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Local ‘fair deal’ question won’t appear on Calgary’s fall election ballots

Calgary city councillors voted no to having their own fair deal question on the October municipal election ballot.

Councillors discussed the idea in day two of the combined meeting of council on Tuesday.

The idea was first brought up in February 2020, where it was proposed that the question ‘should Calgary City Council advocate for a fair deal for Calgary Taxpayers from the Government of Alberta?’ be included on city ballots. 

The Alberta government has also asked that a similar referendum question be run alongside the municipal election this fall. 

The question planned by the Provincial government is also related to equalization payments. It asks “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?”

Coun. Peter Demong likened the question to asking if Calgarians like dessert, saying it’s too subjective.

“The answer will be yes, likely for most, but as for most, the devil is in the details,” he said.

“What kind of dessert? Some like cake, some like ice cream, etcetera. Similarly, what is that what exactly is a fair deal? It, again, would be different for different people.”

Mayor Naheed Nenshi was against the referendum on the fall ballots. He called the provincial government’s question meaningless.

“The question is should we have equalization at all. I think our debate on this fair deal is done. Because frankly, I think that we have pointed out that we shouldn’t be messing with democracy in this way. We don’t have to reduce ourselves to the level of this provincial government,” said Nenshi.

Mayoral candidates weigh in

While most of council was against having a municipal question, some felt the problem was that the question just wasn’t good. 

“If the opportunity to make the question better is what’s before us, we absolutely need to consider that and let’s talk about what a fair deal is,” said Councillor Jyoti Gondek. 

She argued that the question should be changed instead of being scrapped.

“Why would we not use this to raise the voice of the public? This is a way for Calgarians to be heard and that’s what elections are for, to hear from the people that we serve. This isn’t grandstanding. This is using the tool that was put into place by the very order of the government that doesn’t wish to have a relationship with,” Gondek said.

Councillor Jeff Davison, another of Calgary’s mayoral hopefuls, said referendums like this are antagonistic and divisive for Calgarians.

“These referendum questions do nothing to make the lives of Calgarians better. This is a waste of time for Calgarians. It’s not like we want to be pawns between the city and the province and the province and the feds,” said Davison.

Brad Field also weighed in on the debate. He too was against having a local ‘fair deal’ question on the fall ballot.

“City council is once again demonstrating the disconnect it has with citizens by focusing its efforts on a politically-motivated “fair deal” plebiscite, while failing to meaningfully engage on matters of true importance to local communities,” he said in a press statement.

We followed up with both the Davison and Field campaigns and neither supported the province’s question either.