Alberta Politics
United Conservative Party Leader Jason Kenney (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Nothing new under the Prairie sun as Alberta Conservatives ratchet up their faux outrage about equalization and Quebec

Posted on June 25, 2018, 1:10 am
9 mins

Jason Kenney, leader of Alberta’s Opposition United Conservative Party, calls the Trudeau Government’s renewal of Canada’s current equalization formula for an additional five years “a slap in the face to Alberta.”

“It means we will continue to be forced, even when times are bad in Alberta, forced to subsidize public services in other parts of the country where politicians have been trying to block out pipelines and impair our energy industry,” Mr. Kenney was widely quoted as saying.

Conservative Party of Canada Leader Andrew Scheer (Photo: Andre Forget, Office of the Leader of the Opposition, Creative Commons).

One of his less temperate shadow cabinet members Tweeted that Alberta is “being screwed by Confederation” and suggested the province should change the name of its Legislature to the National Assembly. Too late to prevent the inevitable screenshots, Richard Gotfried deleted that offending Tweet.

Derek Fildebrandt, the well-known marksman kicked out of the UCP Opposition caucus by Mr. Kenney, picked up on the same sovereignty association theme. “The time has come to hold a referendum on renegotiating our constitutional relationship with the federals to keep our wealth & decision making here at home,” said the Independent MLA, who nowadays seems to serve as a mechanism for the UCP to test market its sillier ideas.

NDP Finance Minister Joe Ceci took a more moderate tone, but also indicated the Alberta Government is dissatisfied with the formula. “I think there are problems with the equalization program that I’m going to continue to raise when I go down to Ottawa,” he said. This, of course, won’t be nearly enough for Mr. Kenney.

Naturally, Mr. Kenney is not anxious to concede that, economically speaking, things are getting better fast as Alberta comes out of the recession, presumably for fear Mr. Ceci and the province’s NDP government might get some of the credit.

Nevertheless, his anger with the way equalization is distributed is extremely odd, seeing as the formula in question was cooked up by the government of Stephen Harper at a time he sat at the cabinet table as one of the Conservative prime minister’s most trusted advisors.

United Conservative Party MLA Richard Gotfried (Photo: UCP Caucus).

But while Mr. Kenney’s current gripe may seem more ironic than most owing to the fact he once vociferously defended the formula he’s now complaining about, he is only one of many Western Canadian politicians saying such things – and having their commentary treated with reverence by mainstream media.

Odder still is the bizarre claim by politicians and media that the Liberal federal government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau somehow sprang this plan to renew the current Harper-Kenney equalization formula on an unwitting opposition and country, hiding it deep in the bowels of the Budget Implementation Act, 2018.

Now, as a technical bill, the budget-implementation legislation given final approval by the Senate on June 14 may not have been clear to every layperson, but the 2018 budget introduced by Finance Minister Bill Morneau on Feb. 28 was as clear as a windowpane in this regard.

The budget set out the Trudeau Government’s equalization plan unequivocally in terms any Canadian with a grade school education could understand. It’s on page 317, if you want to read it for yourself.

So what’s with the Conservative Party of Canada’s claim, and that of some provincial politicians and their media cheerleaders, that the five-year extension of the existing formula was a deceitful surprise sprung on them by the Ottawa Liberals?

Former United Conservative Party MLA, now exiled to the Independents’ corner of the Legislature, Derek Fildebrandt (Photo, David J. Climenhaga).

Political columnist Don Braid of the Calgary Herald, in a particularly striking example, called it a sneaky ploy, a unilateral renewal, sheer nose-thumbing gall, a dodge, an April Fool (owing to the date of implementation), secretive, rigged and stupid.

In reality, not only was the 2018 budget perfectly transparent about the government’s intentions – “renewal of Equalization and Territorial Formula Financing (TFF) for a five-year period beginning April 1, 2019” – but the Conservative Opposition in Ottawa, closely tied to Mr. Kenney’s UCP, as well as myriad provincial officials of all stripes across Canada, had until June 14 when the Budget Implementation Act passed third reading in the Senate to raise the issue.

If you don’t count the busy February day the budget was introduced and the day the Senators gave it their final OK, that’s 105 full days.

