Municipal elections no place for equalization referendum: local leaders

Municipal elections no place for equalization referendum: local leaders

Premier Jason Kenney wants equalization referendum question in 2021 municipal elections

Municipal elections are not the place for an equalization referendum, say central Alberta political leaders.

“You run the risk of confusing the issues,” said Rural Municipalities of Alberta president Al Kemmere on Friday.

“You also run the risk of changing the conversation as far as a municipal campaign goes.

“I guess we’re worried that we’re not going to have the municipal issues as highlighted as much as possible,” said Kemmere, who is a Mountain View County councillor.

Premier Jason Kenney has pledged to hold a referendum to get Albertans’ support for making changes to the equalization system. It is the process through which the federal government doles out money to provinces to ensure that all Canadians have comparable services at similar taxation levels, no matter where they live.

The province’s Fair Deal panel released a report this week with 25 recommendations, including the calling of a referendum on the equalization program to give Alberta a fairer stake.

Kemmere said he could envision a council candidate forum getting diverted from municipal issues to debates on equalization.

Red Deer Mayor Tara Veer participated in a conference call with other municipalities, and the sentiment was strongly against adding a referendum question to the civic elections set for October 2021.

Veer said one of the challenges municipal representatives face frequently is making people aware of the different responsibilities and powers of municipal, provincial and federal governments.

Adding an equalization referendum could further cloud the public’s understanding of what their municipal representatives are responsible for.

A request brought forward at the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association’s leaders caucus calling for civic elections to be maintained for local issues was overwhelmingly passed by members.

“Municipal matters are lost when provincial, federal and international discussions become the epicentre of local elections, political discourse and media coverage,” says a backgrounder to the decision.

Tying federal and provincial issues to a municipal election runs the risk of “diluting” local issues, it says.

“There is an additional risk of polarizing the electorate and fostering a disconnect between local representatives and their constituents.”

The association also says it believes the referendums are of “great enough importance that Albertans deserve the right to weigh them outside of a time when they also have to decide on local matters.”

For the same reasons, the association opposes running elections for Alberta senators at the same time as municipal votes.

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