Not all owners are rich

In person, Premier Alison Redford is smart, focused and personally engaging — the kind of person you can talk politics with and not have everything descend into shouting. If you happen to disagree with her, you’ll get fair a chance to rally your facts and actually change her mind (or yours), without someone having to lose dignity.

In person, Premier Alison Redford is smart, focused and personally engaging — the kind of person you can talk politics with and not have everything descend into shouting. If you happen to disagree with her, you’ll get fair a chance to rally your facts and actually change her mind (or yours), without someone having to lose dignity.

You won’t find that in some politicians.

A main point in her recent talk with the Advocate editorial board was to stress the enviable position Alberta enjoys in the world. We have the highest per capita GDP of any jurisdiction in the world (except Luxemburg, if you want to go chasing stats), and the lowest taxes.

Lots of income, low taxes — what’s not to like? In fact, given personal incomes and corporate profits in Alberta, it’s a bragging point for our government in speeches and conventions to say Alberta could raise taxes $11 billion a year and still have the lowest rates in Canada.

So why are there problems in our emergency wards? Why are there not enough long-term care beds for seniors who can no longer live at home? Why are our schools aging and overcrowded?

In other words, where has all the money gone?

Former Alberta Liberal Party leader Kevin Taft has tried to answer that question in a recent book titled Follow the Money. He points out that prior to the global economic downturn in 2006, Statistics Canada reported that 42 per cent of Calgarians lived on less than $20,000 a year.

The most recent Vital Signs report for Red Deer shows more than one in five children here live below the low-income cutoff for public supports.

Yes, Alberta is the envy of the world for our economy, but our wealth is hugely skewed in favour of corporate profits and not people. For all our globe-topping productivity, corporate profits take almost 23 per cent of the GDP pie. The national average is closer to 12 per cent.

For all that wealth — based as it is on energy development — the government (that is, the owners of the resource itself) get very little.

Local NDP candidate Lorna Watkinson-Zimmer asks a legitimate question: why does oilsands development have to be so rushed?

The answer has much to do with crowded emergency wards and poverty rates.

Alberta’s oilsands are not just one of the largest oil deposits on Earth, it is the largest still open to corporate development. It’s almost half of all known global deposits not controlled by state oil companies.

Alberta taxpayers are sharing the downside risks of multibillion-dollar developments, for a promise of payoff perhaps decades down the road. As owners, we get one per cent royalty on new oilsands production, until the developers (which include the state oil companies of China and Norway) fully recover their investments.

Did your business get a deal like that? No wonder there’s a rush.

No wonder new projects are announced almost weekly, even tough our bitumen is sold at a 30 per cent discount because we can’t even get today’s production to market efficiently, much less the future’s. For her part, Redford acknowledges our lack of pipeline and upgrading capacity is costing the provincial treasury hundreds of millions of dollars a month. That’s on current production, never mind lost revenue on the one per cent boom about to fall on our heads.

Wildrose Party Leader Danielle Smith would revive the “Ralphbucks” program of issuing every Albertan a cheque, once provincial budgets show significant surpluses. Those surpluses would exist today if Albertans got a fair share of royalties — within that $11-billion tax gap. But at least Wildrose has a plan to save some of the capital we’re losing today, and at least some of the “owners” not seeing much benefit from the rent on our resources would get a cheque once in a while.

Redford calls that plan “irresponsible.” Why? What’s wrong with every Albertan sharing the rent on resources we all own, and saving something for future generations as well?

If you get a chance, ask her about that. She’ll listen. She may even have a good answer.

Greg Neiman is an Advocate editor.