And we’re supposed to believe nobody outside the sneaky Liberal Party knew anything about this until June 21, when a story appeared in the Globe and Mail saying “Ottawa has quietly renewed the equalization formula to keep it in its current form to 2024”? The Globe story went on, without irony, to say, “the move seems to have caught those looking for changes to the sometimes contentious federal program off-guard.”

Seriously?

Either the entire vast staff of the Official Opposition in Ottawa and those of 10 provincial and three territorial governments noticed nothing – in which case both federal Opposition Leader Andrew Scheer and his Alberta counterpart Mr. Kenney should be looking for some additional political staff – or someone is trying to pull the wool over our eyes.

Calgary Herald political columnist Don Braid (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Yes, there are 367 pages in the 2018 Budget. At that rate, to find it the multitudinous Conservative staffers in Ottawa and their numberless provincial and territorial counterparts in all parties would have had to read … almost 3.5 pages a day!

Or, since this is such a red-hot issue in Conservative circles, they could have used the search function on the PDF to check for the word “equalization.”

And yet no one noticed? Not a single high-paid Conservative MP in Ottawa bothered to look at the budget for himself or herself to see the government’s plan spelled out?

This is not the universal view of mainstream media, which seems to have missed the story too, but notwithstanding the traditional Western Canadian caterwauling about equalization, I doubt the Trudeau Government even thought the renewal of the Harper-Kenney equalization formula would be particularly controversial. Consider the authors, after all.

And even if they did – and really did try to sneak it past us buried deep inside the budget – there is no excuse for the well staffed and generously funded Opposition led by Mr. Scheer, whose job is to oppose the policies of the government and propose alternatives, to have missed it.

The failure of the Opposition to raise this issue until it had been passed by Parliament can only be described as Scheer incompetence and laziness, or as an actual attempt by the leadership of the Conservative Party to deceive us about what happened. Maybe both.

This is what often happens when you don’t have many government MPs from Alberta, I guess. It’s been obvious for years that nothing sells more Conservative party memberships here in Wild Rose Country than ginning up faux outrage about Quebec and equalization. Here we go again.

15 Comments to: Nothing new under the Prairie sun as Alberta Conservatives ratchet up their faux outrage about equalization and Quebec

  1. Farmer Brian

    June 25th, 2018

    In an article on CBC’s website titled “Alberta finance minister will raise problems with equalization formula extension at Ottawa meeting” there is some interesting info. First that the federal government has been discussing this extension with the province’s since 2014. Second, that Ceci was notified of the extension in May. So he knew about it in May but said nothing until the end of last week. As well the federal finance minister’s spokesperson Daniel Lauzon said in an email statement Friday “That’s why after over a year of intense discussion and consultation-including an in -depth discussion at the last meeting of the finance ministers meeting in December-our government renewed equalization for a five-year term in budget 2018.”

    So yes David I agree that the opposition parties dropped the ball by not seeing that one sentence on page 317 but Joe Ceci knew all about it back in the middle of May and said nothing until last week when the Globe and Mail broke the story. For him to pretend he is unhappy now is certainly disingenuous and he is doing nothing but political back peddling. Myself, there is no doubt the equalization system pisses me off but I also realize that at present the province’s doing the best economically in the west don’t have enough population to have any clout in Ottawa and it certainly is good politics in Alberta to disagree with a federal Liberal government, something Premier Notley has yet to learn. Enjoy your day

    Reply
    • Sam Gunsch

      June 26th, 2018

      re: ‘something Premier Notley has yet to learn.;

      Has anyone told you that you are totally pompous ass?

      S

      Reply
    • Sam Gunsch

      June 26th, 2018

      Farmer Brian,
      Do you even read actual AB economics discussion from economists that a definitely ‘market first’ economists that mock the BS from Kenney/UCP that pretends to be EQ arguments and which you traffic in? Do you? If you disagree with Leach and Tombe, please tell us what arguments you have that refute their analysis… otherwise, no one should take you any more seriously than we would a senior with dementia.

      S

      re: Andrew Leach
      ❄ Retweeted
      Trevor Tombe
      ‏ @trevortombe
      Jun 22

      “AB has a big deficit; we should get EQ.” No. It shouldn’t.

