The list of plebiscites Calgarians will be asked to vote on in the October municipal election is growing. The City will ask voters once again (this is a periodic exercise) to weigh in on fluoridating the water supply, and the provincial government is asking if equalization payments should be removed from the constitution.
The province’s question is largely political mischief. After all, Premier Kenney was part of the Harper government when it set the current equalization formula. Some pundits have suggested it’s yet another swipe at the feds; others that it’s simply a gimmick to get conservative voters out to the polls in order to elect more conservative councillors.
The City may make some political mischief of its own. This week, City Council’s Intergovernmental Affairs Committee suggested that Council consider putting a question on a fair deal for Calgary on the ballot. The question would go along the lines of “Should Calgary City Council advocate for a fair deal for Calgary taxpayers from the Government of Alberta? Yes or no?”
In this country, cities have no constitutional presence and are, therefore, creatures of the provincial governments. As a partial balance to this, under a previous provincial government, Calgary and Edmonton had obtained charters. The charters enabled the cities to modify or replace certain provisions in the Municipal Government Act and other provincial acts and regulations, thus offering additional authorities and flexibility. One of the first things the Kenney government did upon assuming office was repeal the charters. Alberta’s two big cities were returned to the level of towns, villages and hamlets.
The premier often talks about a fair deal for Alberta, pointing out that the province pays more in taxes to Ottawa than it gets back in services. Mayor Nenshi echoes Kenney’s complaint pointing out in turn that Calgarians send up to $5-billion a year more to the provincial government than they get back.
The Intergovernmental Affairs Committee includes the mayor and six councillors so there’s a good chance its suggestion will be pursued by Council. If the provincial cat can make political mischief, so can the municipal mouse.