One month ago, Premier Alison Redford took to the airwaves to warn Albertans about the revenue problem, or ‘bitumen bubble‘, the government will face in the 2013 provincial budget. The Premier cited the lack of pipelines pumping bitumen from our oilsands to external markets as a reason for the low price of Alberta oil and her government’s lack of resource revenues. Alberta had a revenue problem.
For the first time in recent memory, Alberta’s revenue problem was at the top of political discourse in our province. The government held a symposium to hear from experts about Alberta’s fiscal framework, but at the same time ruled out the return of health premiums and denied any rumours of a provincial sales tax (which, in fairness, would have been as popular as introducing rats into the province).
Two reasonable solutions that did not get enough attention were to increase the revenues from natural resources and to replace the Klein-era ‘flat-tax’ with a progressive taxation system that could collect more revenue without penalizing low- and middle-income Albertans.
It is hard not to point out that the group of individuals currently in a position to solve this problem are also the architects of our government’s short-sighted fiscal planning: Alberta’s Progressive Conservatives.
But late last week, before the Premier flew to the United States in a last ditch attempt to lobby politicians to approve the TransCanada Keystone XL Pipeline, she turned her government’s spin machine in a new direction, claiming Alberta now has a “spending problem.”
It is likely this is still part of the ongoing public relations campaign to manage Albertans expectations before the March 7 provincial budget.
Now let us shift to the pipeline debate and what the Premer says is the source of our (now former?) revenue problem: Alberta’s pipeline problem.
After years of campaigns targeting Alberta’s tarsands as a major contributor to climate change, our oilsands are an easy political target for opponents of two major pipelines. Large protests across the United States last week have put the future of the Keystone XL Pipeline in question and a near political consensus in British Columbia against the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline suggests a pipeline through that province is unlikely to be built anytime in the near future.
Both Liberal Premier Christy Clark and NDP leader Adrian Dix have adopted positions against the Northern Gateway Pipeline project in advance of the May 14, 2013 elections. A recent poll from Angus-Reid shows the BC NDP with 47% support compared to 31% for the BC Liberals.
Premier Redford’s cause is not without political allies south of the border. The Keystone XL Pipeline has the support of a dozen United States Governors and TransCanada claims the southern section of the pipeline, through Texas and Oklahoma, is already half-complete.
Many critics of the Keystone XL pipeline have focused on climate change, raised legitimate concerns about the devastating environmental impact of pipelines leaks, and poked holes in the number of jobs pipeline proponents have promised to create.
Representing more than eleven million American workers, the AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka is backing the pipeline, pitting the labour movement against environmental groups, like the Sierra Club (executive director Michael Brune was arrested at last week’s protests).
It has been speculated that having these two large and influential constituent groups on opposite sides of this debate could make it increasingly difficult for President Barack Obama to approve the pipeline’s construction over the American border with Canada.