Give Alberta Oil Back to the People

Norway has banked more than $1 trillion—all thanks to its state-owned oil company. Should Alberta follow its model?

An oil pumpjack stands in an open prairie field covered with snow.
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For many years, commentators in Alberta have crowed about how the province demonstrates the merits of free-market capitalism. While most provinces struggled with deficits, Alberta was deficit free—and its media commentators and politicians clearly enjoyed lecturing other provinces on how to cut taxes and make other promarket reforms so that they, too, could be successful like Alberta. Typically downplayed in all this commentary was the fact that the gush of oil revenues pouring into Alberta’s coffers made it easy for the provincial deficit to melt away like ice cream left in the hot sun.

Then came the reckoning. The stunning collapse in global oil prices, starting in the summer of 2014, brought about a sea change. Alberta suddenly faced significant deficits and an uncertain future. Surprisingly, the province had saved only $17 billion in its rainy-day savings account, the Alberta Heritage Savings Trust Fund. It was noted at the time that this amount would quickly be eaten up if the oil-price slump persisted or if the world got serious about switching to clean energy.

The declining outlook for oil also affected Norway—a nation that, like the province of Alberta, is endowed with generous oil reserves and a small population. Norway had also saved for a rainy day. But, strikingly, its heritage fund was full to overflowing with more than $1 trillion, ensuring a future for its citizens free from austerity and full of possibilities.

In another interesting difference, Norway had created a state-owned oil company, Statoil (recently renamed Equinor), which is the eleventh-largest oil company in the world. With assets of more than $100 billion, Equinor is majority-owned by the Norwegian people, adding yet more to their collective wealth. In the 1970s, Alberta created the Alberta Energy Company, which was half-owned by the province. Today, the Alberta Energy Company is the second-largest oil-and-gas producer in Canada, but the province privatized it in 1993, leaving Albertans with no ownership stake in their oil industry or the corresponding wealth that goes with that.

With the 2014 oil-price collapse, the sharply diverging prospects facing Norwegians and Albertans suddenly became a focus of attention in a way that didn’t reflect well on Alberta. Reports and commentaries began appearing in the Globe and Mail and on the CBC suggesting there were lessons Albertans could learn from semisocialist Norway.

That suggestion enraged Gary Lamphier, business columnist for the Edmonton Journal. In a frothy column headlined “Norway Offers Few Lessons for Alberta,” he dismissed the proposition that Alberta had anything to learn from Norway and angrily attacked “media cheerleaders in Toronto” for floating such an idea.

But, as satisfying as Lamphier no doubt found it to rail against Toronto, he was unable to get around a simple fact: Norway had somehow managed to build up a rainy-day fund that was an astounding sixty times larger than the Alberta fund. Lamphier notes that Norway’s state oil company controls most of the country’s oil production, while Alberta’s oil industry is dominated by “domestic and foreign players” that are “expected to generate a decent return for their shareholders. . . . It’s called capitalism. Norway embraces a very different socialist model.” Lamphier’s argument is an odd one. He seems to think that merely pointing out that Alberta embraces capitalism while Norway embraces a more socialistic model is enough to put an end to the argument. But this should not be the end of the argument; rather, it should be the logical starting point.

Indeed, surely the debate should boil down to a simple question: Which model works better? Unless we are captives of ideology, we should want to know the answer to this basic question. Rarely has there been a more clear-cut divergence in economic strategies, enabling us to compare the merits of Alberta’s free-market, private-ownership approach with Norway’s model of public ownership and control.

Lamphier can stomp his feet all he wants. What’s needed, however, is not emotion or ideological conviction, but rather a fair-minded assessment of which approach best manages a key resource for the benefit of the people.

Alberta’s inclination toward a market approach was evident in its politics following the Great Depression. With the death of Social Credit (or Socred) leader William Aberhart, in 1943, the Alberta government moved away from attacking eastern banking interests and adopted a more clearly pro-business stance under the new Socred leader, Ernest Manning. That pro-business orientation intensified after 1947, when an Imperial Oil exploration crew discovered oil in Leduc, near Edmonton, launching Alberta’s development as a major oil producer.

