On Oct. 18, Albertans will be presented with the opportunity to express their opinion on what should be done with the federal Equalization program.
This referendum – if Albertans vote to approve the provincial government moving forward – is just an early step in what will be a very long and likely trying and contentious process.
Moving forward – changing or ending the equalization system – is essential, not just for the future prosperity of Albertans, but for the future success of the Canadian Confederation and the other member provinces and its territories.
It is estimated that Albertans have contributed in excess of $250 billion in today’s dollars into the program over the past 40 years. That’s over six thousand dollars per family of four per year [tax-free].
The intent of the program was twofold: to allow provinces with lower revenues to have the means with which to provide their residents with services comparable to those offered by provinces with higher revenues and over time to allow those poorer provinces to become more prosperous to the point of not requiring equalization transfers.
The program has been in operation for over 70 years and was enshrined in the Constitution in 1982. Yet the imbalances between provinces remain essentially the same.
The current equalization formula is rightly criticized for being subject to abuse – the most prominent victims being Albertans.
It is one of the most contentious issues in Canadian politics, particularly in Western Canada, and most acutely so in Alberta. It is failing Canadians from coast to coast – threatening the very future of the country if it is not addressed soon.
Voting “Yes” in the upcoming referendum is the next step. Having a discussion about the flaws in the system and, most importantly, what the possible solutions are, is essential both before the vote and after.