Let’s make this the ballot question, while saying “no” to the equalization red herring

This post originally appeared in my weekly newsletter, “The Missive” on Aug.15, 2021. Subscribe for free at: https://jodymacpherson.substack.com/ or access background info and special content with a paid subscription.

When your government is not listening, what do you do? That’s the question I’ve been pondering over this last while and – I’ll be honest – it has left me unable to sleep more than a few nights.

We have a conservative government in Alberta that harkens back to earlier times, before the Wild Rose party emerged. Remember when the Progressive Conservatives were firmly in power and had become so confident they would win every election they didn’t pay any attention to everyday Albertans?

It’s amazing and discouraging that we’re back in this position again so soon. The one-term NDP decided on a risky campaign strategy in 2019 that didn’t work and Alberta has suffered a terrible setback. Not just because of the pandemic, but because the actions of the UCP have devastated the province.

The right wing has moved so far right and fractured into so many pieces they are not a viable threat to the UCP like the Wild Rose was.

We could be stuck with this government for quite a long time unless moderate conservatives and undecided voters mobilize and turn up at the polls to vote against the United Conservative Party, presumably for the NDP. Yes, I know the NDP are leading in the polls (and in fundraising) but it’s still too early to say what will actually happen in 2023. We must ensure the UCP knows how much we disapprove of their record so far.

So, what can we do now, besides react with shock and dismay with each new and terrible move Jason Kenney and his cabinet make? His low standing in the polls doesn’t seem to be enough to stop this chaos.

Well, there is one possible venue to send a message to the government. It involves a preposterous referendum question on the ballot in this municipal election coming up on October 18.

The equalization question is: “Should Section 36(2) of the Constitution Act, 1982 — Parliament and the Government of Canada’s commitment to the principle of making equalization payments — be removed from the Constitution?”

Of course, Albertans cannot unilaterally decide to remove equalization from the Constitution. Believe it or not, some Kenney supporters seem to be ignorant of this fact.

Others seem to know the question is bogus but believe it gives Kenney leverage with the federal government to do something – I don’t know what – something about not wanting to give money to Quebec? The argument is really hard to sort out and seems a bit hysterical, with claims of a communist distribution of wealth.

The fact is that the provinces already have a way to push for a change to equalization but two-thirds or more of the provinces representing at least 50 per cent of the population have to agree, which will never happen on the issue of equalization.

Most ironically, the current equalization formula was last tinkered with by Stephen Harper and Kenney was in his Conservative Party cabinet at the time.

Anyway, back to what can be done.

The equalization question is on the ballot, whether we like it or not. And it does give Kenney an opportunity to test out his support and if the yes side wins, claim his original mandate still stands. It also gives voters an opportunity to send him a message.

I think Kenney has made a tactical error by changing the Alberta election laws making it legal for him and members of his cabinet to openly campaign. He is taking the “yes” side and promoting it using tax dollars. He has already begun pushing out content on his social media accounts urging people to vote yes for a “fair deal” and the election is still three months away. He may know he has a tough road ahead convincing people to vote yes.

However, I think he also believes he can win, or he wouldn’t have put it on the ballot. All politicians seem to have a particular blind spot about their own popularity and Kenney, particularly so (despite being deeply underwater in the polls).

By attaching himself to the yes side, it offers Albertans an opportunity to remind Kenney about the power of the ballot box. He may have written the referendum question but the real ballot question is actually up to Albertans.

Every political campaign sets out to shape the ballot question, some are more successful than others, but that is just part of the strategy. Ultimately, voters will decide the ballot question in EVERY election. That is, the question they ask themselves when they mark their ballot that helps them decide who to vote for. It’s very much the same for referendum questions.

Getting rid of equalization is a ridiculous notion. Equalization is a way of ensuring all Canadians have a reasonably comparable level of public services at a similar level of taxation. Voting no will be an easy choice for the majority of Albertans, but some may not be considering it an opportunity to also state their no is not just a rejection of the question but a rejection of the person who wrote the question – Jason Kenney.

This is why many have begun to see how we can join together in October and turn this referendum into something more meaningful. We can vote no and also make it clear we are not only voting no on throwing out equalization but voting no to this government. Choose your reason.

·      Vote no to the dismantling of healthcare, the attacks on doctors, the proposal to rollback pay for nurses, the steady siphoning of millions of dollars to private healthcare companies instead of investing in public healthcare.

·      Vote no to the removal of mountaintops in the Eastern Slopes of the Rocky Mountains, the failure to protect our water supply, the secret negotiations with coal and foresty companies, the way they ignore the thousands who are opposed to coal mining.

·      Vote no to the backwards, racist draft K-6 curriculum, written by those who deny residential schools were a genocidal attempt to destroy Indigenous people, to the insulting way teacher and school board feedback has been treated and the reaction from the minister claiming she is being bullied.

Vote no to the attempt at delisting Alberta’s parks, the closures and user fees implemented without any clear plan to use the money for conservation, education or improvement of the parks.

·      Vote no to the way women, LGBTQ2S+ and BIPOC communities have been marginalized, with a man given oversight over the Status of Women, with protection removed for Gay-Straight Alliances in schools and racists so emboldened that Muslim women are under attack like never before.

·      Vote no to skyrocketing overdose deaths and the misinformed attitudes about people with addictions and mental health issues, the heartless removal and closure of supervised consumption sites and the convening of fake panels to look at only one side of the issue and claim legitimacy where there is none.

There are plenty of reasons to reject this government. If you want a reminder, take a look through my weekly round-up of reasons to say no in past issues of my newsletter.

The newsletter began as a Twitter thread about how irrational the government’s decisions were. I started documenting them shortly after the UCP were elected. It has now grown to a regular weekly compendium of disastrous policies and actions. I can hardly believe how much damage one government can do in such a short time.

As for my regular report on the news of the week – it will indeed return next time. There are developments and breaking news on the COVID-19 front, the ongoing climate crisis and lack of action to help workers make the transition beyond fossil fuels, the continuing unwillingness of the Alberta government to accept funds from the federal government, even when it involves much needed childcare money. There will be no shortage of new things to discuss, I’m sure.

For this week, I’m happy to report as I write this that the Albertans Reject the New Curriculum Draft Facebook group has just approved my post there as well and reaction so far has been positive. Two major groups are on board and I’ll continue to look for more support from a multitude of anti-UCP groups.

If you support this effort and are on Twitter, please use the #VoteNOOct18 hashtag and state your reasons for voting no. Let’s get this grassroots movement going and send the premier a message he can throw in the back of his pick-up ahead of the 2023 election. Who knows, maybe he’ll listen this time? If not, we’ll know we didn’t pass up an opportunity to let him know how we felt on October 18.

Spread the word.

Jody MacPherson is a professional communicator, commuting cyclist (currently working from home), and is voting no on October 18. Join me!

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