      Imagine if a province that cut taxes would see Feds come along and fill in the gap. Obvious incentive problems there. So EQ is based on “ability”, or, more intuitively, on “economic strength”. AB is at the top. #ableg

      ================

      Andrew Leach
      ❄ Retweeted
      Trevor Tombe
      ‏ @trevortombe
      Jun 22

      Equalization is widely misunderstood, and not ‘unfair’ to Alberta or Sask. But for the government to reject any changes without any public discussion is troubling. My latest: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/calgary/equalization-renewal-a-surprise-1.4717501 … #ableg #cdnecon

      Reply
      • Farmer Brian

        June 27th, 2018

        Let me get this straight Sam I am a “pompous ass” for suggesting Premier Notley would do better politically in Alberta if she didn’t spend so much time agreeing with the federal Liberal’s, especially one lead by a Trudeau? I was simply stating the obvious imo.

        As for my dislike of the equalization program, it basically comes down to the fact that the reason Alberta is able to contribute more to the federal coffers through federal income tax is because the energy industry in Alberta gives us some of the highest average wages in Canada. When I see Denis Coderre speaking out against pipeline developement and trying to curtail growth and investment in western Canada and then I realize as a Quebecer he is receiving more on a per capita basis from the federal government than I am in Alberta I get a little pissy. I understand the goal of the equalization program is to improve funding of government services in areas of Canada with less economic success, fair enough but don’t go out of your way to lobby against Alberta’s future economic success.

        I certainly don’t expect the federal government to make up for the lack of tax revenue in Alberta. Alberta is in the top 3 in Canada on government spending per capita and our tax rates(except in the middle incomes, recent CBC article) are among the lowest. Albertan’s expect energy royalties to make up the difference and refuse to pay a sales tax. I personally think a sales tax is the fairest and least economically damaging way to increase the Alberta government’s revenue. As evidenced in the last economic downturn income tax revenue fluctuates a great deal to the downside in a recession. Sam I am sure you would say raise taxes on corporations, you certainly could but just like a carbon tax will push certain industries to move to other jurisdictions with a lower tax base, high corporate taxes will do the same. And the other statement I always hear from the left, is make the wealthy pay their fair share. In a CBC article:Alberta’s income tax advantage exists for the poor and the rich but not those in between” there are some interesting numbers. In 2015 the top 1% of earners paid 31.5% of the total income tax collected. By comparison the bottom 50% paid 2.3% of the income tax collected. The 40% of earners above them paid 28.7% of the income tax collected. The article doesn’t state this but by using the numbers given, the bottom 90% of income earners in Alberta payed 31% of income tax collected. Leaving the top 10% to pay 69% of income tax collected. So I am curious, if paying almost 70% of Alberta’s taxes isn’t enough what do you consider their fair share?! Enjoy your day

        Reply
        • Sam Gunsch

          June 28th, 2018

          I stand corrected. The claims you assert around EQ and now that you add around tax rates/equity of the rich carrying the load… you’re apparently just reading and drinking the Kool-aid of too many pompous BS claims on behalf of the rich and corporations made by their shills at the Fraser Institute/Montreal Institute/CTF and the brilliant economists and views by Gunter and Sun op-eds and so on.

          Reply
  2. Bob Raynard

    June 25th, 2018

    It does seem a bit much for people from the Harper era to complain about an omnibus bill.

    It certainly seems reasonable that the whole thing could be contrived. It isn’t hard to imagine the Conservatives found the renewal promptly after the budget was presented, then decided to sit on it, until after the house had adjourned. That way they could avoid bringing it up in question period where the government’s answer could be inconvenient. Waiting also allowed them to bring it up during the summer slow news period when media is desperate for something to report.

