Why don't reporters interview Tom Flanagan, or Bercuson, some members of the Calgary School on this? Are they quiet? Stelmach can really make his career here by riding a populist wave but sweetening the bitter royalties pill a bit for the oil corps.
The energy companies will cut back only if it pays not otherwise and it is not likely to pay. What Stelmach should do is encourage and give incentives to companies that co-operate. Of course what he really should do is create an Alberta government owned competitor and if the big fellows want to take their marbles and go home then let them and develop the resources through a government owned facilities. But Stelmach is unlikely to be a Western version of Pierre Trudeau. He isnt sexy enough!
Tory future rides on royalty decision
Do-or-die situation for party: poll
Darcy Henton, with files from Jason Markusoff, Legislature
Thursday, October 04, 2007
CREDIT: Ed Kaiser, Edmonton Journal
A poll commissioned by the Calgary Herald and Edmonton Journal suggests royalty rates may be a do-or-die issue for Stelmach and his Conservative government.
Premier Ed Stelmach's decision on royalty rates may be a do-or-die issue for his Conservative government, suggests a poll commissioned by the Calgary Herald and Edmonton Journal.
The exclusive Leger Marketing survey suggests most Albertans want Stelmach to raise rates and could punish him at the polls if he doesn't.
Nearly 77 per cent of Albertans polled say how they vote in the next election will be influenced by the rookie premier's decision, expected this month, on whether to raise royalties on oil and gas and impose a new tax on oilsands bitumen.
A majority of Albertans -- 62 per cent -- think a royalty increase will have a positive impact on their families through improved government spending on programs or infrastructure.
Political observers say the issue is obviously a political hot potato, but if handled astutely could be a springboard to a snap fall election.
"For nine out of 10 Albertans, how Premier Stelmach will handle this will be a major test for him," said Marc Tremblay, Leger vice-president. "If he does well, if he is perceived not to be bullied around by industry, it will have a huge impact on his approval rating."
Chaldeans Mensah, a political science professor at Grant MacEwan College, said this will be a decisive moment for Stelmach.
"He could portray himself as the new face of conservatism in Alberta," Mensah said. "He could adopt a populist stance and say this represents a change from the old way of doing things."
But Stelmach will be wary of derailing the economic boom, he said.
"They don't want to let the air out of the balloon, but I think in this case people are saying the industry contribution to the province is not on par with what is happening elsewhere."
Treasury Board president Lloyd Snelgrove, who supported the premier's leadership bid last winter, said the way Stelmach approaches the issue will define him as a leader.
"Premier Stelmach is very thoughtful, very diligent, thorough, and I think that Albertans will see that when we're dealing with a huge issue like royalties or a lesser issue. . . . That trait should give Albertans a great deal of comfort.
"All of my discussions with the premier have been around doing the right thing. Never has he suggested, 'If we do that, it will get us more votes.'"
The random poll took place in the week leading up to the release of a provincial auditor general's report that reinforced the panel's finding that Albertans aren't getting their fair share of the non-renewable natural resources they collectively own.
The Herald reported Wednesday earlier results from the same poll that suggest an overwhelming majority of Albertans -- 88 per cent -- believe they aren't getting their fair share. It also suggested 67 per cent believe Stelmach should adopt in its entirety the report that recommends a 20 per cent royalty hike and a new oilsands tax.
Industry has been vocal in its opposition to the tax and several oil and gas companies have threatened to reduce investment or pull out of the province if royalties are increased.
However, Stelmach has said repeatedly that he will not be intimidated and he will "do the right thing" for all Albertans.
Peter McCormick, a political science professor at the University of Lethbridge, says Stelmach could likely win a snap election this fall if he fully implements the royalty review panel's recommendations.
But if the premier takes half measures or dithers, he could pay a political price, he said.
"I would think now that if he said the status quo is fine, his own party would start to wonder what on earth he is doing," McCormick said. "He would give the impression of a leader who doesn't want to lead."
McCormick said that while the Tories have been "soft" on oil companies and the royalty issue under former premier Ralph Klein, Stelmach "may have saved himself" by appointing an independent commission to review the royalty rates.
Auditor General Fred Dunn's endorsement of the royalty review panel's findings Monday "have closed the door" on any compromise position on the recommendations, but Stelmach could give himself some wiggle room by setting in place a transition period before the rate hikes take effect, McCormick said.
"There are all kinds of ways you can sugar-coat the pill in the transition."
McCormick said the stage is set for the premier to call a snap election Oct. 22 when he makes a scheduled TV address to Albertans.
"If he lets this issue get away from him so it's an opposition issue -- it's not his -- and lets things keep moving six months, by spring he starts to look more vulnerable," said McCormick. "But it's a bit early to say the dynasty is over. . . . A week is a long time in politics."
Mensah said how much the issue could hurt the Tories depends on how well the opposition uses it during the next election campaign.
"There's a sense the regime in place is not fair," he noted. "This could have an impact if used skilfully by the opposition because it's an issue that cuts across both rural and urban sectors."
But he said, given Alberta's political history, the issue would have to resonate in the rural areas for there to be a change in government.
The poll suggests more Albertans -- 65 per cent -- trust Stelmach to make a decision that is fair to oil companies than trust him to make a decision that's fair to all Albertans -- 57 per cent.
Leger pollster Jason Morelyle said that finding suggests Albertans are skeptical that Stelmach will do the right thing for them.
"Albertans are saying, 'Yes, this is an acid test,' but at the same time there may be a degree of cynicism," said Morelyle.
The numbers varied slightly between Edmonton and Calgary, with 71.7 per cent of Edmontonians wanting the report to be adopted in its entirety compared to 64.5 per cent of Calgarians. And only 34 per cent of Edmontonians believe royalty hikes will negatively affect their families compared to 46.6 per cent of Calgarians.
The opinion poll was conducted via online survey among 903 Albertans Sept. 28 to Oct. 1. The maximum margin of error is plus or minus 3.3 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.
© The Calgary Herald 2007