Monday, October 29, 2007

Stelmach Stakes Out His Leadership of the PC Party With His Royalty Review Response

I never made it to Calgary for the PC Alberta Policy Conference but all reports tell me it was a very successful event, well attended with lots of enthusiastic delegates. Premier Stelmach’s message on royalties was well received as was his replies in the open mike session Sunday morning.

For over a month it has been royalties and nothing but royalties that have dominated the Alberta political and policy agenda. The Premier has made it very clear that the royalty decision has been taken and he is moving on with some other policy agenda items as well. Homelessness is one area he has indicated action is needed, as well as the unfunded liability for teachers’ pensions will be getting resolved sooner than later. There is a crime strategy that is soon to be announced as well.

I expect more environmental announcements in the near future on integrated land management and conservation policies coupled with sustainability and responsible resource management requirements. Support for environment related innovation and new efforts for setting realistic standards for air and water in the face of the growing economy are likely to be forthcoming too.

The Premier said that the 20 year capital plan will be settled before an election is announced. That work will likely renew some interest in reviving the 20 Year Strategic Plan for Alberta too. Contrary to what the former Premier said, there was a Plan. The 20 Year Strategic Plan was a framework document that was prepared from a consultation approach. It was accepted by government as policy and then promptly shelved in the Klein days of doing nothing.

So this weekend policy conference showed that the wounds from the leadership campaigns are healing well. Some Party members have quit picking at the scabs and are moving on with a renewed focus on the future. There is a new sense of cohesion coming back in the Alberta PC party as its membership hunkers down on nominations, election readiness and starts thinking anew about the future of the province.

While some mainstream media and the NDP are "reading entrails" and parsing the Premier’s language for signs of an early election, it is pretty clear that we are going into a spring election.

Premier Stelmach is going to be busy between now and the spring election. He is putting a lot more on his political plate beyond the royalties issues. He knows there is more to do to be sure of an effective royalty policy implementation but he has to also ensure there is a new openness and accountability on royalty rates and revenues too.
We need to be sure the Suncor/Syncrude deals are aligned or the playing flied is level for other projects. We need to get into a real market model for butumen pricing. We need to look into project overruns and what costs are legitimate to set off on projects so there is no gold plating that ends up costing Albertans foregone royalty revenues.

I am going to be watching very carefully that execution and review of the royalty monitoring and reform that former Auditor General Valentine is doing is public and promulgated. We Albertans have to keep out vigilence up and the momentum up on this aspect too so. It is up to citizens to be sure the owners’ interests are protected. To do that citizens have to underatke the personal responsibility to get become and stay informed...just like they have in the past month on royalties.

This is going to have to be a cultural change around oil sand royalties monitoring and collection. This is going to be a challenge for some administrators, and some old-school politicians too. Culture change is never easy but it is definitely necessary in this situation. I will be watching and reminding our government of Einstein's observation that you can't solve a problem with the same consciousness that caused it in the first place. Changes have to be made!