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Alberta's stake in Canada

A proposed Alberta pension plan and provincial police force, a sovereignty act to challenge federal intrusion into provincial jurisdiction.

A proposed Alberta pension plan and provincial police force, a sovereignty act to challenge federal intrusion into provincial jurisdiction. Is the Smith government working to secede from the union? Provincial jurisdiction over a new pension plan and police force are folly, at least on cost to Albertans for a highly questionable provincial ability to provide better security with both. The sovereignty act is mostly political posturing, since provinces have had the ability to legally challenge alleged federal overreach since we began as a nation, and as the Smith government has already proven.

The Smith government may not be looking to separate, but it is looking for a better return on Alberta’s investment in Canadian federalism. The government — along with many other Albertans — questions the fairness of federal transfer payments to Alberta and the net benefit to us for what we pay into federal coffers.

Alberta is deemed a rich province, one of four in Canada (with BC, Saskatchewan and Newfoundland Labrador) benefiting from significant royalties from natural, particularly carbon-based resources. In 2022-23, Alberta’s royalty revenue from bitumen, crude oil and natural gas production was $25.2 billion, about $1.2 billion less than total tax revenue, representing one-third of the total provincial revenue. In 2022, Alberta had the third-highest gross domestic product for provinces in Canada, well behind Ontario, slightly behind Quebec. But on GDP per capita, Alberta was about one-third higher than both provinces (only lower than NWT and Nunavut, because of their good revenues and lower populations). Resource revenue and reasonable taxation provides Alberta with good government income and economic benefit to citizens. For this wealth, Alberta and the other resource-rich provinces receive less federal cash input per capita for health and social welfare, received by all provinces and territories, but we four receive no equalization payments (economic equalizers) as the others do, including Ontario and Quebec.  According to the University of Calgary’s Jack Mintz, from 1961 to 2017 Albertans paid $611 billion in net transfer to Ottawa (federal tax out to Ottawa, minus federal transfers into Alberta), with Quebec the largest beneficiary of federal investment in that time. That makes Alberta the greatest financial contributor to Canadian federalism.

Is it fair? Perhaps, as long as Alberta prospers. But if Ottawa continues to increase costs to the resource-rich provinces, such as an increasing tax on carbon-based resources (some of which has been suspended by Ottawa for home heating oil, a benefit mostly to the Maritime provinces), zealous environmental assessment (Bill C-69, challenged legally and successfully by Alberta) and increasing, questionable measures for environmental protection, it’s conceivable they will lose this critical source of federal income and continue pushing provincial independence threats.

A unified nation and environmental protection are vitally important to Canadians and Albertans. But if growing costs to Canadians and Albertans cause us to freeze in the dark and limit mobility for the transfer of people, goods and services, what’s the point? Canadian unity is a constant work in progress; environmental protection is a global matter, with Canada a small part of the problem. It’s imperative for good government with good leadership to keep a balanced, proper perspective on what makes us work as nation today and tomorrow.                                                                

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