Dear Public Interest Alberta members and supporters,Public Interest Alberta was recently invited by the Alberta Government’s Royalty Review Panel to a consultation on the Panel’s review process (that is, this meeting was a consultation on the process to be used to consult with Albertans, rather than a discussion of the substantive issues of royalties, which will then soon follow). I attended the consultation on Public Interest Alberta’s behalf and am pleased to provide you with an update.
The consultation was hosted by Dave Mowat, Chair of the Panel and CEO of Alberta Treasury Branches (ATB). There were about 15 people in attendance representing various advocacy organizations, industry groups, and municipalities.
The session began with an overview of the objectives given to the Panel by the Alberta Government:
- To provide optimal returns to Albertans as owners of the resource.
- To continue to encourage industry investment.
- To encourage diversification opportunities such as value-added processing, innovation or other forms of investment in Alberta.
- And to support responsible development of the resource.
Mowat then presented the draft proposal for the Panel’s consultations and asked for feedback. The proposed public consultation process included the use of six methods of consultation and communication: press, social media, meetings, public events, website, and word of mouth. A combination of those methods would be used to consult with four broad groups: key influencers (Public Interest Alberta would be included in this group), MLAs, industry, and the general public.
These consultations would be used by the Panel to arrive at the principles it would take into the technical side of its consultations, which would consistent mainly of expert work groups focused on three streams of royalties: oil sands, crude oil and liquids, and natural gas. The principles arrived at in the public consultations will thus be very important; they will be the key to how the technical groups look at the four objectives above.
In response to the proposal, I raised two main points for consideration in the Panel’s consultation process:
- Ensure the Royalty Review includes a strong public education component so Albertans learn about the way our royalty framework currently functions, its history, how it compares to frameworks in other jurisdictions, and how royalties are different from taxes, given that Albertans collectively own these resources. A more educated public will be able to help make public input into the process as constructive and informed as possible and will also ensure a better understanding of any changes the government makes to Alberta’s royalty structure. The Panel is posting its educational pieces on its website here. I recommend checking it regularly.
- Include MLAs in the process, both by allowing them to have input and by allowing and encouraging them to observe the consultations at every stage. It is critical that they are exposed to the wide range of opinions and interests throughout Alberta. Those experiences will better equip them when the time comes for them to decide what a new royalty framework for the province should look like.
One of the challenges the Panel faces is a very short timeline. They are scheduled to finish their work by the end of 2015, which means they have only a few months to do both the public and technical consultations. It is therefore crucial that as many Albertans as possible engage in the process now. The hub for the Panel’s work is its website at www.letstalkroyalties.ca. The site is updated multiple times every week with new information, both about the Panel’s work and about Alberta’s royalty framework more generally.
I strongly encourage you to sign up for the Panel’s e-mail list, to check the site regularly for new information, and to send your own feedback to the Panel. Your message does not need to be long, nor does it need to include technical details of how a new framework should look.
While it is true that these royalty issues can be very complex when the details are considered, it is also true that the 'big questions' are matters of principles and values, as well as evidence. In general, here are some key points I urge you to consider:
- We should follow former Premier Peter Lougheed's advice and "behave like owners." That is, Albertans collectively own these resources, and we have an obligation to ensure a maximum return on our resources for the benefit of current and future generations - something that has clearly not been happening.
- Instead of Alberta's people being the primary beneficiaries, energy companies have received staggering profits from our resources. Those profits come at the expense of the people of Alberta, and that situation must be changed.
To help you become more fully informed on these issues before you respond in the consultation process, I strongly encourage you to read two excellent Parkland Institute publications on royalty issues, available at the following links:
- Billions Forgone - The Decline in Alberta Oil and Gas Royalties (April 23, 2015)
- Misplaced Generosity: Update 2012 Extraordinary Profits in Alberta's Oil and Gas Industry (March 15, 2012)
Acting on your behalf, Public Interest Alberta has pushed for an authentic consultation process which will give Albertans genuine opportunities to express their views on these crucial issues.
To that end, I strongly encourage you to participate in this royalty review process by making your views known to the review panel. Your submission does not have to be long and involved. What is important is that you clearly state your views as a citizen, communicate the directions that you want your government to go, and make clear your strong feelings on the importance of these issues.
It is important to send a copy to your MLA. I also hope you will take advantage of the opportunity to meet with your MLA and to include this topic as an important part of the discussion. I would appreciate receiving a copy as well, so that we can get a sense of the extent and nature of the submissions.
In the meantime, I will continue to be in touch as things develop, and I thank you for your continued interest and participation as we engage in advocacy in this new political context.
- Joel French, Director of Communications and Campaigns for Public Interest Alberta