    Reply
  3. Geoffrey Pounder

    June 25th, 2018

    Remarkably, the Fraser Institute contradicts Kenney:
    “The program’s failure to deliver payments to AB is entirely appropriate.
    “…The problem with arguments AB should have received equalization payments during or after the recession of 2014 is that even then AB still had the largest per-capita economy in Canada.
    “For AB to become an equalization recipient, this would necessarily mean taking money from taxpayers all across Canada and transferring it to the richest province in the country.
    “… The solution to problems such as these, however, is to fix the flaws rather than making matters worse still by devising an equalization formula that somehow sends money to higher-income AB.”
    http://edmontonjournal.com/opinion/columnists/opinion-blame-albertas-fiscal-mess-on-overspending-not-equalization

    Stuart Thomson (Postmedia): “Although tweaks probably wouldn’t result in equalization payments acceptable to AB — Kenney’s own formula would benefit Quebec and Newfoundland and leave AB with nothing — the process of consultation and negotiation can be beneficial.”
    http://calgaryherald.com/news/politics/on-equalization-ottawa-and-alberta-are-speaking-entirely-different-languages/wcm/c18eacd2-15ef-44e0-ac33-c6d0732be10c

    Don Braid, meanwhile, has a bee in his bonnet. His columns seem intended to manufacture outrage. Coals to Newcastle.
    http://calgaryherald.com/news/politics/braid-trudeau-liberals-quietly-rig-equalization-for-five-more-years

    Reply
  4. Bob Raynard

    June 25th, 2018

    A point that seems to be completely ignored in the whole equalization discussion is that Alberta voluntarily chooses to disqualify itself from the equalization program because of our low taxes.

    A fundamental principle of the equalization program is that recipients must have rates of taxation similar to other receiving provinces. Think how stupid an Alberta application sounds: “We have the lowest taxes in the country, but we can’t afford to provide the services we need to, so we want help from the other provinces.” Now imagine some anti-tax commentator in Quebec: “I am already paying a 10% PST and higher provincial income tax than Alberta. Why are my taxes going to fund essential services there when they aren’t willing to pay for them themselves?”

    Alberta trying to make an equalization claim feels like an able bodied young man, seeing his disabled sister qualify for welfare thinking he should try it as well.

    Until Jason Kenney and his newspaper sheep are willing to support a significant tax increase, it really doesn’t matter how the equalization formula is tweaked.

    Reply
  5. theo

    June 25th, 2018

    Ignorance brought about by laziness and the spouting of outright lies are two things the extreme Right do marvelously well these days. Given mainstream media do little but carry water for Conservatives of all provincial parliaments and the federal one, it’s a winning formula.

    Reply
    • Scotty on Denman

      June 27th, 2018

      “…it’s a winning formula.”

      Really?

      I don’t deny that MSM “do little but carry water for Conservatives” in all Canadian parliaments, but…

      … it didn’t seem to work when AB PCs lost to—of all parties—the NDP, when another misnamed neo-right government was edged out by the Green Dippers in BC and, of course, when the rookie leader of third-place Liberals trounced the HarperCons’ first and last majority.

      At best it’s a winning formula only sometimes, and if the times are a changing, it might actually be fewer and fewer times going forward.

      Reply
  6. J.E. Molnar

    June 25th, 2018

    Anytime Jason Kenney and the UCP’ers can conflate the facts and introduce a dog whistle like Western alienation, they will seize every opportunity. This feigned and manufactured outrage by Kenney, over a CPC drafted equalization formula, is right out of the Stephen Harper conservative playbook.

    Fanning the flames of Western alienation plays to the UCP’s red meat base, when you have nothing else going politically. We saw this sophomoric declaration by Preston Manning once before with: “The West wants in.” Wedge, smear and dog whistle politics are part of Kenney’s political mantra. With strong ties to Harper and other old stock conservatives, maybe we should now just refer to Kenney as the Sorcerer’s Apprentice.

    Reply
  7. David

    June 25th, 2018

    I suppose this may be yet another example of Kenney’s continuing to dabble in Federal politics. If this Alberta thing that he was pressured into by some elite Alberta conservatives does not work out for him, maybe he can just jokingly say “just visiting” and try to return to his comfortable perch in Ottawa, which I think he seems to prefer.

    Kenney might also be annoyed that Scheer totally missed this equalization thing and it probably confirms his low opinion of the current Federal leader, which of course he would never say publicly. While Scheer was busy having fun critiquing Trudeau’s trip to India and Scheer now seems to busy traveling to Quebec a lot, the Federal Liberals were quietly (but not secretly) doing things like reviewing equalization. The system put in place by the Harper government (of which Kenney was a part of) didn’t seem to contentious, so it seemed a fairly safe move to the Federal Liberals just to continue it on.

