Nfld. & Labrador

PC leader calls for equalization referendum in N.L., while Liberals call it a stunt

The leader of the Opposition launched an early attack against the premier, ahead of the House of Assembly convening next week.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has also called for a vote if federal government doesn't change formula

PC Leader Ches Crosbie says it's time for the province to hold a referendum on equalization. (CBC)

Progressive Conservative Leader Ches Crosbie is piggybacking off Alberta Premier Jason Kenney and pressuring the Newfoundland and Labrador government to hold a referendum on equalization payments.

This isn't the first time — Crosbie made it part of the PC platform in the last provincial election campaign — but now it comes on the heels of a federal election where equalization was a big part of the fallout.

While the Alberta premier wants to kill equalization, Crosbie wants the formula rejigged so Newfoundland and Labrador can get money.

"It's not the whole solution to our financial problems," he said. "But it's a meaningful part to the solution."

Crosbie also accused the ruling provincial Liberals of dropping the ball on renegotiating the terms of equalization last year, when the feds extended the current formula to 2024. 

Finance Minister Tom Osborne responded Tuesday afternoon, fighting back against Crosbie's assertions.

"We don't need a political stunt," he said of the calls for a referendum. Osborne estimated the process would cost at least $2 million.

Crosbie, meanwhile, says the province should receive more than $300 million each year in payments from so-called "have" provinces.

It's been 10 years since Newfoundland and Labrador ditched its "have not" status and stopped receiving equalization payments. At the time, it was lauded as a huge success and called a "proud day" by then premier Danny Williams.

However, times have changed and oil prices have plummeted. The province expects to spend $1.39 billion on debt servicing during this fiscal year.

This year, it's expected Nova Scotia and New Brunswick will each receive more than $2 billion in equalization payments, while Newfoundland and Labrador will get nothing.

Speaking to media on Tuesday morning, Crosbie said many Newfoundlanders and Labradorians are afraid the province will go bankrupt.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has been fighting against the equalization formula in his province since being elected. (Amber Bracken/The Canadian Press)

Holding a referendum will not create an immediate change, as the equalization formula is a federal initiative and it is currently locked in until 2024.

However, Crosbie said it can force the federal government to negotiate the formula, citing a Supreme Court of Canada decision on Quebec secession.

"A referendum on a constitutional issue, with a clear question and a clear majority requires the federal government to negotiate," he said. "Thus, a provincial referendum on equalization is the province's last way to achieve equalization fairness."

Crosbie also took the chance to make a dig at Premier Dwight Ball, saying Ball did not stand up for the province when the federal government extended the status quo for the equalization formula last year.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador


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