the exception of Newfoundland once it began to exploit its petroleum resources), Manitoba and, for the first time. in Canadian history, Ontario from 2010 to 2018. While complaints about the money Ottawa withdraws from the province are seldom heard in British Columbia, there is a long history of outrage in Canada. Alberta.

The Alberta government recently added what UCP called a “fairness” vote on municipal ballots. Apparently 62 percent of Albertans agreed with Kenney that Alberta deserves to be treated more fairly when it comes to equalization payments. However, the low municipal turnout of around 30 percent means that less than one in four Albertans voted to send a message to Ottawa.

But let’s not let the facts get in the way of a good emotional confrontation with the federal government. Aside from the fact that the Canadian military stepped in to help overwhelmed Alberta hospitals during the pandemic, Kenney is demanding more “fairness” in his fight with Ottawa. Ironically, he is also in his political struggle at home to retain leadership of the united conservative movement he created.

Bruce Cameron (Black Press Media files)

So what does British Columbia potentially have to gain from a fight for equalization? There’s a lot at stake, but the odds of achieving something meaningful are slimmer than the odds of an NHL team from Alberta or British Columbia winning the Stanley Cup. To make a significant change to equalization payments, you need at least seven provinces representing 50% of the total. 100 of the population say yes. It means one or both of Quebec and Ontario. Little luck indeed.

What is perhaps at the heart of Alberta’s opposition to equalization payments is the argument put forward by Stephen Carter, a progressive political organizer from Alberta: “All taxation is equalization. Those who have more should pay more. Simple.”

The lack of concern about equalization in British Columbia is certainly indicative of a different political culture here. But it’s not just the willingness to pay more because we have more. British Columbians are less focused on bashing Ottawa because we have more influence on federal policy making than Alberta.

British Columbia became a multi-party battleground, while Alberta remained largely a monolithic Conservative stronghold. Just look at the newly appointed federal cabinet members in British Columbia. Harjit Sajan is now Minister of International Development and the Pacific Economic Development Agency. Jonathan Wilkinson rose to the powerful post of Minister of Natural Resources. Joyce Murray becomes Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and Coast Guard, and Carla Qualtrough retains her significant portfolio of employment, workforce, development and disability inclusion.

Why bite into the bitter apple of a doomed dispute over transfer payments when there is real federal money to be spent here and now?

Bruce Cameron has been a pollster and strategist for over 35 years, initially working for Gallup Polls, Decima Research and the Angus Reid Group before founding his own consultancy, Return On Insight.

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