Tag Archives: Bill Hunter

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley announces the government's plans to not increase royalty rates.

Rachel Notley boosts her credentials as a pragmatist by accepting Tory royalty rates

If you were looking for evidence that Alberta Premier Rachel Notley is a pragmatist, we saw it yesterday. Backed by the members of the Royalty Review Panel, Energy Minister Marg McCuaig-Boyd and the 16 New Democratic Party MLAs from the Calgary region, Ms. Notley announced the Alberta government would not be increasing natural resource royalty rates.

The Royalty Review wraps up the second major review panel launched by the NDP after their win in the 2015 provincial election. The report from Alberta’s Climate Change panel represents a more meaningful shift by the government by phasing out dirty coal fired power plants and introducing a carbon tax. As the Climate Change report represents sweeping change, the royalty review panel embraces the status quo.

It is not the time to reach out and make a big money grab. That just is not going to help Albertans over-all right now, and so I feel quite confident that this is the right direction to take,” Ms. Notley told the news conference in Calgary yesterday.

The decision to keep royalty rates the same is a 180 degree turn from the feisty NDP opposition we knew ten months ago, which claimed Albertans were not getting their fair share from royalties under the old Progressive Conservative regime.

It was also a sharp contrast from the words we heard from the chairman of the province’s previous royalty review. In 2007Bill Hunter wrote that “Albertans do not receive their fair share from energy development. Albertans own the resource. The onus is on their government to re-balance the royalty and tax system so that a fair share is collected.”

If you were paying attention to the moderate language Ms. Notley and NDP cabinet ministers have used when discussing royalty rates since forming government and launching this review panel in mid-2015, you might be less surprised.

With the government’s messaging in mind, it is not shocking that the NDP did not choose to ignore the panels recommendations and impose sweeping changes that many Albertans, including myself, felt were needed. It is my belief that our resource royalties should have been raised to ensure that Albertans are actually getting their fair share when oil prices are high. This report does not do that.

While the decision to accept the status quo on royalty rates will certainly be a divisive issue within the NDP caucus and party, it demonstrates that Ms. Notley is not a partisan ideologue.

The NDP would have faced a severe political backlash from its right-wing opponents, the energy industry, and thousands of Albertans nervous about the state of the economy if they had jacked up royalty rates yesterday. In the short-term, with the current economic situation in mind, it is a smart political decision to keep royalty rates the same, but in the long-term it represents a missed opportunity for Albertans.

Closing the door to royalty increases will also not help solve the revenue shortfall caused by the drop in the international price of oil. After enjoying decades of high oil and natural gas prices, the old conservative government became over dependent on resource royalties to fund the province’s operations budget. With international oil price dropping, the new government now faces a significant shortfall in revenue.

By accepting current royalty rates, the government has also rebuked months of hyper-partisan rhetoric and nasty attacks from Wildrose leader Brian Jean, who claimed the review was risky, ideological and would “not be independent or fair.” It is troubling that Mr. Jean and his party are opposed to even the concept of reviewing Alberta’s resource royalty rates, something that should be done by the Alberta government on a regular basis to assess whether our rates are competitive.

Creating mechanisms for increased transparency around royalties is one positive outcome of this review. The report recommends the annual publication of a capital cost index for oil and gas wells and the costs and royalties paid for each oil sands project. The Auditor General has reported numerous times that the old Conservative government was not properly tracking whether Albertans were receiving the royalty rates they were owed.

Significant new investment in the Heritage Fund when oil prices do rise again will pay off for Albertans in the long-term. In their 2015 election platform, the NDP campaigned on the promise that “100% of incremental royalty revenue, above the sums earned by Alberta under the current regime, will be invested into Alberta’s Heritage Fund.”

Many Albertans will disagree with the report’s claim that Albertans are currently receiving our fair share from resource royalties. Others will claim it will limit the government’s options for dealing with the revenue shortfall. But, for better or worse, it does show the evolution of Ms. Notley and her party from leftish opposition into a moderate government. For better or worse, yesterday we saw Rachel Notley boost her credentials as a pragmatic Premier of Alberta.

“This is a sale of a depleting resource that’s owned by the people. Once a barrel of oil goes down the pipeline it’s gone forever. It’s like a farmer selling off his topsoil,” former Premier Peter Lougheed once said.

Let’s Review Oil Royalties and Start Acting Like Owners Again.

Alberta’s new NDP government has taken steps to fulfill one of their key election promises by appointing a panel to ensure Albertans are receiving their fair share from their natural resource wealth through the royalty rates paid by the oil industry to the Alberta government.

