Several years ago, I sat on a panel that was convened by the Wildrose Party of Alberta. The panel produced the document Equalization Fairness Report, which basically outlined the unfairness embedded in Canada’s system of transfers. The document received a fair amount of press and started a conversation about changes to the system. However, similar to any conversation concerning fiscal changes, the conversation quickly died, and the status quo prevailed.
The reason I mention this is that in late January 2019, Jack Mintz wrote an article in the Financial Post which basically repeated and augmented some of the arguments the above panel had made (although Jack Mintz is much better at this than I am). Dr. Mintz was commenting on a presentation by Tim Hearn and Robert Mansell of the University of Calgary’s School of Public Policy which updated the relevant numbers to show nothing much has changed over the last several years.
As Dr. Mintz pointed out once again, here is an issue that is undeniably grossly unfair to Alberta and is crying out for change. Further, this is an issue the federal government is careful to avoid publicly. Of course they do not mind addressing the issue privately, as they just recently quietly renewed the old system. According to Dr. Mintz, this renewed program will now pour another $1.4 billion into Quebec next year, which, once again, will be financed disproportionately by Albertans.
Now, this is an election year both in Alberta and federally. We need to find a manner in which to make this issue part of the campaigns. One way to do this is to tie it to another issue that rankles Albertans. That is, why in the world can we not get a pipeline built in this country? Why is Eastern Canada, which is the main recipient of federal transfers, so reluctant to admit that Canada prospers by having a vibrant oil and gas industry?
I am proposing to both Mr. Kenney and Mr. Scheer that they start making this an election issue. Voters have to understand where the money comes from. It comes primarily from Alberta, and this money comes from the oil and gas industry. You need to not be afraid to state the obvious reality that there is a disconnect in Eastern Canada. They call Alberta oil “dirty” and do not want any pipelines, but they do not mind taking oil that is shipped in tankers up the St. Lawrence from countries that have questionable human rights records. The disconnect extends further, as the transfers are funded by the dirty oil they want nothing to do with.
Mr. Kenney and Mr. Scheer should also tie the above issue to the following obvious fact. Separation sentiment is boiling just under the radar in Alberta, and it is being fuelled by, not only the lack of action on transfers and pipelines, but also by carbon taxes and regulatory policies that are detrimental to the development of the oil and gas industry in Alberta. We need political change, or the separatist movement will just continue to grow.
Frank Atkins is a senior fellow at the Frontier Centre for Public Policy.