It is high time Albertans pulled their heads out of the tar sands and took responsibility for the mess they find themselves in. Theirs is a province with provincial debt, expected to hit $96 billion by 2023 and a raft of costly oil and gas caused environmental problems.
Debt wasn’t always the case. Alberta was able to declare itself debt free in 2004. Former Alberta Premier Peter Lougheed saw the pitfalls to relying on oil and created the Alberta Heritage Saving Trust. The Trust was:
“To save for the future, to strengthen or diversify the economy and to improve the quality of life of Albertans.”
Started in 1976, Alberta poured 30 per cent of the provincial energy revenues into the Trust. Ten years later retired CFL quarterback turned Premier Don Getty put an end to the revenue transfers. Succeeding governments followed suit. The Trust has flat lined ever since.
Even with a growing debt, Albertans boast having the lowest tax rate of all 10 provinces and it remains the only province without a sales tax. In spite of the low taxes Albertans lead the nation in consumer debt.
Tax rates the same as B.C. would add an additional $1.7 billion to Alberta’s bank account. A five percent provincial sales tax would generate $5 billion more.
Albertans face two approaching environmental glitches that can only add to their financial woes.
Tailing ponds are where the oil industries store the toxic sludge left over from extracting the oil. Alberta now has about 220 square kilometres of “ponds” holding an estimated 1.2 trillion litres of contaminated water (equivalent of 390,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools).
The Alberta Auditor General discovered the Alberta government had $1.6 billion worth of financial security from oil companies toward the estimated $21-billion cost of reclamation.
Added to the bill are abandoned orphan oil wells. Alberta has about 155,000 abandoned orphan oil wells; wells the owners have walked away from leaving the province on the hook with an estimated $8 billion clean up bill.
Alberta could have been another Norway had Peter Lougheed’s advice been followed. Norway, with an oil economy similar in size to Alberta, has an oil fund. The Norwegian fund’s market value stands at about $1-trillion Canadian.
Alberta’s solution – blame BC,