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Referendum will help Albertans kickstart national conversation about unfair Equalization, Danielle Smith

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This is an exert from a newsletter by Danielle Smith.  Click here to register to receive Danielle’s future newsletters.

Equalization referendum…

During the Stampede I met a pollster doing some polling on the equalization referendum in the fall. It has me worried. If the vote were held today there would be a lot of undecided. While it would likely still pass, we need the vote to be resounding so there can be no mistake how Albertans feel they are being treated.

For those of us who are diehard activists, voting “Yes” to remove equalization from the Constitution is a no brainer. When Brian Jean first proposed it I thought it was a waste of time. What’s is the point of having the province vote on a federal program? I initially thought.

Then Jean explained it to me in an interview and I thought the strategy was brilliant. By voting yes to delete a section of the Constitution it gets the ball rolling for a bigger conversation about Alberta’s role in Confederation. Under our parliamentary system – advised by court rulings and conventions – constitutional scholars say a “yes” vote will initiate a process that will unroll across the country. The federal government will be obligated to negotiate with Alberta in good faith and the other provincial legislatures will be compelled to consider a similar question in their provincial legislatures.

Here’s how it would work…
 
Here’s what could happen if we have a yes vote.

  1. The other provinces will be compelled to consider and vote on the issue. If there are 7 out of 10 representing 50 per cent of the population it will be removed from the Constitution.

Admittedly, this is an unlikely outcome. I think we could convince AB, BC, SK, ON and NF that we are all being similarly hosed under the existing equalization program, but how would you ever convince net recipients such as QC, NS, PEI, NB and MB? Still, it would get a national conversation going about why the net payers are so frustrated.

  1. If we don’t get others to agree, the principle of equalization stays in the Constitution, but we have a meaningful two-way dialogue about how it should be restructured, and that means designing it so QC no longer receives any money through the program from the rest of us.

I told you I went to the Fairness Alberta breakfast over the Stampede. Executive Director Bill Bewick is doing a terrific job digging into the numbers and explaining how absurd the entire program is.

Consider this: Newfoundland and Labrador is on the brink of bankruptcy and doesn’t qualify for equalization. Quebec has been running surpluses and paying down debt and they receive $10 billion from the program.

If I had my druthers, my starting point would be that only small provinces should be allowed to qualify for equalization. I think PEI has it particularly tough – attempting to run all the provincial programs that are available in other provinces with a population the size of Red Deer. Providing a top up for provinces in this situation is what the program should be all about. I want Islanders to have the same quality of health care, education, social services and infrastructure as we do.

But we need to be frank about this. The equalization formula has been manipulated and massaged mainly so federal politicians can give money to Quebec. Maybe it began with good intentions, as francophones began to assert themselves and their right to operate their businesses primarily in French and needed a hand up to catch up. Maybe it was justified when Quebeckers were sharply divided on whether it was worth it to stay in Canada, as evidenced by the 50-50 referendum result in 1995.

But today, it’s just taking advantage. In fact, it’s bordering on abuse.

Quebec is taking advantage of our goodwill…
 
Last week, Quebec’s Environment Minister Benoit Charette announced that Quebec would be rejecting a $14 billion project that would have seen GNL Quebec bring liquefied natural gas from Western Canada – principally Alberta – to Port Saguenay, Quebec so it could be exported on to Europe and Asia. Charette said it did not meet his standards for the environment:


“The promoter has not succeeded in demonstrating this, on the contrary,” he said, adding that the government is worried it would discourage natural gas buyers in Europe and Asia from moving to cleaner energy sources. “This is a project that has more disadvantages than advantages.”This is truly the last straw for me. If the Quebec government hates our energy industry this much and is actively working to destroy our natural gas industry I’m done with appeasement.

On the contrary, Minister…

Liquefied natural gas offers the best opportunity to reduce greenhouse gas emissions around the world. It is already “the cleaner burning fuel” as the ads used to say when I was growing up. It can easily replace coal in power plants and reduce greenhouse gas emissions in both China and India (which are adding coal-fired powerplants at a rate that dramatically exceeds the addition of wind and solar power everywhere in the world). Coupled with carbon capture and storage (underground) or utilization (for useful products including carbon nanofibre, concrete, industrial minerals, alcohol and ethylene) the greenhouse gas emissions problem can be solved. It is also going to be the base fuel for the new and emerging hydrogen economy, which will power all the heavy transportation we need to continue operating our global trade economy – marine vessels, trucks, trains, maybe even airplanes one day.

I am tired of placating the fantasy that our modern industrial economy is going to be powered by wind and solar and nothing else. Yes, hydrogen now offers a meaningful way for wind and solar to store the energy they produce, finally moving them towards being a reliable source of energy for our power grid. But once you’ve generated hydrogen at a wind or solar site, how do you transport it anywhere so it can be used for other purposes? The natural gas business can move it in pipelines. You can’t move hydrogen on powerlines.

But wind and solar are also not carbon neutral until concrete, steel, fibre glass, rare earth materials and transportation are carbon neutral. Wind and solar are not more environmentally friendly until they stop killing migratory birds and bats. Wind and solar are not environmentally neutral until we find a way to recycle them at the end of use (rather than dumping everything in a landfill).

