Wednesday, 03 February 2016 14:22

In desperate times, forget ideologies: it is still all about those in charge

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On Feb. 1, both the governments of Alberta and Saskatchewan are addressing in their own ways, the crisis which is really gripping the employment and economic landscape on the prairies. Apparently, the two provincial premiers have abandoned their ideologies in order to keep their provinces from financially drowning.


In Alberta, Premier Rachel Notley unveiled a complex plan which will have the government hand out $500 million to petrochemical facilities in terms of royalty credits “through a competitive application process.”
According to the Feb. 1 press release, “credits will be awarded once approved projects are completed and feedstock consumption begins. While petrochemical facilities do not directly benefit from royalty credits, as they do not pay royalties, the credits earned by an approved facility can be traded or sold to an oil or natural gas producer. This producer would use these credits to reduce their royalty payments to government.”
More details on the “eligibility criteria and information and about the competitive selection process” were to come out Feb. 4 at www.energy.alberta.ca.
It’s an interesting turn from an Alberta government which stands to lose millions in royalties from petroleum based businesses — especially a supposed NDP, left-leaning, more government control type of ideology. On the surface, the government has control in that this ‘credit’ is a government-controlled program, but unless there are details with nasty conditions on it not known at this time, the program is effectively allowing petroleum-based businesses to keep their royalty money and creating business amongst other related businesses.
Give credit where credit is due: it’s a novel business-friendly concept for an NDP government and a place such as Methanex in Medicine Hat stands to benefit. A global company, Methanex’s Medicine Hat plant currently has a production capacity of 0.6 million tonnes of methyl alcohol or methanol which is used as alternative fuel or according to its website: “produce other chemical derivatives, which... are used to produce everyday products, such as building materials, foams, resins, plastics, paints, polyester and...health and pharmaceutical products.”
According to a Medicine Hat News story Feb. 2, Methanex coincidently happens to be considering  a 1.3 million tonne expansion which would provide 1,000 construction jobs and subsequently 50 permanent jobs.
A new, inexperienced government, sometimes will have new ideas which definitely have some potential. Fresh eyes sometimes create fresh ideas.
Of course, subsequently they also fumbled badly on issues such as the handling of the farm workers legislation. Then after years of trashing the oil industry saying Albertans were not getting their fair share of royalties from oil, they agree with the Royalty Review Advisory Panel’s recommendations and basically keep the royalty rates the same while packaging it as “a simpler, more transparent and efficient system...”
A major flip-flop, no?
Next door, on the day before Groundhog Day Premier Brad Wall spoke to the Saskatchewan Urban Municipalities Association convention in Regina and was bracing the province for what looked to be more than six weeks of ugly economic and political weather.
Twitterverse was all afire with the news Wall told the SUMA convention the government would be running a deficit over the next two years, but believed they could get back on track by 2017-18.
Like Notley, this is a drastic turn for a government ideology which prides itself on having no deficits. While Wall admitted in reports this is against the party’s ideology, he noted it was necessary. Wall has been criticized for being short on details on what his plans are or for delaying a budget which traditionally comes down in March. 
To be fair, the unfathomable tragedy in La Loche and the impending April 4 election may have delayed the unveiling of any future plans.
However, Wall would be wise to try and unveil some innovative initiatives.
Known for his realistic and no-nonsense approach, Wall’s government needs to step up and demonstrate how exactly they plan to lead Saskatchewan through this national and international economic mess. So far, it’s been pushing new Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to pay attention to domestic policy instead of the PM’s international glad-handling, as well as his most recent mention about running deficits over the next two budgets.
That’s fine, but it had better not stop there. The NDP is waiting in the wings — not that they have demonstrated any sort of innovative ideas to any degree to warrant a lot of voter attention — but stranger things have happened come voting day, just ask former Conservative leader Jim Prentice.
Like the old adage states: it’s not how you start, but how you finish. For both Notley and Wall, the next few months will define their place in provincial history. Any government can look good with billions in royalties coming in the coffers. It’s those who can turn nothing into something which will find a fond place in history books and leave those ever-popular lasting legacies.
Ryan Dahlman is managing editor with the Prairie Post. Contact him with your comments about this opinion piece at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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Ryan Dahlman

Managing Editor