Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
November 5, 2007
Alberta needs areal historic achievement
The Alberta government has announced its new petroleum royalty pricing system, a move which has been proclaimed to be "historic" by both the premier and many of the news media. It may indeed be historic if the government's decision to raise royalties signals a resolve to actually govern the province rather than watch massive change occur with passive bemusement.
The Church doesn't really have much to say on the question of whether oil royalties should increase by $1.4 billion a year, $2 billion or $5 billion. What we can and do say is that the fruits of the earth belong by right to all the people of the earth.
Companies should be able to receive a fair profit for extracting resources but, at heart, natural resources are God's gift to all of his people.
No one should be unduly enriched while others are left without the necessities of life. Nor should the present generation throw itself a riotous ongoing party while the earth is left a barren waste for our grandchildren.
In the final analysis, these principles have not carried much weight in the day-to-day occurrences of society - neither in Alberta nor in most places of the world. The haves possess a wildly disproportionate share of the world's resources while the have-nots are left wretched. The divide between rich and poor grows wider by the day.
This is true on a global scale, but it is also true within our province. So what is truly "historic" about the present era is that while we live in one of the wealthiest societies the world has ever known, as winter draws near, a growing number of people sleep under bridges and in forested areas of the city.
We can furiously erect 4,000-square-foot homes at an unprecedented pace, but count ourselves generous if we can find enough mats to spread out on the floors of warehouse-like buildings to accommodate those unable to afford the astronomical rents that are one of the consequences of economic growth without limits.
We ought to have a different way of measuring things. We ought to ask whether our $1.4 billion in added royalties will make us a happier people and a more just society. Will it help us get to know our neighbours and allow us to feel safe walking the streets at night? The day we place more emphasis on measuring what we give than measuring what we get - that will truly be the historic day.
This is not to suggest that the government should not be collecting more royalties from highly profitable companies. But money is no end in itself. To listen to politicians and other Albertans squabble about how much is enough and who is "selling out" and who is a "socialist" gives an uneasy feeling that the cart is sitting in front of the horse.
Please, somebody argue that the oil royalties should be set at a level that slows the insane pace of growth so that young couples can again afford to buy a modest home.
Don't be cowed by the threats of oil companies to stop exploiting our resources. Find a way to make some of them stop so that growth takes place at a measured pace, the environment is respected and resources are left for the seventh generation.
When it comes to distributing the proceeds, definitely set some aside for future generations. But make sure that the crying needs of today - both at home and abroad - are met. Can our royalty revenues be used to halt or slow the AIDS pandemic in Africa? Can it be used to end child poverty? Can it be used to fund schools so that school fees are eliminated and parents no longer work at casinos? Can we end homelessness here? Can we end it in Peru?
There are a thousand challenges for wealthy Alberta - any of whose achievement would be far more "historic" than how much cash our government and oil companies end up adding to their bottom lines.
- Glen Argan
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