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Confronting reality, Kenney puts off plans for Alberta referendums

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Alberta Premier Jason Kenney at yesterday's news conference on referendums. Image: Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta/Flickr

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has dropped his plans for referendums on taking over the Canada Pension Plan and replacing the RCMP with an easier-to-control provincial police force.

For now.

But these two unpopular remnants of Stephen Harper's notorious sovereignist Firewall Letter in 2001 will likely live on as long as the former Conservative prime minister, sent packing by Canadian voters in 2015, remains the éminence grise of the Alberta government.

At a news conference yesterday morning, Albertans learned they would get to vote only on Kenney's meaningless referendum to change Canada's Constitution to permit the national equalization program to be dismantled, which ain't gonna happen, and on whether or not they'd like to have permanent daylight savings time.

The referendums, along with Alberta's constitutionally questionable and easily ignored senate candidate selection vote, will be held during Alberta's province-wide municipal elections, which are scheduled to take place on Oct. 18.

The votes will cost millions -- an interesting spending priority for a government that pleads poverty to roll back nurses' and other health care workers' salaries, despite their sacrifices during the COVID-19 pandemic. At least if Albertans want to send Kenney a message to stop wasting money on meaningless senate votes, they can cast a ballot for Duncan Kinney, the only senate abolition candidate.

Given the UCP's difficulties lately reading the room, though, even this small amount of caution was mildly surprising.

The polling on the CPP takeover, which Kenney seems to want so badly he can almost taste it, must have been spectacularly terrible to stay his hand.

Still, Finance Minister Travis Toews made it clear the government isn't giving up on the idea of turning the CPP into a giant slush fund to prop up fossil fuel industry in the face of global recognition that planetary heating is an actual thing.

"It's critically important that we do our work to ensure that Albertans are well informed, so that they can make a well-informed choice when we take this to referendum," Toews told the news conference.

"We look forward to putting this important decision on the table when the time is right," he was quoted saying in the government's news release.

Translation: They'd elect the NDP for sure if we dared to try a stunt like this right now. We'll gin up some propaganda and see if we can fool them later. In the meantime, this'll keep the separatist loons in caucus quiet.

Meanwhile, Premier Kenney sounded very much like a fellow trying to think of a way to steal a hot stove when he mused about only allowing voters likely to agree with him to vote on the policing referendum.

"One possibility would be to invite only Albertans who are policed by the RCMP and who would be directly affected by this to vote on it," the premier said, sending jaws plummeting all across the province. "I think a strong argument can be made that it's only those who would be directly affected who should have the ultimate say."

For a man who says he's devoted to preventing the cancellation of history, it’s astonishing Kenney seems to have missed the phrase no taxation without representation, as the expensive scheme to set up a provincial rural police force would certainly have to be bankrolled by urban taxpayers.

Well, as we say so often in Alberta these days, you can't make this stuff up.

And despite the premier's assertion that "they both hold enormous potential for a stronger and more prosperous Alberta," it's hard to see how either handing Albertans' retirement savings to a management company with a history of mediocre performance or setting up an expensive vanity police force would have that effect.

Nevertheless, the government is willing to spend supposedly limited taxpayer funds to hire consultants to write reports to promote these dubious schemes.

As for the equalization referendum, its success depends on the widespread misapprehension of how equalization works in Canada -- something the UCP government does nothing to correct and often encourages. Hint: Equalization payments come from all Canadian taxpayers' federal income taxes.

Kenney tacitly admits the vote will be meaningless by claiming a positive outcome will "maximize our leverage as we fight for a fair deal on all fronts and fight for a strong Alberta economy."

So, what’s the actual leverage here? That the UCP will bring Drew Barnes back into the fold and move on to outright threats of separation?

The question proposed seems to be intended to let Premier Kenney off the hook for having been a senior cabinet minister in the Conservative federal government that drafted the current equalization formula: "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?"

In other words, don't blame me for Alberta's economic problems, blame the constitution. This is misdirection at best.

Meanwhile, Kenney demands in effect that other Canadians pay for Alberta's irresponsible low-tax policy and poor economic planning. This may keep the UCP's base happy here in wild rose country, but it's unlikely to do much for Alberta or Albertans.

David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions at The Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald.

Image: Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta/Flickr

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