Referendum reflects a hatred of Ottawa so deep it’s meaningless

This post originally appeared in my weekly newsletter, “The Missive” on Nov. 19, 2021. Subscribe for free at: or access background info and special content with a paid subscription.

(With apologies to Gord Downie)

The referendum results are finally out and the majority of those who voted on the misleading question, voted “yes” to removing equalization. However, Elections Alberta, the Premier, the UCP cabinet/caucus and the governing party have so confused the electorate, the result cannot be taken seriously.

It appears that’s also the conclusion of the Prime Minister. On the same day the official results were finally released, Justin Trudeau announced the appointment of a former senior member of Greenpeace as the minister of environment and climate change.

Steven Guilbeault is an MP from Quebec and was arrested 20 years ago for scaling Toronto’s CN Tower to draw attention to climate change.

It’s hard to imagine a clearer message to Jason Kenney on how seriously Trudeau takes the muddled attempt at removing equalization from Canada’s constitution by leveraging the pure ignorance of Alberta’s citizenry.

The best description of this moment came from Duane Bratt who told the CBC: “Kenney’s head is gonna explode,” he said. “This is really a finger in the eye to everything that Kenney has done.”

Let’s recap what Kenney did to confuse voters about equalization and mislead them into thinking his approach was the best way forward in seeking a “fair deal” for Alberta.

On election day, the UCP blasted out a message encouraging members to vote yes, repeating a list of false claims, complaining about actions taken by US President Biden and arguing this inane vote would support a “fair deal” for Alberta from Ottawa.

Here’s a screen capture of the ongoing grievance machine that is the UCP:

This was just the latest in a series of extremely misleading statements from the UCP government about the referendum question. Constitutional law experts say Elections Alberta misled Albertans about the possible outcome of either a yes or no vote when it suggested on its website that a yes vote would “end the practice of equalization payments.”

If you scroll down to the bottom of the page, Elections Alberta does explain: “the result of this vote is binding only on the provincial government to pursue the action directed by the majority vote, not on the federal government to amend the Constitution Act, 1982.”

Structuring information on web pages (and in news stories) follows the inverted pyramid theory for a reason. The least important details are placed at the bottom because the audience’s attention span will taper off, if they even read that far down the page. The most newsworthy information and details should be placed at the top.

In this case, Elections Alberta’s decision to bury the single most important detail about the question at the bottom of the page can be either viewed as outright incompetence or intentionally misleading.

Unfortunately, the office is now facing intense scrutiny and suspicion following some very ill-advised tweets that were sent out in the lead-up to the election and particularly on election day. They were forced to remove someone from their social media account possibly for providing incorrect information and deinitely engaging in a condescending manner with those who questioned them (Move on, Andrew).

Elections Alberta is now forced to defend itself in media coverage of the incident. The CBC reported “in an interview, Pamela Renwick, acting deputy chief electoral officer for Elections Alberta, acknowledged the Twitter spat on election day would raise questions about whether Elections Alberta is non-partisan.”

CBC’s Charles Rusnell is now tweeting that after initially agreeing to be interviewed, Elections Alberta is now refusing to comment further.

Over the summer, Kenney did nothing but confuse and conflate the facts surrounding the equalization question. Kenney admitted the question wasn’t about actually removing equalization. He said the question was about something else altogether – keeping equalization but making it better.

He was asking Albertans to trust him on this one. What you’re reading with your own eyes is an illusion, he essentially told people on Facebook, in video clips and in tweets. We’re not really expecting to remove equalization but get the Prime Minister to the negotiating table so we can present him with our demands.

He told supporters that he was adopting Quebec’s strategy around separation, a comparison which is laughable in the extreme. Kenney appears to ignore the defining piece of legislation passed in 1999 to address when and how a referendum on leaving Canada would be taken seriously, The Clarity Act.

The act specifically requires a majority of eligible voters, not merely a majority of those who voted. It also requires a clear question be asked of voters. The equalization referendum fails on both counts. Following this referendum, the Prime Minister cannot agree to negotiate with Kenney because it would be like ignoring the Clarity Act and could be perceived as a total slap in the face to Quebec.

It’s hilarious that Kenney would even think a fake referendum question and a pretty tepid result (61.8% in favour) would give him one iota of leverage, but that’s just another example of his well-established hubris.

Further to this, when Kenney was asked by reporters whether he would be approaching other premiers to support his attempt to “remove equalization,” the premier pretty clearly indicated he has no such intention, even though their support is required constitutionally.

He wants Ottawa to take him seriously but he’s not even willing to do the basic legwork of getting the other provinces on board. Of course, he knows they would never support him so it just points to the absolute futility of this whole exercise.

It’s not surprising I guess, since performative constitutional challenges are Kenney’s specialty. He dances around real issues of environmental protection, talk of sharing the benefits of our resources and repeats the same old falsehoods.

At one point, the premier even began conflating equalization with the Fiscal Stabilization Program, which is a separate type of financial assistance altogether. There was no limit to the disinformation the UCP government was willing to push in order to win on this question.

Now that Kenney has a “win,” albeit a tarnished one, the premier will have to level up his bombastic language with some new line of attack on Trudeau and the federal government. A constant escalation of the fight is inevitable since this is how childish this game is.

One thing we know is the actual facts about equalization were long ago left by the wayside.

It reminds me of the Tragically Hip song, “So Hard Done By.” The hatred of Ottawa (and Quebec) being stoked by Kenney and the UCP is so deep, it has become meaningless. This is what about 640,000 Albertans voted for?


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