The province was quickly caught up in the hoopla of a new petro prosperity—a thrilling change for many people still haunted by the dark days of the Depression on the Prairies. By the time the long-reigning Socreds were finally swept from office, in 1971, Alberta was already heavily under the influence of the private oil industry, which was mostly foreign owned. The mainly American-owned multinational oil companies accounted for fully 79 percent of the oil-and-gas revenues in Alberta and 84 percent of the industry’s profits, with half of the province’s oil output exported to the United States.

The newly elected Progressive Conservative premier, Peter Lougheed, was a businessman and lawyer who came from a very prominent Alberta family. Following the family tradition, Peter Lougheed was a conservative and was certainly pro-business. But that didn’t prevent him from recognizing that Albertans were not getting a good deal from the oil companies. And, unlike the earlier Alberta premiers the companies had faced, Lougheed did not see his role as simply one of keeping the industry happy.

The new premier broke sharply with his predecessors in vigorously asserting that Albertans owned the oil and gas in their ground and that they had to start “thinking like owners.” He showed what he meant by that when, in one of his first acts as premier, he announced plans to significantly increase the share of oil wealth going to the province by raising the royalties the companies had to pay. Accustomed to a sweetheart deal that limited royalties to 17 percent, the companies fought back when Lougheed pushed the rate up to 25 percent on newly drilled wells. The industry didn’t hesitate to revive memories of Depression-era Alberta, attempting to stoke fears that the royalty hike risked “killing the goose that laid the golden egg.” Oilweek, the Calgary-based magazine that functioned as a mouthpiece for the industry, featured a desolate abandoned farmhouse with the caption “What Would Alberta Be Like without the Oil Industry?” Another Oilweek cover hinted that the premier had lost his mind, running a photo of Lougheed beneath the heading “This Man Needs Help.”

But Lougheed persisted and prevailed. The oil companies, apparently concluding (correctly) that there was still profit to be made in Alberta, simply adjusted to the new royalty regime. More broadly, they found themselves obliged to adjust to a new regulatory framework in which provincial civil servants were actively involved in planning and overseeing the exploitation of the province’s resources.

In an effort to counter the dominance of the multinational oil companies, Lougheed established the above-mentioned Alberta Energy Company, half-owned by the provincial government with the other half owned by members of the public purchasing shares at affordable prices. The notion of Albertans investing in the province’s resources—privately and through public ownership—proved wildly popular. The Alberta Energy Company was given some attractive oil properties to develop and was touted as a vehicle for diversifying the province’s economy beyond oil, including establishing a spinoff petrochemical industry. Lougheed was keen to push Alberta out of its past pattern of exporting raw resources for processing elsewhere.

Lougheed’s determination to secure a better deal for Albertans was helped by the quadrupling of world oil prices, in the early 1970s, due to the rise of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries. With Alberta awash in oil revenues beyond anyone’s wildest dreams, there was plenty to go around, easing the way for Lougheed as he pushed royalties up to 40 percent, providing the province with an annual $10 billion boost in revenues. Realizing that the heady oil prices wouldn’t last forever, he also established the Alberta Heritage Savings Trust Fund, with an initial investment of $1.5 billion in 1976, to hold a portion of the province’s resource revenues as a nest egg for the future.

It was Lougheed who launched the development of Alberta’s massive tar sands (or oil sands, as they’ve been renamed to soften their image). He saw the gigantic oil-sands deposit as pivotal to the long-term prosperity of the province, as well as offering a chance to break the dominance of foreign corporations. From its early days, the Lougheed government invested heavily in advancing the oil sands, funding government agencies that developed key technologies to extract bitumen from the gooey, tar-like sands, as well as creating a regulatory framework to supervise the development.

Lougheed’s time as premier, from 1971 to 1985, represented the high-water mark for assertive public control and management of the province’s oil reserves. In the later years of Lougheed’s premiership, with a sluggish world economy producing falling oil prices in the early 1980s, his government retreated somewhat. It allowed petroleum companies to keep a larger share of revenues, and it made smaller contributions to the province’s heritage fund. (The contributions were phased out entirely by 1987.) Lougheed also switched his prime focus to fighting Ottawa for control over oil after Pierre Trudeau’s Liberal government introduced the sweeping National Energy Program (NEP) in 1980.

