Fairness Alberta has a few members known for their involvement in conservative politics, can we assume this is a conservative political project?
No. Fairness Alberta is explicitly non-partisan. Our Board and members are listed on the website, and they come from different places on the political spectrum. Remaining non-partisan is critical for us to fulfill our mandate of raising awareness across Canada of the issues affecting Alberta.
We refer you to the quote from Michael Jorgensen below on why he joined Fairness Alberta. He also was active in recruiting other valuable members. He is an Emmy award winner and President of the Alberta Motion Picture Association.
This seems like a waste of time – the rest of Canada will not be interested in the information provided by Fairness Alberta.
Fairness Alberta feels it is important to provide the relevant information regarding Albertans’ contributions to the rest of the country, and to do our best to attract the attention of fair-minded Canadians in order to lay the groundwork for meaningful change.
We feel that this would be a case of “shame on us” if we didn’t try. We all know of intelligent friends and acquaintances across the country who aren’t really aware of the salient facts related to the contributions and concerns of Albertans. One example of a Canadian who has shown his understanding of how critical Alberta’s contributions are is the Premier of New Brunswick, Blaine Higgs, on BNN where he noted that approximately 30% of his budget comes from transfers and he is very concerned about them changing “dramatically” due specifically to the struggles in Alberta given they are a “major contributor.”
It’s good to see that kind of recognition and we encourage you to watch the clip here.
The large Alberta contribution is largely driven by higher taxes on higher incomes; some economists ask: given everybody is exposed to the same tax rate, why is that unfair?
It is true that our higher incomes determine the proportion of federal revenues we pay (typically 16-17%). It is the size of the federal budget, however, that indirectly determines the amount we pay; most importantly, it is how and where they decide to spend their budget that determines how much our net transfer is.
This is where we believe there needs to be changes because it is not fair that Albertans – for the last 60 years – have such an enormous part of their income not only taxed but then spent in other provinces to enhance services and boost other economies.
The amount of money leaving Alberta has ranged from $15 billion per year at the depths of the recent recession to over $25 billion in good years: for a province of 4 million people, either of these numbers is enormous.
To put the net $324 billion transfer from Albertans since 2000 in some context, the operating expense for the entire Alberta government from 2000-2019 was $686 billion. That means out of Albertans’ provincial and federal taxes paid in that span, the federal government sent one dollar to be spent in another province for every two spent by their own provincial government to deliver health, education, police, social services, seniors’ care, etc.
In 2018, with Alberta three years into a prolonged slump in energy prices, the $17 billion net transfer that year was a staggering 5% of Alberta’s entire GDP.
This is just too much money to take out of one province both in sheer dollars, in relation to provincial spending, and in terms of provincial GDP.
The fundamental problem relates to the overall size and role of the federal government. The federal government has seen massive “scope creep” into all sorts of areas that are provincial jurisdiction under the Constitution. Every decision to increase spending beyond core federal functions has meant an unnecessary increase in the net transfer from Albertans.
When you consider that 21% of federal spending is in cash transfers to provincial governments alone, to say nothing about other social services and infrastructure programs, it is clear a tremendous amount of the federal budget is dedicated to items that do not fall under the federal government’s constitutional responsibilities.
These ever-expanding federal programs mean staffing departments that duplicate provincial work (but these staff rarely live in the western half of the country), and then either transferring large portions of Alberta tax dollars directly to other provincial governments, or spending it outside of Alberta through federal programs.
So firstly, there needs to be a re-alignment whereby a significant number of “tax points” or equivalent are transferred from the federal government to the Provinces to fund areas of provincial jurisdiction such as health care, education, social services and infrastructure. This was in fact how federal transfers generally worked in the 1950’s, using what is known as the “derivation principle,” and should be at least 20% of the federal taxation and possibly closer to one-third in order to have taxation and administration in accordance with respective constitutional mandates. This would significantly reduce the “leakage” of monies out of Alberta and ensure tax dollars paid by Albertans for provincial jurisdiction are spent by their provincial government. Even with this scale of tax point transfer there would still be room to provide a reasonable equalization program.
The secondary problem relates to how the federal government spends its budget. In addition to the transfers addressed in the previous point there are many other spending and procurement programs whereby the federal government shifts funds from Alberta to other provinces. This includes:
The Library of Parliament’s most recent report on the distribution of revenues and expenditures shows just how disproportionate Alberta’s contribution is. Even in a year where our economy struggled, the federal government took out of Alberta almost double what they sent back:
At minimum, there needs to be much better transparency surrounding how these programs channel Albertans’ earnings to other parts of the country; it is worth entertaining whether there should be legislated caps on how much (apart from declared emergencies) the difference in federal spending can be between provinces.
