KEYBOARD COMMANDO – McGowan should stay out of the petroleum royalties debate

by Mac Olsen

Last week, Gil McGowan, the president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, came out publicly and criticized the NDP government for its stance on Alberta’s petroleum royalties.
McGowan is critical of a government-appointed panel’s report on the royalties structure. Quoted in the February 1 Edmonton Journal, McGowan said:
“We think that government got it wrong on royalties. Albertans have not been getting their fair share in the past and they will continue to be shortchanged in the future under this plan….”
He goes on to say:
“Specifically we argued that one of the big problems with Alberta’s current royalty system is that it has failed to collect a reasonable share for the public at high prices. To say that we are disappointed … would be an understatement. Virtually none of the evidence that the NDP itself has relied upon over the years was considered by the panel.”
So, a left-wing labour organization is criticizing its very own left-wing political partner over how much the petroleum industry should be paying as its “reasonable share.”
Energy Minister Marg McCuaig-Boyd offered her thoughts about the panel’s recommendations.
“In the end, I think we’ve come up with something that is right for Alberta,” she was quoted in the same Journal article.
“I think we’ve got it right and it is responding to the pain and uncertainty that workers and families are feeling in our province. So I think sometimes we have to look at the bigger picture.”
Translation: The NDP doesn’t want to upset the apple cart and make the decline of the petroleum industry even worse.
However, there are two things wrong. First, this left-wing government shouldn’t have even delved into the royalties issue, given the state of Alberta’s petroleum industry as early as last spring.
Criticism also goes to McGowan. If he is so concerned about Albertans receiving their “reasonable share” of the petroleum revenues, then perhaps he should lead his own investigation.
If McGowan does, then he should come to areas like the Peace Country and hear from those who rely on the industry, especially the petroleum workers, their families and the businesses that serve the industry.
Let him make his sales pitch about increasing the royalties to those who’ve been laid off or are struggling to make ends meet.
It’s all very well for him to sit in his office in Edmonton and criticize his left-wing political partner and the panel for the outcome.
But McGowan, too, has no right to say anything about the royalty structure given the decline of world petroleum prices and thousands of people laid off in the industry, not to mention the businesses and communities that are reliant on the industry.
Now is not the time to be debating the royalty structure. If world oil prices and Alberta employment rebound, that will be the time to have it.
Until then, McGowan and the NDP shouldn’t even be having this discussion, unless they want to keep adding to the industry’s fragility.

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