They'll be laughing out loud in the oil industry’s towers in downtown Calgary this morning. At least, that's if the oilmen haven't already abandoned their offices to dash down 8th Avenue to the bank to arrange vault space for all the extra cash coming their way.
Getting Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach’s timorous Tories to scrap their short-lived and modest increases to Alberta's energy royalties turned out to be hilariously easy for the deep-pocketed oil and gas industry.
The industry's been throwing a full-blown tantrum since 2007, when Stelmach responded to public anger about Alberta's paltry royalty rates by bumping up royalties enough to supposedly collect an extra $1.4 billion. "Albertans made it clear that examining the province’s royalty regime was a priority to ensure they are receiving their fair share from energy resource development," Stelmach said at the time. (Emphasis added.)
Well, that was then, before the oil industry threw its epic hissy fit. It wasn’t long before Stelmach and his legislative caucus were in headlong retreat. Last Thursday, they surrendered unconditionally, abandoning the last of the changes they’d trumpeted back in 2007.
Usually in Alberta, it’s not necessary for the energy industry to do much more than ominously chant "National Energy Program" to get Conservative politicians into line. Never mind that most of the economic damage ascribed to the NEP was caused by the worldwide recession of the 1980s. Facts notwithstanding, Albertans are weaned on the notion the NEP was an economic catastrophe, not to mention a vicious scheme by those Eastern Bastards to stay warm in the dark at our expense. Just saying the dreaded initials aloud is sufficient to induce hyperventilating rage.
When recession coincidentally followed Stelmach's modest royalty increases in 2008, Albertans were treated to a powerful sense of deja vu all over again by oilpatch propagandists and their faithful media sidekicks.
Back in the day, the industry would have organized a capital strike and sent the oilrigs south to Oklahoma if the government dared to get shirty about Albertans' fair share of their natural resources. But who wants to do that when there are hydrocarbons to be extracted and customers lined up to buy the stuff?
So this time they had a novel idea: Take a moribund loony-right fringe party, slap some lipstick on its tired mug, pour a few hundred thousand dollars into its advertising budget and place at its helm an articulate right-wing commentator whose congenial manner belies her scary market fundamentalist dogma.
Clearly, this scheme worked admirably for the industry. Even if Danielle Smith never becomes premier and her Wildrose Alliance Party fails to win power, the threat they pose to the government has achieved its principal goal.
As Alberta NDP Leader Brian Mason put it, "fearing for its political life, the Stelmach government has folded like a cheap tent." Indeed, the Liberal so-called Opposition folded too. Alberta's brief attempt to get something a little closer to a fair return for the people who actually own the resource was gone like a puff of smoke in a breeze.
A delighted David Collyer, president of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, told an Edmonton newspaper that Stelmach’s capitulation "goes a long way toward repairing the province’s relationship with the oilpatch."
Maybe. But what do you want to bet the industry goes right on supporting the Wildrose Alliance just the same. After all, why settle for most of what they want when they can have it all?