If we want to improve Canada’s long-term prosperity, we need to ensure we are enabling the productive parts of Canada to reinvest in their success, not just siphoning off a large part of their taxes to prop up other parts of the country.
What does FA want to accomplish?
Ultimately we want to see fundamental changes in federal government policies and outlook such that Albertans are free to achieve their potential and secure prosperity for future generations.
We see the need to increase awareness and understanding considerably before the necessary political will is generated to achieve these changes, so we are primarily an information-focused organization.
Our near term goal is to provide transparent facts to Canadians so they understand how beneficial Alberta’s prosperity has been for the entire country, but also how so many existing policies are unfair to Alberta and jeopardize our future as a proud economic engine within Canada.
We also want to make clear that this is not a zero-sum game: Canada’s economy and government coffers both benefit when any province achieves a higher level of economic output. We are all missing out on an enormous amount of productivity by holding Alberta back, but many of the changes we seek will benefit others too.
Are you separatist?
No, as our logo clearly states, we are proudly Canadian, but also fiercely Albertan.
We cannot, however, deny that the sentiment for independence from Ottawa is real. We want to address the unfair federal policies and instead let Alberta get much closer to achieving its potential – this will lessen the pull towards separatism.
Are you not inciting Albertans and creating more momentum toward separatism by pointing out these transfer numbers?
There are others who have noted some of these remarkable facts regarding the wealth transfer out of Alberta – but our organization is dedicated to raising an awareness of the underlying reasons for it so that people can make judgements about the different aspects, rather than just stoking anger.
The education process that precedes constructive change requires this awareness to be raised across Canada. This includes Alberta, where many of the facts are still not well understood by regular folks and media; but our first billboard is in Ottawa, and we are dedicating digital advertising to Toronto as well.
It is past time for transparency and understanding regarding these federal policies and their impacts. We trust that when fair-minded Canadians have the facts, that they will realize that changes are required and demand them.
Don’t Albertans simply pay more taxes because our incomes are so high? How is that unfair?
Albertans’ incomes are – for now – still above average, yes, but we have seen persistently higher unemployment levels for many years, empty office towers, and property values declining. Given the capital flight and cancelled projects that only seem to be getting worse, our future prosperity is really in danger.
Another important point is that Albertans’ incomes aren’t higher by accident – over the past 20 years our productivity levels have been head and shoulders above other provinces. In 2018 the per capita GDP in Ontario and Canada-wide was about $60,000. In Alberta it was $80,000. That’s the result of working longer hours at jobs that for various reasons generate more profit; in other words, those incomes are earned.
In addition to hard work, Albertans have for generations supported governments that were pro-productivity. Whether it is decades spent at the Alberta Research Council researching oil sands technology to make it viable, or streamlining regulations, or maintaining competitive tax and royalty rates, or simply proving to be a stable and reliable place to invest, it is not just the existence of oil deep underground that has fueled Alberta’s success and made these transfers to the rest of Canada possible.
A final point is that Albertans don’t generally mind paying more into the federal pie when we are earning relatively more. It is the way the federal government keeps growing that pie and cutting bigger and bigger pieces of it for others that is galling.
Don’t other provinces, like Ontario and BC, also make substantial net contributions to Canada?
Yes, but not nearly the amount Alberta has over the last two decades, and we are a little smaller than BC and less than one-third the size of Ontario. Additionally, there is much less evidence that federal policies and decisions are compromising their economic futures. BC obviously has tidewater, for example, and when Ontario’s auto sector was in trouble a massive bailout came to the rescue. Ontario’s auto sector also benefits from trade protectionism, causing additional net flows from other provinces.
That said, there should be a receptive audience in those provinces for some of our proposals to reduce some of the inter-provincial transfers since they would also get to devote some more of their tax dollars to their own provincial services rather than those of others.
What happens if the recommended changes do not happen? Do you really expect Canada to change its policies to accommodate Alberta? If this fails, is it your position to revert then to separatism?
As said before, separatism is completely outside of our mandate, and too serious a matter to be speculating hypothetically about.
First of all, remember this is a longer-term initiative; we do not expect immediate change, although given how clearly unfair this situation is, timely change would be welcomed.
We are hopeful that once Canadians understand this as well as some of the more egregious examples of policies that damage our economic future, that they will be fair-minded and open to our proposals for change.