If Quebec wants to interfere with the development of our resources, damage our economy and cost us jobs, I refuse to send them any more of our money. We cannot continue being economically hobbled by Quebec and damaged by federal government policy and expected to keep on shipping out dollars to Quebec. I would be delighted to see a financially independent, strong Quebec paying for their subsidized day care all on their own.

If they want to stand on their own two feet, bravo, let’s help them out. Let’s cut off the money pipeline.

Let’s help Quebec become financially independent…

Fairness Alberta has said three simple changes could cut the cost of the program in half and make sure Quebec is cut off almost entirely.

  1. Stop adjusting the program to increase expenditures with GDP growth. This just makes logical sense. As provinces get wealthier and develop more own-source revenue they should need fewer federal transfers.
  2. Adjust the payments to take into account inflation and different costs of delivering services in different provinces. It’s a lot more expensive to hire a nurse in Alberta than in PEI, for instance.
  3. Add four cents to Quebec hydro. Quebec subsidizes electricity rates which lowers the amount of revenues available to government. Imagine if Alberta sold oil and natural gas below market value and then asked Ottawa to make up the shortfall. It’s bananas.

None of this negotiation can happen unless Albertans send a strong message that they have had it with the status quo.

Voting yes in the referendum means you are voting to eliminate or renegotiate. Voting no means you are happy being treated as the doormat of Confederation. Vote yes and make sure to tell your neighbours and friends to also.

Because as Bill points out on his Fairness Alberta website, this particular program is only one way that extra money gets transferred out of Alberta. As of 2019, Alberta has transferred nearly $325 billion to the rest of the country. We have to start changing this. Equalization is just the start.

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Alberta

Smith won’t seek early vote if she wins UCP leadership, becomes next Alberta premier

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United Conservative Party leadership candidate Danielle Smith says if she wins this week’s vote and becomes the next Alberta premier, she would not call an early election to seek a broad mandate on her policy ideas.

Smith, the perceived front-runner in the race, says the public tends to punish leaders who call an early election.

She says she would wait until the next scheduled election in May 2023, but believes she has a mandate now to proceed with her plans.

Smith has said she would immediately pass an Alberta sovereignty act, which would allow the province to ignore federal laws and court rulings deemed not in its interest.

Legal experts, some of Smith’s leadership rivals and Premier Jason Kenney have labelled the act not only illegal but a recipe for constitutional and economic chaos.

Smith has also talked about revamping the health system by using health spending accounts and firing the board of Alberta Health Services, which oversees the front-line delivery of care.

Today is the last day for advance voting, as seven candidates dig in for the final campaign push before UCP members select a new leader to replace Kenney on Thursday.

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Alberta

Alberta commits $20.8 million over the next four years to fight human trafficking

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By Rob Drinkwater in Edmonton

The Alberta government is providing $20.8 million over the next four years to implement recommendations from a star-led task force on human trafficking.

Country singer Paul Brandt, chair of the Alberta Human Trafficking Task Force, personally thanked Premier Jason Kenney during the funding announcement Sunday at Edmonton International Airport for his willingness to prioritize the issue, and for putting faith in Brandt to lead the group.

“Premier Kenney’s longtime personal dedication and commitment to the issue of human trafficking is authentic and is admirable,” Brandt said.

“He’s the only political leader I’ve met in my 17 years of advocating for trafficking victims and survivors who took the time and initiative to personally write a plan to address this horrific crime.”

The money will establish an office to combat trafficking as well as a centre of excellence for research and data collection — recommendations the government accepted when the task force presented its report in March.

Justice Minister Tyler Shandro said the goal is to launch the office by next summer.

Other task force recommendations that will be supported include a new grant for community projects and Indigenous-led and culturally appropriate services. Civilian positions that will focus on supporting victims and survivors throughout human trafficking investigations will also be funded.

“Human trafficking is far more prevalent — way more common — than the stats would suggest because it’s a hidden crime,” Kenney said at the announcement.

“It festers in the dark. There are victims who face fear, shame and self-doubt and some who will never report what they’ve gone through.”

The task force was appointed in May 2020 and engaged with nearly 100 experts and survivors of trafficking to provide guidance on how to best implement the government’s action plan to fight human trafficking.

The government has said human trafficking includes sexual exploitation, forced labour trafficking and trafficking in human organs or tissues.

Kenney, who will be replaced as premier when his United Conservative Party selects a new leader on Thursday, noted he started fighting human trafficking over 20 years ago when he was an MP and joined a group of international parliamentarians on a coalition to fight the practice.

Later as Canada’s immigration minister, he said he took steps to make it easier for human trafficking victims who had migrated to Canada to obtain safety and protection.

In winter 2019, he said he committed the UCP to a nine-point action plan to combat human trafficking, which led to the Protecting Survivors of Human Trafficking Act, which took effect in May 2020.

Brandt said it was exciting to be part of the funding commitment at the airport, where he said he stood in 2019 for a partnership with the facility and other groups in the Edmonton region to fight trafficking, which he called “modern day slavery.”

“It has been our dream that special focus and permanent funding would one day become a reality. Today is that day,” Brandt said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 2, 2022.

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