Rachel Notley Alberta NDP leader

Rachel Notley

The choice of Alberta Treasury Branches President Dave Mowat, energy economist Peter Tertzakian, former Alberta deputy minister of finance Annette Trimbee, and Mayor of Beaverlodge Leona Hanson to review Albertans royalties should calm any anxiety industry leaders may have had with this process. These are sensible choices for this important review.

Like the panel reviewing Alberta’s climate change strategy, the royalty review panel is stacked with knowledgable appointees who cannot be accused being partisan New Democrats. And while some industry leaders are still uncomfortable with this year’s election results, Mr. Tertzakian has some advice for conservative-connected business leaders.

Peter Tertzakian

Peter Tertzakian

“The industry needs to have more than just an open mind — I think you have to go with forward thinking and that this is an opportunity to get away from business as usual,” Mr. Tertzakian told a business reporting website after Rachel Notley‘s NDP was elected with a majority government on May 2015.

The appointment of Mr. Tertzakian received immediate praise online from two prominent conservative voices –  former Wildrose MLA Heather Forsyth and former Wildrose leader Danielle Smith.

The panel has an important task ahead of it and has a mandate to “optimize” returns to Albertans as owners of the resource, industry investment, diversification opportunities, such as value-added processing, and responsible development of Alberta’s resources.

Bill Hunter, who chaired the 2007 royalty review panel established by former Premier Ed Stelmach, wrote in his final report that “Albertans do not receive their fair share from energy development. Albertans own the resource. The onus is on their government to re-balance the royalty and tax system so that a fair share is collected.”

Marg McCuaig Boyd (photo by Connor Mah)

Marg McCuaig Boyd (photo by Connor Mah)

Nearly a decade after Mr. Hunter penned those words, the responsibility once again falls on Alberta’s government to ensure that Albertans are receiving their fair share from energy development.

It is up to the current panel to consult with Albertans and industry to determine what that proper balance will be.

Part of that balance will be timing, as Energy Minister Marg McCuaig-Boyd told reporters today that any changes to royalties will not be implemented until 2017. And like any other panel review, Ms. McCuaig-Boyd and Ms. Notley have the leeway to ignore any recommendations that might appear to be politically unpalatable or carry too much risk. This is why government’s like to employ these types of panels to review potentially controversial policy changes.

Politicians from the opposition benches have been fiercely critical of NDP plans to review royalties. The WildroseAlberta PartyLiberal and the Progressive Conservative opposition have described the review as “job killing.” A September 3 by-election in Calgary-Foothills has escalated the partisan rhetoric from the opposition, who see a by-election win as a way to discredit the new government’s agenda.

Dave Mowatt

Dave Mowat

But others, like Alberta Oil Magazine editor Max Fawcett, argue that now is the perfect time for a royalty review. Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers president Tim McMillan has said he does not want the government to delay the review, and even Mr. Stelmach has said the review should happen.

Comparisons can be made to a rookie PC government led by Peter Lougheed, which reviewed royalties during its first year in office, to the consternation of industry leaders who had grown accustomed to a comfortable relationship with the old Social Credit government.

“The oil companies, not unexpectedly, are howling – while the natural gas industry is quaking in its boots because the government also has made clear it is going to change its taxes in the fall,” the Ottawa Citizen reported on May 8, 1972.

Ed Stelmach

Ed Stelmach

“This is a sale of a depleting resource that’s owned by the people. Once a barrel of oil goes down the pipeline it’s gone forever. It’s like a farmer selling off his topsoil,” Mr. Lougheed once said while encouraging Albertans to think like owners.

As the owners of the resources, Albertans deserve to know whether we are getting our fair share. But the result of a royalty review is made more important if the government does something meaningful with the funds collected through the rent of our natural resources.

Alberta launched the Alberta Heritage Savings Trust Fund in 1976. Under Mr. Lougheed’s leadership, the Heritage Fund initially received 30% of government resource revenues and was worth $12.7 billion in 1986, when the PCs began a 17 year freeze on new deposits into the fund. The Heritage Fund is now worth only $17.4 billion. Despite an embarrassment of riches during most of its 44-years in power, the old conservative government proved to be poor financial managers once Mr. Lougheed retired.

In their 2015 election platform, the NDP campaigned on the promise that “100% of incremental royalty revenue, above the sums earned by Alberta under the current regime, will be invested into Alberta’s Heritage Fund.

The current downturn in the price of oil will certainly change some of the new government’s short-term plans when the budget is tabled in October 2015, but significant investment in the Heritage Fund when oil prices do rise again will pay off for Albertans in the long-term. And ensuring that the owners – Albertans – are receiving their fair share from energy development, as Mr. Hunter wrote in 2007, will be key to this long-term planning.