Monday, October 08, 2007

Toronto Investment Banker Say Alberta's Auditor General's Comments on Royalties is Outside His Mandate

I see in the Edmonton Journal editorial pages today another institutional broker has taken a public position on the Alberta energy royalties. This time at least the article is not calling Albertans stupid but instead they have targeted Fred Dunn, the Alberta Auditor General.

The writer is reported to be a Calgary broker for Westwind Partners Inc., a Toronto based investment bank, which according to their website, just sold out to an American firm.

The article is accusing Dunn of commenting “well beyond his mandate” and saying he is “irresponsibly poured gasoline on the funeral pyre of Alberta’s free-market boom.” Pretty romantic prose for a broker.

For clarity Section 29 of the Auditor General Act says: "The Auditor General may, at the request of a department, Provincial agency or Crown‑controlled organization or any other organization or body of which the Auditor General is the auditor, provide advice relating to the organization, systems and proposed course of action of the department, (emphasis added)Provincial agency or Crown‑controlled or other organization or body."

Dunn is accused of over-reaching his authority by commenting and assessing the quality of our political leadership. A plain reading of the AG Report on the Department of Energy royalty system audit shows Dunn is clearly within the scope of the Auditor General Act. As for leadership assessment, Dunn merely outlines the role of the Minister of Energy at page 91 when he says:

“The Minister of Energy is legislatively responsible for designing, operating, monitoring and adjusting royalty regimes. While the Minister takes advice for a variety of stakeholders and needs authorization (Cabinet approval) to make regime changes, he has the final responsibility for the stewardship of Alberta’s oil, gas and oil sands resources. The Department of Energy supports him by analyzing royalty issues and regimes and implementing royalty policy.”

Dunn goes further to explain and confirm he is operating and commenting within his mandate in his report also at page 91. Noting that the Department’s advice to the Minister “beginning at least three years ago” that the Alberta royalty share had “fallen below stated government revenue targets” and that an additional $1B per year in royalty payments could be charged “without stifling industry profitability.” This is just stating a fact.

In the paragraph on page 92 of the Auditor General’s Report, entitled “Why have changes not been made?” Dunn is again careful to point out “the Minister of Energy has final responsibility and is accountable for these decisions.” (on royalty regimes). Dunn then appropriately notes “Our audit mandate does not extend to auditing or judging policy decisions such as changes to the royalty regime. However, we do report on systems where sound analysis of Albertans’ most valuable physical asset does not appear to have le to timely action.”

Dunn then goes on to make five recommendations directly related to “…strengthening the Department’s royalty review system and enhance accountability for the resources stewardship.”

So J.P. Veitch I disagree that Dunn is assessing political leadership in his audit. He is making systemic recommendations for more accountability, transparency, and better stewardship of Alberta’s “most valuable physical asset” and that is within his legislated mandate.

Citizens of Alberta will assess Dunn’s report and its findings. We are already looking at our government’s actions as our Trustees of our natural resources. Just read the letters to the editors of Alberta’s newspapers and the comments on the Blogosphere for proof of that happening. Citizens’ will assess and judge the quality of our political leadership and resource stewardship and decide what to do in the next election. Albertans are fully engaged and not amused by the actions of the industry and very unhappy about the exercise of our government’s role and responsibility as well.

One final point on the Westwind Partners Inc. piece needs comment. That is the allegation that the Royalty Review Panel is “engaged in visiting editorial boards across the province, spending taxpayers’ money in a public relations exercise designed to promote its view of the world…” I have spoken with the Chair of the Royalty Review Panel, Mr. Bill Hunter and can assure J.P. Veitch that the panellists are commenting and clarifying the issues in their “Our Fair Share” report on their own time at no charge to the taxpayers of Alberta.

On the other hand I fully expect the energy industry’s current full-court-press public relations campaign and lobbying costs will be designated by them as project costs. As a result the lobbying and PR money being spent by the industry to scare Albertans will be used to reduce their project net profits and thereby reduce Albertan’s royalty share as a result.

Remember Albertan’s royalties are calculated on NET PROFITS only. In short, Albertan’s should not be surprised if their non-renewable resource tenants are charging all of their current lobbying costs to the citizens of Alberta.

Ironic wouldn’t you say?