We certainly understand the frustrations that have led to the various separatist movements – we wouldn’t be here today if our members weren’t frustrated enough to put their time and money into Fairness Alberta. However, we are mobilizing to address the policies that cause this frustration, and we seek the support of all those who share the goal of seeking a better deal for Alberta within Canada
The Fairness Alberta name and positions are similar to Premier Kenney’s Fair Deal Panel and Report. Is there collaboration, what is the relationship? How similar are the positions?
We are a non-partisan association that incorporated before the Fair Deal was planned and announced.
We do not support or oppose any political parties at either the Provincial or Federal level.
However we do support any effort by the Province of Alberta to negotiate a better deal for Alberta within Canada. This is the case regardless of when or under whom it occurs.
Fairness Alberta is a long-term initiative and we anticipate the need for ongoing education for some time, as well as advocacy extending beyond the next round of elections.
Our advocacy outline is primarily focused on raising awareness with Canadians about changes to the policies of the federal government, rather than recommended actions to be taken by the Province.
Is there ongoing dialogue between FA and the Premier’s office?
As FA has put its plan together, many stakeholders have been consulted, and the Premier’s office is aware of FA, but there are no ongoing discussions.
FA will be sharing its analysis with many stakeholders, opinion leaders, and decision-makers, including the Premier’s office, but this is not a focus of our activities.
Is your education focus not really a front for your advocacy position?
We want to see significant changes to Alberta’s treatment within the federation – we hope our education and advocacy lead to a common understanding of facts across Canada, and that this facilitates change.
Given the lack of transparency and understanding around the federal policies that harm Alberta, as well as misconceptions about what we have contributed, our initial focus certainly has to relate to education.
The issues and advocacy positions outlined on your website cover a lot of ground, what are your priorities and will this change?
We have developed an initial list of key issues that require broader understanding, and ultimately change in federal policies.
Our initial focus is the fiscal framework, and thus the billboards with our Alberta Transfer Meter and “Fiscal Fairness” being the first thing we tackle at length in our Issues section of the website. We have done considerable homework regarding the different streams that contribute to that net transfer number being so high. Not only is the $324 billion number powerful on its own, but it highlights many issues around fiscal fairness in the federation as well.
We also, however, have an internal Research and Issues committee with very qualified members contributing to it. Work will be ongoing to develop information and positions on other issues over time based on their own work as well as input from members and supporters.
Do you support Alberta withdrawing from the CPP?
There has certainly been a significant additional flow out of Alberta due to CPP, but have not built a consensus within Fairness Alberta on that topic.
Do you support cancelling the RCMP rural policing and replacing it with an Alberta Police Force?
Fairness Alberta is concerned with federal policies that are holding back Alberta’s economy and unfair fiscal policies. Our focus is not on how Alberta’s government chooses to deliver services.
Who are your funders? Why are they not disclosed?
There are multiple funders, most are individuals, some are organizations.
As is often the case with such organizations, many funders want their philanthropy to remain anonymous, so we have decided that we will not be disclosing the names of funders.
Even as a non-partisan organization, there are political considerations for some in supporting us that we have chosen to respect.
We expect that, over time, the majority of our funding will come from grassroots through the DONATE function on our website, but ultimately our work speaks for itself.
There seem to be a lot of groups out there trying to rally Albertans behind a push for a better deal: how is Fairness Alberta different?
Fairness Alberta is the only one truly focused on raising awareness across Canada and we believe there are millions of fair-minded Canadians out there who can help us make it happen.
Is your Executive Director an employee? How does the governance of Fairness Alberta work?
Our Executive Director is paid, yes, as are a few other part-time contractors who help with communications, website work, and management of administration.
Our Board of Directors governs Fairness Alberta; the ED reports to them and initiatives flow through various committees which are chaired by board members and include members-at-large.
Isn’t Equalization in the Constitution? Don’t you think it is fair to help fellow citizens in poorer provinces?
We are certainly not seeking to reduce Alberta’s net contributions to zero – Albertans take pride in being able to be net contributors to Canada as a result of our hard work and productivity. Due to the growth of the Federal government into provincial matters, though, the current situation far surpasses anyone’s aspirations for this extremely vague section in the Constitution.
As we explain in the Fiscal Fairness section, the Equalization program itself only accounts for about $3b – less than 20% – of Alberta’s annual net contribution. Clearly when Albertans are paying in $15-25b annually that goes to other provinces we have a great deal of additional ‘equalization’ happening under different auspices. Fairness Alberta is making this situation transparent so Canadians can better understand what is going on, what is at risk in neglecting Alberta, and how we might improve things for the entire country.