Alberta Premier Jason Kenney reaffirmed Thursday his government’s commitment to a referendum on equalization payments while announcing a second vote on daylight time to be held during municipal elections this fall.
Both referendum questions will be on ballots when voters go to the polls on Oct. 18 across the province.
Kenney said referendums are an important step toward “direct democracy” and will help shape Alberta’s future.
The United Conservatives promised a referendum on equalization payments during the 2019 provincial election.
The constitutionally required payments are designed to address shortfalls in provinces’ spending capacities so that Canadians have reasonably comparable public services no matter where in the country they live.
Kenney has said the equalization program is unfair to so-called “have” provinces such as Alberta that have been massive net contributors to equalization but are now experiencing difficult economic times.
Voters will be asked whether a section of the Constitution that commits the federal government to the principle of making equalization payments should be removed.
The equalization program won’t change if Albertans vote “yes” as that would require a constitutional amendment. But Kenney said it would prompt the province to petition the federal government.
“What it does is elevate Alberta’s fight for fairness to the top of the national agenda,” Kenney said during a news conference in Calgary on Thursday.
Alberta Opposition NDP Leader Rachel Notley said Kenney’s equalization referendum is weak.
“Nobody in Ottawa is actually interested in the answer to that question,” said Notley. “What Jason Kenney needs to be doing instead is focusing on the real issue(s) – job creation, economic diversification, promoting renewable energy, protecting our health care, protecting our education.”
Notley, however, applauded the government’s move on daylight time.
Service Alberta Minister Nate Glubish said allowing Albertans to have a say in how the province observes daylight time “should not be taken lightly” because there are strong opinions on both sides of the argument.
“How Albertans calculate time affects literally everyone in this province, as well as others beyond our borders,” said Glubish.
Airlines, port authorities, tourism operators and professional sports organizations with ties to national broadcasts have expressed concerns about schedules should Alberta move away from changing its clocks, he added.
Glubish said synchronizing any potential changes with other jurisdictions would help mitigate potential impacts.
“There’s a danger in acting in isolation,” he said.
In 2019, Service Alberta asked residents for their thoughts on moving to permanent summer hours. Ninety-one per cent of about 141,000 respondents said they were in favour of the shift.
Final wording of the referendum question will be decided this summer.
A government draft reads: “Should Alberta end the practice of changing our clocks twice a year?”
The province announced Albertans will also be able to elect three Senate nominees — two current vacancies and one alternate — during the fall votes.
Kenney said he raised the issue with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during his visit to Calgary last week. Senators are not typically elected in Canada.
The province said a vote on Alberta opting out of the Canada Pension Plan and creating its own provincial police force will not be held this fall. The government said it will continue to assess both matters.
Alanna Smith, The Canadian Press