The NEP proved a godsend for the multinational oil companies since Ottawa moved into the hot spot as Alberta’s chief adversary, accused of interfering with the province’s quest to control its oil. The foreign-owned oil companies took full advantage of the resulting bad blood between the warring Canadian factions, helping Lougheed whip Albertans into an anti-Ottawa frenzy.

The close alliance between the Alberta government and the oil industry in fighting the NEP became a far cozier alliance, however, in the era of Ralph Klein, the folksy former Calgary mayor who served as Progressive Conservative premier from 1992 to 2006. Klein fully privatized the Alberta Energy Company in 1993, undoing Lougheed’s attempt to provide Albertans at least a partial ownership stake in the province’s key industry and to give the government some involvement in shaping Alberta’s economic development. With slogans like “Get government out of the business of business,” Klein abandoned any notion that Albertans were running the show and behaving, in Lougheed’s words, “like owners” of their valuable resources.

The break with the Lougheed approach was most evident in the handling of the oil sands. An industry-sponsored task force, almost completely dominated by corporate players, recommended massive changes that would lower royalties, lower taxes, and speed up project approvals. The new royalty rate was set at a piddling 1 percent; only after every penny of capital costs had been deducted would that rate rise to a modest 25 percent. With all caution and restraint stripped away and oil-sands properties sold at bargain-basement prices, development flew into overdrive, with much of the wealth draining out of Alberta. The province lacked the capacity to process the massive amount of bitumen being produced, and the industry was happy to simply ship it unprocessed to refineries elsewhere.

This “rip and strip” approach got so overcharged that, in 2006, Peter Lougheed came out of retirement to express alarm. “What is the hurry?” he asked in an interview with Policy Options magazine, insisting that development was way too fast and the royalty rate way too low. “It is wrong in my judgement, a major wrong, and I keep trying to see who the beneficiaries are. . . . It is not the people of the province.”

Certainly, the drastic lowering of oil royalties under Klein and his successors has had an enormous impact on the province’s finances. The public share of oil revenues dropped from an annual average of 27 percent in the Lougheed years to an annual average of just 15 percent under Klein. Andrew Nikiforuk, a respected journalist who has long covered Alberta’s petroleum industry, put it bluntly when he wrote that the lower royalties “cheated the citizens of Alberta, the owners of the province’s hydrocarbons, of tens of billions of dollars.”

By the time the Conservative dynasty finally fell, knocked out by Rachel Notley’s NDP in 2015, the public’s share of oil revenues was projected to fall to a devastatingly low level of just 3.6 percent—a huge slide from Lougheed’s record of collecting 41 percent in 1978. Notley, who had long argued in opposition that Albertans were not getting a fair deal, freshly invoked the spirit of Lougheed and moved quickly to establish a new royalty review.

The timing was, of course, bad. The collapse of world oil prices was causing economic hardship in the province, enabling the oil companies to maximize fears that higher royalties would lead to deeper job losses in the oil patch. In the end, Notley’s review panel recommended essentially doing nothing.

The sheer size of the share that Big Oil has managed to grab for itself has been calculated in research done by the Parkland Institute, which is affiliated with the University of Alberta. In a report entitled Misplaced Generosity: Update 2012, the Parkland Institute found that the public had never received more than 20 percent of the rent from the oil sands. The study concludes that, since 1997, although Albertans were entitled to receive 100 percent of this annual rent (or leftover gain) from the oil sands, they’ve averaged just 9 percent. Here’s another way to look at it: after being paid for all expenses and a normal rate of profit, the industry has managed to also capture fully 91 percent of what’s left over—even though the oil belongs to the people of Alberta.

The extraordinary share of oil wealth captured by private industry presumably reflects its power to scare Albertans into believing that, if they try to claim a larger share for themselves, companies will abandon the province, presumably taking the oil with them. Whether or not the industry’s threats are credible, Albertans apparently believe them. Norwegians, on the other hand, have managed to ignore Big Oil’s constant huffing-and-puffing attempts at extortion, without paying a price.

