26 October 2007

Ed Stelmach -- no Peter Lougheed, but then no Ralph Klein either

Once upon a time. long, long ago, Alberta had a premier who insisted that Albertans get a fair share of their oil and gas revenues. His name was Peter Lougheed, and he stood up to both the oil industry and the federal government, at times earning the hostility of both, to defend our interests. Then things changed. First came Don Getty, who was incompetent, then Ralph Klein, who was lazy, and "fair share" declined to the point where Klein indicated he didn't care if we reviewed royalties or not.

So what do we have with Premier Ed Stelmach, a Lougheed or a Klein? Ed certainly cares -- he trotted out the Royalty Review Panel report front and centre -- but he also compromises. He will adopt about three-quarters of the report's recommended increases in royalties, leaving the government's increased take (our take) of about $1.4-billion a year half a billion short of that envisaged by the panel.

As expected, the increases were greeted with great lamentation by the oil industry, which expressed various degrees of outrage -- "shock," "really bad," "insult to the intelligence," and so on. Ho hum. With the price of oil over $90 per barrel, and the industry making its fattest profits on record, sympathy is in short supply. Even the markets weren't impressed by the whining, with some oil stocks actually gaining value this morning.

The big question, of course, is how Albertans will accept the compromise. Will they see Ed as bold or timid? Will they reward him or punish him? Only an election will tell for sure.

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