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Lakeland MLAs weigh in on upcoming referendum questions

On Oct. 18, voters in the municipal election will make up their minds on two additional topics.
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*Editor's Note: Now former MLA Laila Goodrige has since stepped down from her position and will be seeking a seat as a Member of Parliament in the federal election in the Fort McMurray-Cold Lake riding. 

LAKELAND — When residents head to the polls on Oct. 18 to vote in their municipal election, they will decide who they want to see as their municipal leaders, school board trustees and senate nominee, as well as having the opportunity to weigh in on two additional questions that have been added to the ballot.  

The provincial government is including two referendum questions on the ballot after receiving approval from the Orders in Council. Eligible voters taking part in the municipal election will be asked two ‘yes or no’ questions regarding federal equalization payments and Daylight Saving Time (DST). 

The exact questions are as follows: 

“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?” 

“Do you want Alberta to adopt year-round Daylight Saving Time, which is summer hours, eliminating the need to change our clocks twice a year?” 

At each voting opportunity, whether on election day or advance voting, institutional voting, and special ballot voting, the referendum ballot will be provided to electors. 

For municipalities not holding elections on this day, Elections Alberta and Alberta Municipal Affairs are working with First Nation communities, Métis Settlements, Lloydminster, Summer Villages, Improvement Districts, and Special Areas to provide voting opportunities for eligible electorates residing in those communities. 

Daylight Savings Time  

When it comes to the decision of whether Albertans will continue or end the practice of switching their clocks twice a year — the majority will decide, says David Hanson, MLA for Bonnyville-Cold Lake-St. Paul.  

Voter results from DST referendum questions will be binding and only require 50 per cent plus one to prompt action by the provincial government to implement the change.  

The inclusion of whether to adopt DST has been taken to voters multiple times in Alberta’s history through various plebiscites and referendums. Daylight Saving Time was first adopted in 1971 after the majority of Albertans voted in favour of the time changing ritual, which followed a failed attempt to adopt the practice during a plebiscite in 1967. 

More recently, a private member’s bill by NDP MLA Thomas Dang proposed a change in 2017, but it was defeated. 

“At that time, our neighboring jurisdictions were not entertaining the idea. So, it put us as an outlier, but now it seems that the other jurisdictions, both north and south of us, as well as left of us, are also considering it,” said Hanson, referring to the Yukon, British Columbia and Montana.   

“You want to be matching whatever your other jurisdictions are doing — that's more of the issue. It's why it didn't make sense back when MLA Dang had put it forward, because the other three jurisdictions were not considering it. Now they all are and we would end up being on an island if we don't consider it as well.” 

Both Hanson and MLA Laila Goodridge, who represents the riding of Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche, say the issue comes up quite often with constituents, with voices representing both sides of the conversation.  

“It will be interesting to see how it comes out,” says Hanson. “I think it's a good time to (switch), but it'll be up to Albertans to decide that.” 

Federal equalization payments 

Although the results on the Daylight Saving Time question is binding, the results generated from the equalization payment referendum question are not. Whether or not Albertans vote to abolish the provincial equalization provision in the constitution, it does not require any changes or political action on behalf of the federal government.  

However, Goodridge explains that the decision to hold a referendum on provincial equalization payments was promised in the United Conservative Party’s election campaign and functions as “an important tool in our democracy because it gives Albertans the ability to have a direct voice in the political sphere on a specific matter.”  

Whether referendums are binding or not, she says, it creates a clear public record when it comes to where Albertans stand on this particular issue. 

“After listening to tens of thousands of Albertans firsthand in the ‘Fair Deal’ panels, it was clear that Albertans wanted to have their say, and it was time for them to have their say,” Goodridge said. 

From Goodridge's perspective, the “Canada system on equalization is fundamentally unfair to Alberta. It pulls billions of dollars out of our province, even during times when we're struggling economically and in an economic recession, and funnels that money into provinces with strong and sometimes even booming economies.”  

She adds, “When I was campaigning in the last election, one of the strongest voices I heard throughout the entire riding of Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche were people talking about wanting to have a fair deal when it comes to Ottawa and their concerns around equalization. That came up at the doors time and time again — this is one step towards highlighting that.” 

On the topic Hanson says, “It remains to be seen how Albertans will vote on it. But either way, I think it brings (federal equalization payments) to the attention of the federal government, which is the purpose of it.” 

Provincial equalization payments, added to the Canadian Constitution in 1982, are paid to the federal government to offset economic or fiscal imbalances across the country. 

Ballot overload  

After receiving the notice that two referendum questions will be added to the municipal ballot, Alberta Urban Municipalities Association (AUMA) voiced concerns that the questions will distract from municipal issues and candidates. 

Hanson doubts the inclusion of the two referendum questions will negatively impact the turnout out of municipal election, rather seeing it as an additional draw to get voters out and in election queues.  

“It's not something that debates are going to change your mind on. You'll have made up your mind on both of those questions. So, I don't think it's going to take anything away from the municipal election, what it may do is increase the number of people that come up to vote,” he said.   

For Goodridge, holding a referendum is the fastest and most efficient way to get the pulse of the province on important topics that have no reason to be delayed.  

“Quite frankly, it makes sense to put multiple questions on the same ballot logistically, and it's not a unique practice,” she said, adding the provincial government is, “very confident that Albertans will have no problem or trouble following multiple issues at the same time.” 

Both MLAs said they look forward to the upcoming municipal election and seeing the results of these two referendum questions. 

Jazmin Tremblay

About the Author: Jazmin Tremblay

Jazmin completed a minor in journalism at Hanze University in the Netherlands and completed her Communication Studies degree from MacEwan University with a major in journalism.
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