Stop the blame game; Alberta's plight is our own doing

David Swann
Abandoned oil well equipment near Legal. File photo. SUPPLIED / POSTMEDIA, FILE

November 16, 2019

After 11 years as an MLA in the Alberta legislature under the Progressive Conservative government I feel compelled to challenge the blame now levelled at Ottawa for our difficult economic state.

The current Alberta Conservatives have ramped up the tiresome strategy as old as Alberta; when in distress — blame the feds for our economic woes. And denounce the efforts for the TMX pipeline and policies for a new energy future, beyond carbon. The blame game by the UCP government also feeds climate change denial in spite of the overwhelming science and the growing global human suffering.

How many booms and busts does it take for a Conservative government, in power for 44 years, to acknowledge they have failed to both recognize the need for alternate markets for our oil, more economic diversity and a science-based response to climate warming with stimulus for clean energy, energy conservation and efficiency programs?

Transition is difficult at any time, and particularly in a recession. But responsible leaders do not ignore the science pointing to a climate tipping point in a decade. This is not the time to double down on fossil fuel stimulus, investment and subsidies. Nor is blaming the federal government (in power for just over one term) for the lack of pipelines.

It’s time to face the truth. We are an oil state, with all its advantages, entitlements, hubris and decades of quid pro quo between the oil industry and the people in power, neglecting Alberta’s long-term well-being.

Despite 15 years of prices from $50/barrel to $100/barrel (inflation-adjusted) there is little to show in the public purse to buffer our recession. Alberta’s Heritage Trust Fund is sitting under $20 billion, unlike Norway, which started its fund 15 years after Alberta and now has $1 trillion as insurance against the future. That is leadership in the public interest.

Royalties have declined from roughly 30 per cent in Lougheed’s time to close to three per cent in the last few years; and yet the Big Five (Suncor, CNRL, Cenovus, Imperial and Husky) continue to post billions in profits. Albertans aren’t told that most companies operating in Alberta are foreign-owned, taking those profits elsewhere!

Anyone close to industry knows the Western Sedimentary Basin is virtually empty and conventional companies have been losing money since 2009, transferring low-producing wells to junior companies, with growing numbers taking what they can and walking away from clean-up obligations; now totalling $260 billion.

Again, Conservative governments continue to turn a blind eye to the contractual clean-up obligations of the oil industry. Government and its so-called “arms-length” regulators (specifically the Alberta Energy Regulator) have been captured by the industry and the Orphan Well Association (OWA), largely controlled by the industry, is now lost in a sea of insolvencies, begging for public money.

Ironically, this lack of foresight, integrity and political will have contributed to distrust and loss of confidence from investors. The Kenney war room is another blatant political ploy against both climate science and free speech; ironically, it is partially funded by foreign oil companies.

Oil prices and the global move away from fossil fuels are beyond our control. Let’s stop the blame game and acknowledge that we are all responsible for the Alberta we have, and for the Alberta we leave to our children. For all our sakes, let us see some mature, honest negotiating in good faith across this country and do our collective best to live up to our international commitment on the climate crisis. Alberta’s present state is largely our own doing.

David Swann is former leader of the Alberta Liberal Party and past MLA for Calgary-Mountain View.

[Top photo: Abandoned oil well equipment near Legal. File photo. SUPPLIED / POSTMEDIA, FILE​]