    Of course the UCP will howl about it, they always need to have something to be outraged about and Trudeau seems to especially attract their contempt and anger. There doesn’t seem to much else to be angry about these days – unemployment in Alberta is coming down, the pipeline issue seems to be resolved and even Dr. Suzuki has left town. I think the UPC leaders actually believed the belittling Conservative attack ads Harper ran against Trudeau, so the thought that Trudeau somehow managed to beat their Federal colleagues in the last election makes them perpetually angry still.

    However, the UCP should be careful in attacking the same Quebec voters that their Federal leader is trying so hard to woo right now. It is true the former mayor of Montreal was an outspoken opponent of a particular pipeline, but he lost his last election a while ago so what he thinks doesn’t matter much to anyone now. The current Quebec Premier’s position on that pipeline, while not totally supportive, was much more nuanced. Perhaps to Alberta UCP supporters that doesn’t matter, they all sound alike or close enough.

    It is getting harder and harder for the UCP to find things to be angry and outraged about these days, but I have to give them credit they sure keep trying.

    Reply
  8. political ranger

    June 25th, 2018

    This is interesting, coming on the heels of the last couple stories you’ve written David.
    These faux political representatives oppose anything that cannot be included under their simplified ideological banner. You might say that all politicians have to stand for something and that something is usually laid out on their banner.
    Well, today’s crop of populists, like Kenny and Ford, do not stand for the interests of the people in their constituency, they are full-on corporate stooges. They say they are for the people’ interests but they demonstrably aren’t.
    Do they even know how the equalization payment program works? One would presume Kenny does, because he was a gov’r cabinet minister of the party who wrote it. But I’ve yet to hear any politician lay out the mechanics of the formula. Something, btw, one would have to do to suggest an improvement. The one ‘improvement’ I’ve seen suggested is not an improvement at all, rather it is nothing more than the return of taxes paid to the taxpayer.
    These people are only interested in tearing down our democratic society, not repairing it, not strengthening it. This was the same group of nutjobs that criticized the plan to fix the tax loopholes in the tax code. All the wailing and gnashing of teeth and burning of hair for their wealthy corporate masters and not caring one whit for regular tax-payers.
    Now, we have 10’s of $Billions of tax revenue not being collected, again from wealthy individuals and corporations, and not a peep from these slimeball politicians. They want to tear down the democratic processes we have here in Canada. That is the tie-in to the previous stories; if we are not building up and strengthening our democracy then we are allowing it to become an easier target for the fascist, authoritarian and dictatorial forces at play out in the world. For some, this is preferable to being a good neighbour and sharing wealth. I don’t know why.

    Reply
  9. Jerrymacgp

    June 26th, 2018

    I find none of the CPC and UCP outrage, and that of the OTRM, surprising, since equalization has been a target for decades. I am, however, quite disappointed to see Mr Ceci, who as Alberta’s Finance Minister should know better, joining the chorus, even if in a more temperate tone. Mr Ceci knows, or ought to know, that not one thin dime of his government’s revenue goes either to Ottawa or to Quebec under equalization. The programme distributes federal tax dollars to provinces with limited fiscal capacity to support uniformity of service levels across the country.

    The principal reason Alberta doesn’t receive equalization is this: our fiscal capacity is higher than the threshold needed to trigger it. The province would have to go through a deep depression lasting a few years, throwing many thousands out of work, before our fiscal capacity got so low that we would qualify for federal funding under this programme. The real reason for our ongoing fiscal woes, is the conscious choice by every party that has ever formed government, and every one that is likely to in the future, to maintain a low tax regime in the face of serious and growing demands on our public services for education and health care. We need a tax regime in this province that meets the needs of a rapidly growing and relatively young population: for more schools… better public transit… and health care for people when and where they need it.

    Reply
  10. brett

    June 26th, 2018

    Jason Kenney was Cabinet Minister in the Harper Government. That Harper Government did nothing to address the equalization payments.

    It is more than a little rich of Mr. Kenney to start blowing hot air about it now.

    I am always so vary wary of a Provincial politician who huffs and puffs about issue that are outside his or her domain. Just as I am so very wary the ones who ramble on about ‘family values’ and ‘law and ‘order’. They never say anything concrete-their insincerity is astounding to me. The seem to think their votes lack the ability to discern excrement from shinola.

    Reply

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