The ability of Norway, a tiny nation of just five million people, to successfully stand up to and stare down the most powerful set of corporate interests in the world is so remarkable that one is tempted to conclude this sort of defiance is rooted somewhere in the Norwegian DNA. Vancouver-based journalist Mitchell Anderson pursued this theme in a lively series of articles on Norway’s oil development, describing how Norway channelled “its inner Viking” to take on Big Oil.

The famously fearless Vikings mounted raids during the eighth and ninth centuries aimed at warding off invasion and occupation by the legendary Charlemagne as he expanded the Holy Roman Empire through Western Europe. As a result, Norwegians never experienced the top-down system of feudal domination that prevailed elsewhere in Europe. Instead of being serfs working for a landed gentry, Norwegians became yeoman farmers managing their own small homesteads, drawing freely on local water and timber resources.

In the early 1900s, this independent culture came into conflict with European industrial interests that were keen to create dams for generating hydroelectric power in Norway’s coastal fjords. As the Europeans tried to buy up rights to their waterfalls, Norwegians reacted angrily. In 1906, the Norwegian parliament passed legislation, known as the Panic Laws, that slowed down approval of foreign purchases of natural resources with the aim of buying time for Norwegian business interests to assemble the capital necessary to carry out the resource development.

Another far-reaching aspect of the law stipulated that waterfalls and hydro dams would revert to public ownership after a period of sixty to eighty years, without any compensation being paid. Prime Minister Gunnar Knudsen proudly defended this “right of reversion,” noting that public ownership of water power would give “the Norwegian people . . . the conditions necessary for a material success enjoyed almost nowhere else in the world.”

This commitment to protecting the public interest was well established in Norway by the time oil was first discovered in the North Sea, off the country’s coast, in 1969. Accordingly, following a robust national discussion about the implications of the North Sea discovery, the parliamentary industry committee produced a report in 1971 that became known as the “Ten Oil Commandments.” Number one: “There should be national governance and control of all petroleum operations.” The sweeping report, endorsing an approach to oil development dramatically different from Alberta’s industry-dominated model, won broad support from the Norwegian public. And it was unanimously adopted by the Norwegian parliament.

In 1972, another unanimous act of parliament established the state oil company, Statoil. The Norwegian government made no bones about giving priority to this publicly owned entity. In offshore concessions, where Statoil partnered with foreign interests, Statoil was granted the largest ownership shares in areas considered the most promising. And its foreign partners were required to cover most of the exploration costs, again providing an advantage for Statoil. Even so, it turned out that foreign companies were eager to participate.

Clearly, right from the outset, the Norwegians recognized the importance of establishing public control over the petroleum industry, thereby minimizing the influence of Big Oil and its potential leverage over the country. By developing independent technological expertise through Statoil, Norway ensured that it would have detailed and reliable knowledge of costs related to every aspect of the business, putting itself in a strong and informed position to negotiate aggressively with foreign multinationals over how oil revenues would be divided. And, should the multinationals try to squeeze out a bigger share for themselves by threatening to leave, such threats would ring hollow. Statoil would be poised to step in and take over.

While there was some overlap in the two governments’ approaches in the early days, Norway was always more radical than Alberta. In 1974, when the dramatic rise in global oil prices emboldened Lougheed to raise royalties, Norway went considerably further in increasing its share of the exploding oil wealth. Based on Statoil’s insider information about the true extent of the extraordinary profits the oil companies were earning, Norway passed a new petroleum law that dramatically increased taxes on the industry, pushing them up from 50 percent to almost 90 percent. The law also specified that the taxes would be calculated on numbers determined by the Norwegian oil authorities, not the companies, thereby diminishing opportunities for the companies to juggle their books.

