Listen up, Big Oil

By NEIL WAUGH, Sun Media

fctAdTag("bigbox",MyGenericTagVar,1); Later today, Premier Ed Stelmach heads into enemy territory. He does it with a spring in his step and a smile on his lips. He intends to lay it on the line and tell it like it is to the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers’ annual “strategy” session at the swank Banff Springs Hotel.
CAPP’s two key communicators became known as “Chicken Little” and “Sky’s Falling” for their ludicrous Doomsday scenarios during the Big Oil backlash to Steady Eddie’s oil, gas and oilsands royalty tweaks last fall. The game plan they should be strategizing at the Springs is Stelmach’s decline and fall in the election that the premier could call in less than two weeks.
Albertans don’t appear to be marching to the beat of the Calgary oil barons. Big Oil’s “grassroots oil workers rally” at the legislature last fall was such an embarrassing failure with only a few dozen showing up.
A curious poll was taken last week by Allan Gregg’s respected Strategic Counsel group. When more than 900 Albertans were asked which party’s candidate they will support, 58% backed Stelmach’s PCs. Only 19% said they would vote for Kevin Taft’s Liberals. If NDP Leader Brian Mason didn’t have the Green party sucking up half of the left wing vote, his numbers would match those of Taft.
It’s not all smooth sailing for Stelmach. But it’s not a stormy electoral sea either. When asked who would make the best premier, Stelmach topped the poll at 43% overall. In Calgary the premier’s popularity slipped to 37%. But in Redmonton, Stelmach’s popularity soared to 44%. Taft is a brutal 15% provincewide and just 15% in the capital – the city the Liberals are supposed to own. Ironically, the Grits numbers are better in Calgary where party support is at 23% and Taft’s comes up to 18%.
“If you take that poll at face value, and I don’t,” Taft spat when confronted with the numbers yesterday, “it’s a big hill to climb. “The bigger they are, the harder they fall,” he said. “We want to see a whole lot of movement during the election campaign.”
Yesterday, Taft tried to get the undecided vote swinging his way by proposing a major cut in Stelmach’s royalty framework – particularly on natural gas.
Even though the Strategic Counsel pollsters found royalty revenues hardly registered a blip (health care, climate change, affordable housing and the economy in Edmonton topped the “important issues” list) Taft urged Stelmach to scrap his royalty structure.
Taft also reacted to the strategic leak of a letter to CAPP from Energy Minister Mel Knight talking about the “unintended consequences” of the royalty changes that “must have a quantifiable negative impact on Albertans generally.” The economic low blow is “so immediate, it needs to be dealt with in the short term.”
Stelmach also hinted about “unintended consequences” in his speech to U.S. oil industry execs in Washington last week.
But in his talk today he’s expected to bring a carrot. And a stick. He will first remind the oilmen that money doesn’t grow on trees. Much of the extra royalty revenue will go right back out the door for the costly infrastructure – like twinning Highway 63 – that the oilpatch is demanding.
Also, the oil bosses better get on board with the greenhouse gas strategy, after Stelmach tested the political waters stateside, determining there are “ongoing attempts in some quarters to slow down or even stop oilsands development.”
While 61% of those polled feel Stelmach has done a “good job” since winning the PC leadership, 57% reckon the PCs have “done a poor job dealing with climate change.” “I don’t see the political mood of Edmonton or Calgary reflected in that poll,” Taft sniffed. “We’ll find out on election day.”
A day Kevin may live to regret.