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There are some serious problems with the Alberta economy. The federal equalization system is not one of them.

This is a straw man that gets hoisted up whenever there are votes to be won, especially among those who would cast them for parties and candidates who stoke a belief that the province is always getting stiffed by Ottawa and the other provinces. It's been dusted off again.

As one narrative goes, there's a pot of cash somewhere – I don't know, let's say a warehouse in some Liberal riding in Ontario – and every year entrepreneurial Albertans are forced to funnel billions of their hard-earned dollars into this slush fund. Then, the feds ladle it out to Quebeckers and Maritimers, who get to enjoy massively subsidized public services.

It's crapola. Politicians know that, but don't go out of their way to debunk it. They offer explanations that are not quite as outrageous, but play on fears that Alberta's bank account is being drained while other provinces wallow in the spoils.

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Last week, Brian Jean, the Wildrose Party Leader who is vying to head a united right movement in the province, requested an "emergency" Calgary Stampede meeting with visiting Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to "discuss how we can restore fairness to an equalization program that has been ripping off Albertans for years." His opponent, Jason Kenney, has said the system is unjust because Alberta is "effectively funding equalization payments to provinces like Quebec" even when it is in a recession.

The subtext is that they are standing up for Albertans as Premier Rachel Notley ignores a growing crisis at the hands of the feds.

The Fraser Institute, the right-of-centre think tank, gave them fodder with a report showing how, from 2007 to 2015, Alberta contributed more than $222-billion of revenue more than it received in federal transfer payments. That's a huge number, for sure, but only a small portion is a result of the equalization system that has been in place since 1957. It was enshrined in the Constitution in 1982 and last rejigged by former prime minister Stephen Harper's Conservative government in the past decade. Both Mr. Jean and Mr. Kenney were members of that government.

It is absolutely true that Alberta contributes more to the federal government than it receives in government spending. But equalization accounts for less than 10 per cent of the disparity.

University of Calgary economist Trevor Tombe has been on a tear of late, taking to social media to try to bust myths surrounding the issue. He explains why there's so much more money that goes out of the province than comes in.

For one thing, personal incomes are higher than the national average, and hence more people pay more in federal taxes. In addition, a large number of businesses are located in Alberta and contribute sizable tax revenue. Meanwhile, as a young population that – before the recession, anyway – enjoyed low unemployment rates, federal old-age benefits and employment insurance claims have been smaller.

As a refresher, the equalization system was set up to ensure Canadians receive roughly equal levels of public services regardless of the province in which they live. Ottawa tops up those that have below-average per-capital capacity to generate revenue. Prof. Tombe notes that Alberta, which remains wealthy even amid the oil-price collapse, will likely never be in a position to require such funding. Even at the depth of the oil bust, Alberta had the highest per-person GDP.

So is it fair that rich provinces help subsidize poorer ones? He argues that within Alberta itself, revenues generated in Fort McMurray and Calgary fund public services in all other locales, where the capacity to do so is smaller.

Indeed, if there were a way to cancel the program, or even change the formula again, there would be no net benefit to Alberta without a big change to the tax system. It would only affect the have-not provinces that receive the transfers.

Credit-rating agencies have taken the Notley government to task for its decisions to maintain spending and running years of deficits to deal with the impact of the energy downturn, and there's certainly plenty of red meat there for the opposition to seize on.

The raters don't mention equalization. That's because they are in the business of gauging economic risk, not seeking political mileage.