Exxon, Shell, and the others were enraged and launched a media campaign protesting that it was impossible to carry on business successfully in a “socialist country.” But their efforts had little traction, partly because Norwegians largely stuck together and the political parties declined to use the issue for political gain. Einar Lie, a professor at the University of Oslo, notes that there was little divergence among the political parties. “Everyone was in favour of the Norwegian society prospering and that we should get the maximum benefit from the oil resource.”

Oddly, Albertans have been less adamant about getting the maximum benefit from their petroleum and have allowed Big Oil to walk away with most of the benefit. After Lougheed left politics, in 1985, Albertans became much more susceptible to corporate threats of departure if the industry didn’t get the terms it wanted. By contrast, Norway never allowed the multinationals to get very far playing that game. Although internal documents reveal that Norwegian authorities wanted the multinational industry to participate in Norwegian oil development and sometimes feared its departure, they reverted to Viking mode when actually dealing with demanding foreigners.

Amazingly, the biggest failure on the part of Alberta and Ottawa when it comes to oil isn’t the failure to amass the $1 trillion in oil wealth that little Norway somehow figured out how to capture for its people. Bad as that failure is, it’s just money. The bigger failure, the one with truly devastating consequences for all of us, is environmental.

Both Norway and Alberta have produced and consumed huge amounts of oil over the last fifty years, so both bear significant responsibility for contributing to climate change. Still, there are important differences in their approaches to dealing with the climate problem, and these variations seem integrally tied up with the bedrock difference between public and private models of development.

Under the free-market model, the corporate goal of generating a profit for shareholders is paramount. Corporations have no commitment to the environment; typically, they resist as much as possible attempts by government to impose environmental restrictions or penalties that reduce their profitability. By contrast, under the public model there is no profit motive. The goal, at least in principle, is to advance the public interest, which, under any reasonable definition, includes protecting the environment as well as generating wealth and employment.

It’s not surprising, then, that Norway has been much more cooperative with international efforts to tackle climate change than Alberta and Canada have been.

Even as Norway has been a major oil producer for the world market, it has sought to diminish the reliance of Norwegians on oil. It has set targets to reduce its own carbon emissions by 40 percent, thereby exceeding the targets set by the European Union. The goals are for only electric cars to be sold in the country by 2025 and for Norway to be carbon neutral by 2050 or sooner.

There’s definitely something of a contradiction, however, between Norway’s proactive approach in weaning its own citizens off fossil fuels and its eager production and sale of oil to the rest of the world. Greenpeace Norway has gone to court to stop the Norwegian government from issuing permits to drill in the Arctic, insisting that this amounts to a violation of Norway’s obligations under the Paris climate accord. So Norway’s environmental record is far from perfect.

Still, even as an oil producer, Statoil has prided itself on being ahead of the curve in seeing and accepting an end to fossil fuels. “A lot of fossil fuels will have to stay in the ground, coal obviously . . . but you will also see oil and gas being left in the ground, that is natural,” Statoil CEO Eldar Sætre said in November 2017, a week after Norway’s heritage fund announced plans to cut its investments in oil-and-gas companies. Under Statoil’s new name, Equinor, the company now describes itself as “a petroleum and wind energy company.”

Norway’s climate efforts are significant when compared to those of fellow petro giant Canada. Over the years, politicians in Alberta and Ottawa, most notably Ralph Klein and Stephen Harper, sided with the oil industry in failing to acknowledge and take meaningful steps toward dealing with the looming climate crisis. More recently, Justin Trudeau has embraced the climate cause, fashioning himself as a leader at the 2015 Paris talks and supporting a national tax on carbon in Canada despite strong opposition from several provinces. In practice, however, Trudeau has accomplished little on the climate front and has supported the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, which would enable the tripling of oil-sands production, making it virtually impossible for Canada to meet its international climate targets.

Norway’s per capita carbon emissions are a third smaller than Canada’s. If we zero in on just Alberta, the numbers become worse. “If Alberta were a country it would have the highest per capita emissions in the world, on par with Qatar,” notes Bruce Campbell, former executive director of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

There’s also no willingness to slow things down. Instead, political effort now goes into assuring the public that the necessary steps are being taken even though this clearly isn’t the case. Premier Notley, for instance, assured us that her government has put a “hard cap” on the oil sands in order to allow Canada to meet its climate targets. But this “hard cap” turns out to be really soft. Rather than cutting back oil-sands emissions, it permits them to grow another 60 percent. At that rate, the oil sands will use up roughly 78 percent of the overall emissions budget for all of Canada in 2050, forcing the rest of the population and all other industries to reduce their carbon footprints to virtually zero.

