Don’t tell the separatists but Alberta is lapping up federal aid in record amounts – iPolitics.ca

Forgive me if I wax nostalgic about the initial wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Not for the confusion, fear and economic misery of the spring. But for the fact that the same confusion, fear and economic misery meant we heard nary a peep out of Alberta separatists.

For 10 weeks while Premier Jason Kenney pleaded for more and more federal aid those Albertans whose personal mantra is More Alberta, Less Ottawa were apparently happy with More Ottawa.

READ MORE: Are Kenneys Fair Deal complaints with Ottawa based on fact or fiction?

After holding rallies and making headlines last fall to rail against the federal government, the Wexit supporters fell silent as the federal government poured money into pandemic-beleaguered provinces, and none was more beleaguered than Alberta.

Well, now that provinces are gradually re-opening their economies and the federal government has stopped its daily announcements of economic aid, Wexiteers have emerged from their COVID-19 hibernation.

Those whose fevered dream is an independent Alberta have announced that two right-wing parties Wexit Alberta and the Freedom Conservative Party have joined forces to establish the Wildrose Independence Party. Not that they had much in the way of forces to commingle.

Membership numbers are fuzzy but the Freedom Conservative Party boasted 1,063 members while Wexit Alberta hasnt done much bragging about the size of its collective.

Their timing could have been better, though.

As separatists renewed their anti-Ottawa push, it became obvious Ottawa was pouring more aid into Alberta than any other western province.

In early July, Melanie Joly, the federal minister of economic development, said while British Columbia and all the Prairie provinces were applying for federal help, the demand is higher from Alberta.

READ MORE: Albertas government and opposition create toxic political atmosphere

And this week there was more awkward news for the Wexiteers.

University of Calgary economist Trevor Tombe, who has been researching federal/Alberta fiscal relations for years, wrote an op-ed piece declaring that for the first time in 55 years Alberta is getting more out of Canada than it is putting in.

Over the past decade, Albertans have paid about $20 billion dollars more in federal taxes per year than they received in transfer payments from Ottawa. Thats not because the system is unfair but because Albertans tend to be wealthier, healthier and younger.

But this year, thanks to a pandemic-ravaged economy and abysmally low oil prices, Alberta has become a fiscal catcher, not a pitcher.

Alberta and Albertans will be a net receiver of roughly $22 billion through the federal budget, says Tombe. Whats behind this shift? Massive federal spending on emergency measures to individuals and businesses, combined with much lower income and sales tax revenues raised from taxpayers. Alberta disproportionately benefits (in a narrow fiscal sense) from both.

This is also awkward news for Premier Jason Kenney who rarely misses a chance to bash the federal Liberal government for either ignoring or deliberately hurting Alberta.

Kenney is not a separatist. In fact, he has ridiculed the idea of separation, saying it makes no sense. However, he also plays a game where he stokes feelings of western alienation by assuring Albertans the provinces woes lie with federal Liberal policies not Albertas over-reliance on fossil fuels.

Mind you, during the peak of the March-April COVID-19 wave, while Wexiteers were biding their time, Kenney was biting his tongue while talking about Prime Minister Trudeau, his political nemesis.

READ MORE: Pandemic isnt over but Kenneys truce with Ottawa certainly is

Kenney even delayed until June releasing the report of the government-sponsored Fair Deal panel that looked into Alberta forming its own provincial police force, setting up its own pension plan and holding a referendum against the federal equalization program. He realized that releasing a report that thumbs its nose at the federal government while the province was still negotiating for more federal aid smacked of hypocrisy, if not stupidity.

When asked about Tombes article this week, Kenney tried to brush it off.

Obviously, this is a bizarre year, said Kenney. We havent seen a year like this in Albertas fiscal history since we went broke as a province in 1935.

He admitted Alberta has benefited disproportionately from the federal government but he still thinks the system is skewed against the province: I expect that when we get back into anything like a normal economic cycle post-COVID-19 that we will continue to face the structural challenge that Alberta has within the federation for the past five decades.

Put another way, if we get back to normal and Alberta is once again the wealthiest per-capita province in the country, Kenney will once again simplistically and cynically claim Albertans are being unfairly treated by the federal Liberal government.

CLARIFICATION:A previous version of this column positioned Melanie Jolys comments in relation to specific aid programs rather than federal funding more generally.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by all iPolitics columnists and contributors are the authors alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of iPolitics.

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