Monday, November 05, 2007

Manning Wants a More Comprehensive Policy Approach in Alberta - and He is Right

You have to admire Preston Manning and Peter Lougheed. They both have different takes on the Stelmach’s government responses and the consequences to the “Our Fair Share” Royalty Review Panel recommendations.

Lougheed praised Stelmach and it should be noted Lougheed knows what he is talking about, having raised royalties himself many years ago. The federal Minister for Alberta Jim Prentice also praised the Stelmach response.

Manning, on the other hand, pans Stelmach’s response but not so much on the royalty issues in terms of balance and appropriateness but on the larger issue of the capacity of Stelmach to adequately govern.

Let’s look at what Manning has to say. He accuses Stelmach of tearing up agreements with two major oilsands players (Suncor and Syncrude). That is not the case and Manning knows it. Stelmach has confirmed that those deals run until 2016 and if they are not renegotiated by mutual agreement, they will continue to be honoured.

Manning was on CTV’s Question Period yesterday noting that the Stelmach government may fall into minority territory should another 150,000 Albertans stay home on Election Day. This is in addition to the 210,000 PC supporters who stayed home in the 2004 Klein election. Here is where I agree with Manning, if that happens, Stelmach in minority or even losing territory.

However an election is not here yet and there is lots of time for Stelmach to do the rights thing to restore good government to Alberta…and get the credit for it. That means he needs to be between the far right and the old-style Klein somnambulist approach to governing but also to fix the social and ecological deficits in Alberta to day and going forward. A single minded focus on the economic agenda alone is not good enough.

Now let’s look at the Manning Agenda based on from his reported comments. He notes “…the big picture just hasn’t been spelled out, that’s where I see the problems.” The items in the Manning “big picture” are tying royalty rates to tax policy, continental energy security and environment. And he pointedly asks if Stelmach has the competence to deal with these issues as well. It is a fair and provocative question. It will get distorted and massaged by all kinds of spin-masters but I think Albertans can see through that noise and keep a focus on their core concerns.

Here I think Manning’s focus on what he calls “the big picture” is right on. But I think the focus is not on Stelmach’s competence to govern alone is too narrow. Do any of the political party leaders in Alberta have the trust of Albertans to competently deal with these issues? Our oil sand survey preliminary results show that none of them have generated sufficient trust to deal with growth issues in the province. Stelmach is by far the most trusted political leader in Alberta according to our results but at only 32% support that is not enough to presume electoral success.

There is a need for the political agenda to deal beyond the dollars and get into the environment and social issues and angst that this economic growth has caused. Albertans know that and have moved ahead of the political pundits and politicians to embrace a more comprehensive and integrated approach to public policy and governance. So media sound bites and political personalities aside in the complex real world I think Lougheed, Prentice and Manning are all correct in their comments and observations on the Stelmach royalty response and the potential political and policy consequences to governing.

Albertans will decide all of this in the next election. Staying home and not participating is not a viable option to sustain a robust democracy. My bet is if people are not happy the far right will go to the Alliance or the new Wildrose party if it gets enough signatures to forma party before the election. The left will go Green and the disenchanted middle will also park with the Greens as a way to send a message.

I will shortly post what I think that could mean for all the current political party leaders in the aftermath of the next election.


  1. Anonymous8:10 am

    I do not understand. You say you have to admire Peter Lougheed and Preston Manning, but then go on the say that Manning accuses the Tories of tearing up agreements, when in fact he knows that is not the case.

    Overlooking someone's blatant misrepresentation, because he has a "greater goal" sounds a lot like Harper's "Ends Justify the Means" philosophy. And all along I thought you were not keen on the current PM ;-)

    Frankly, Manning has never had to negotiate/renegotiate any sort of government agreement, because he never actually formed a government. He may want to keep that in mind, next time he decides to mouth off.

  2. Anon @ 8:10 - Manning may not know about the on-going dealings between the GOA and Suncor/Syncrude to look at renegotiating the old royalty agreements.

    He may be caught in the rhetoric of the energy nay-sayers and MSM business writers who have characterized the negotiations in this way.

    I always presume the best in people until they prove otherwise. It is a happier way to live.

    On the main Manning message I think he is right on that we have to tie in taxes, security of continental energy supply and environmental integrity (and I would add better decision making) into the Alberta energy strategy right away.

    Royalties are about balancing public and private economic interests. As important as that is, it is only a piece of the large challenge.

  3. Anonymous9:27 pm

    Any idea if Alberta is going to sign a deal similar to BC. The Conservative Party of Canada committed over $2.2 billion to infrastructure in BC - do you know if there is something similar going to happen in Alberta? I am surprised the LPC did not invest in these types of programs.

  4. Anon @ 9:27 - I don't think that federal funds in to Alberta will happen.

    Harper believes he has Alberta in the bag and so why spend money on rich Albertans even though we are part of the country.

    Harper believe we can be relied upon to accept that we are second class citizens in the nation.

    This benign neglect from Harper towards Alberta is all over the place...I know it in terms of responses to mountain pine beetle.

    It is going to feed the energy of 8-10% of Albertans who are separatists. I have always said it iwll be Alberta that is the first to invoke the Clarity Act - not Quebec.

    Alberta and BC can make it on their own...Quebec - not so much.

  5. Anonymous11:14 am

    Manning raised the issue of competence and you mentioned statistics on trust. These are not related. There is nothing about Stelmach's education, training or experience which equips him to deal with the complexities of the royalty regime. Manning is right.

    Stelmach's lack of competence can be somewhat remedied by an open and transparent process. Why does Mr. Stelmach refuse to make public the expert opinions and analyses provided to the government and the royalty review panel?

  6. Anonymous12:37 pm

    anonymous 11:14am,
    "There is nothing about Stelmach's education, training or experience which equips him to deal with the complexities of the royalty regime"

    Oh, really now. And what experience, may I ask, has Preston Manning with respect to running a government? Answer: zero. Being resigned to the Opposition benches for his entire career does not qualify. Last time I looked, Manning also did not have a background in the oil and gas industry, so how much more do his comments mean than yours or mine?

    Prime Minister Harper was not a diplomat prior to becoming PM, yet he seems to be doing a good job on the world stage.

    No leader, whether at home or on the world stage, could have prior direct experience in every issue that may arise. Your idea of a "philosopher king" is a little old.

    Premier Stelmach has more than a decade of cabinet experience in several roles. Specific energy industry experience would be beneficial, but is not required. Contrary to the beliefs of some, there is more to governing Alberta than running the Department of Energy. And even there, we have today as Energy Minister one of the best qualified people in a generation.

    Mel Knight spent his pre-political life in the oil & gas service business. He owned a company. Better yet, he was successful at it. So I think he knows a few things about decline rates, shallow gas rights reversion, and rig utilization.

    Funny how the people that disparage the royalty decision - which was made using the expertise of the Energy Department - disparage the apparent lack of knowledge available. These same people evidently had no problem with the department in the Klein days. Correct me if I am wrong, but there was no wholesale change in staff when Ralph retired. If the people were capable then, they are now, non?