WESTLOCK - At Westlock County’s budget open house Nov. 25, one resident suggested that the province should consider a way of spreading money across municipalities in a fairer way, based on need.
Counties like Strathcona bring in large amounts of revenue because they have tax-paying industries within their boundaries. That income should be spread around, she recommended.
We agree. This was hinted at by Town of Westlock mayor Ralph Leriger in August, when he indicated some issues with the way Municipal Sustainability Initiative funds were awarded as they’re based on grant applications, not need.
There is a corollary, however, which county Coun. Victor Julyan noted very quickly: they’re called equalization payments — the very thing Albertans are so upset about on a federal level.
This brings up a host of imbalances when it comes to how we analyze the way our money is being spent. Provincially, our government’s position is that we are treated unfairly in Ottawa. This might be so; Western alienation has been an issue for a while now.
Whether or not it originates from equalization payments is more difficult to ascertain. Nonetheless, they form the distinguishable feature of Western alienation at the moment.
On our social media pages, commenters have been using the phrase ‘cognitive dissonance’ quite frequently for a few stories involving the Kenney government. It means that one person holds contradictory opinions about something.
It applies to equalization payments as well. People find it unfair when their (provincial) money is being spent in other parts of the country. Yet when brought closer in, at the municipal level, it is offered as a solution for poorer counties to be able to cover their basic expenses.
Well, it’s the same thing.
In a sense, Westlock has the advantage of perspective when it comes to this process. It is one of the poorer counties, predominantly agricultural, without significant industry. In order to provide the same services other Albertans receive, which should in theory cost about the same per capita, it has to spend money it cannot make.
Within these boundaries, we should be able to see how equalization payments would benefit municipalities, increase quality of life, and make economic development a possibility.
It could mean the county would have money to hire an economic development officer, for example, without considering cutting down service levels in other departments. A beaver program wouldn’t be such a big deal.
Yet somehow, we don’t see that irony.