Alberta referendum on equalization had little influence on Canadians’ support for the program, concludes a new national inquiry report published today.
Responses to the Confederation for Tomorrow poll, conducted online and by telephone, suggest that three-quarters of Canadians and 57% of Albertans support equalization.
The survey included 5,461 adults and was conducted in January and February.
This is the fourth consecutive year the survey has been conducted and the results have not changed appreciably during that time for most measures, said Andrew Parkin, executive director of the Environics Institute for Survey Research.
The result comes five months after the 2021 municipal election in Alberta suggested otherwise. During the October 18 referendum, 62% of voters supported the removal of a constitutional clause that commits Canada to respect the principle of equalization transfers to the have-not provinces. Alberta cannot make this change unilaterally.
Equalization consists of redistributing part of the tax money collected by the federal government from the wealthier provinces to the lower-income provinces in order to ensure a basic level of service for all.
Premier Jason Kenney said Alberta is worried about the billions of dollars its people are paying, while provinces like British Columbia and Quebec are hampering the oil and pipeline projects that underpin that wealth.
Referendum Impact Test
Parkin believed that the referendum and the campaign that led to it would have moved the needle on the issue inside Alberta or elsewhere in the country.
“This program has withstood this period of scrutiny and criticism and still emerges as something Canadians prefer,” he said Monday.
The Environics Institute has collaborated with the Canada West Foundation, St. Francis Xavier University, the Center of Excellence on the Canadian Federation, and the Center for Political Analysis of Constitutional Federalism on research.
After the October referendum, Premier Jason Kenney said the result sends a “powerful” message to the federal government to negotiate equalization changes that could be fairer for provinces like Alberta, with growing economies. and commodity-related recession.
According to the poll, only about a third of Canadians — and 46% of Albertans — want to restart constitutional talks to change equalization.
“That means the case hasn’t been presented as widely as the prime minister might want it presented,” Parkin said.
Alberta had the highest proportion of respondents who correctly knew that the province does not receive money through equalization. However, more than half of Albertans thought the province received transfers or were unsure.
Parkin says he was surprised the referendum didn’t do more to improve public understanding of the program.
There is no margin of error for the results, as most of the survey was conducted online.
“Symbol of Grievances”
Independent MP Drew Barnes, who was kicked out of the United Conservative Party caucus last year, said he was frustrated with the government’s silence on equalization since the legislature ratified the referendum result in November.
“We have a prime minister focused on his political life rather than the future and the financial health of our families,” Barnes said of Kenney’s upcoming party leadership review.
Barnes said Kenney should push harder for a provincial police force, a provincial pension plan and Alberta’s own tax system to put more pressure on Ottawa.
Trevor Tombe, an economics professor at the University of Calgary, says the referendum was never about the merits of equalization and he’s not surprised it didn’t sway public opinion .
“It was a symbol of grievances that touched on a host of other issues, from pipelines to provincial deficits,” Tombe said.
Although the government has said the referendum result should give it more leverage in negotiations with Ottawa, Tombe said that was not the result.
With oil and gas revenues flowing back into provincial coffers, there’s no reason for the Alberta government to whip the federal government over its economic woes, he said.
In an email, Kenney’s press secretary, Justin Brattinga, pointed to an Ipsos poll in the government’s Fair Deal Panel report that found two-thirds of Albertans felt the province was not equally shaken by the Confederation.
The majority of Canadians support equalization because their provinces benefit from it, he said.
“In Alberta, we are elected to represent Albertans and Albertans’ views, and that’s exactly what we do,” he said.