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A Calgary economist says the results of Alberta’s upcoming referendum on whether the equalization principle should be removed from the Constitution could end up meaningless.


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University of Calgary economics professor Trevor Tombe clashed on a Thursday debate at Mount Royal University with Bill Bewick, executive director of Fairness Alberta and instructor of political science at the University of Athabasca.

Tombe said that while the referendum raises a serious question, a “no” vote could be ruled out politically as a referendum on the provincial government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, and a “yes” result could be ruled out as an expression. of “standard supporter”. ”Tensions between the governments of Alberta and Canada.

“Whichever way it goes, it very well might not matter at all,” he said.

Bewick said a “yes” vote would demonstrate democratic support for Alberta’s push for a better deal with Ottawa and help spark meaningful negotiations, and that a “no” vote would delay Alberta’s efforts.


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“If he comes back as a no, those in the country who are not interested in our problems will hit us over the head,” Bewick said, adding that the question addresses real grievances.

In early polls and in the municipal elections on October 18, Albertans will be asked to vote on whether the principle of making matching payments: The idea that provinces have sufficient income to provide reasonably comparable levels of public services at comparable levels of taxes should be discarded.

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Bewick said the federal government redistributes too much revenue for things that should be handled at the provincial level. “This referendum is intended to fit the issue of wealth transfer onto the national agenda,” he said.

Bewick said that while it is not really about amending the Constitution, the referendum is “one of the best tactics” the province has, pointing to a 1998 Supreme Court decision requiring Ottawa to negotiate when a province expresses support for the constitutional change.


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Tombe pointed to the same Supreme Court benchmark case on the Quebec secession issue as an argument against the strength of Alberta’s vote, saying the referendum does not send a clear message for change. the decision notes that said referendum result “must be free from ambiguity both in terms of the question asked and in terms of the support it gets.”

The referendum question does not address the equalization formula, something that Tombe agreed to can and should be changed.

“This referendum only increases tensions, inflames polarization and makes it difficult to achieve sensible reform,” he said.

In Tuesday’s COVID-19 update, Prime Minister Jason Kenney reiterated that the purpose of the referendum is to gain influence in negotiations with the federal government not only on the equalization, but also the fiscal stabilization program, the transfers of funds from Health Canada and Ottawa Bill C-69. , which regulates the construction of pipelines.

Eric Adams, Constitutional Law Expert at the University of Alberta has argued against that strategy, saying that constitutional amendments should not be used as threats to achieve something more.

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On Friday, the Center for Constitutional Studies at the University of Alberta is host a webinar on equalization, where Tombe, Adams and University of Calgary political science professor Lisa Young will discuss the issue and what the vote could mean.

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