This national subservience to the development of the oil sands becomes even more incomprehensible when it becomes clear that the sands are not even a major job creator. Even at the peak of the boom, in 2006, when the media gushed about high-paying jobs in the oil sands, oil, gas, and mining accounted for only 6.7 percent of total Alberta employment. With the 2014 oil-price drop, employment has declined considerably. Nationally, the oil sands account for less than one-half of 1 percent of employment. And a 2018 Parkland Institute report found that, while the five major oil-sands companies had remained incredibly profitable throughout the oil-price slump, that didn’t prevent them from cutting almost 20,000 jobs from the Alberta economy in 2015.

The capacity of these companies to protect their own interests even as they fail to deliver jobs underlines the extent of their “capture” of the Canadian political system—and this poses immense danger on the climate front. In Oil’s Deep State, Kevin Taft primarily focuses on how the extended tentacles of the petroleum industry over our democratic institutions have enabled it to block Alberta and Ottawa from taking any meaningful action on climate change. Although that might seem to be the ultimate damning indictment of Alberta’s free-market model, there’s one more matter worth mentioning.

As the world inevitably faces up to the reality of climate change, the fossil-fuel party is, sooner or later, coming to an end. For Alberta, this means not only a wind-down of its major industry but also a massive cleanup of the destroyed terrain caused by fifty years of petroleum production. In 2018, a senior official with the Alberta Energy Regulator estimated that the cleanup will cost a staggering $260 billion. The good news is that the industry is on the hook for these cleanup costs. The bad news is that the province has collected only a paltry $1.6 billion from the companies in security payments to cover these costs. One doesn’t have to be overly cynical to believe that, once the companies have pumped out all the oil they want, they will simply cut and run, leaving behind a massive and wildly expensive mess that the public will have to deal with.

The shocking $260 billion estimate of cleanup costs was revealed by Rob Wadsworth, vice-president of closure and liability for the Alberta Energy Regulator, at a private meeting with industry representatives in February 2018. Prior to this revelation, the provincial regulator had led the public to believe that the cleanup costs would be in the range of $58 billion—a stunning number in itself, but about $200 billion less than the estimate Wadsworth gave in private. And it gets worse. Wadsworth told the closed-door meeting that his $260 billion estimate was “likely less than the actual cost.” So what are we really going to be faced with: $280 billion, $300 billion, $400 billion?

When the story was published, appearing on the front page of the Toronto Star, the response of Alberta’s NDP government was to muddy the waters. There was an “apology” from the Alberta Energy Regulator, not for failing to alert the public about the true scale of this looming problem but for creating “concern and confusion” by allowing this information to leak out. There was also an attempt to downplay the accuracy of the estimate without actually denying it. In fact, it is the accuracy of the lower $58 billion estimate that should be questioned, since it’s based on numbers provided by the oil companies themselves. The higher $260 billion estimate is based on internal assessments done by the regulator and has clearly been kept secret to not alarm the public.

But alarming the public is exactly what is needed! A trumpet should be blaring. As Wadsworth notes in his presentation, in something of an understatement, the $1.6 billion in security funds collected from industry is “insufficient.” Indeed, that leaves almost a quarter of a trillion dollars in cleanup costs that may have to be covered by the province—and inevitably by the rest of Canada. How could that be characterized as anything but alarming?

It would be hard to find a starker contrast between the public model of oil development pursued by Norway and the private model pursued by Alberta. Through rigorous public management, Norway has taken charge of its petroleum industry, made the multinationals subservient to the state, and fully milked the oil benefits for its people. By contrast, Alberta has largely allowed the multinationals to call the shots and to make off with the lion’s share of the oil wealth—and then some. The resulting difference in financial outcomes can only be described as staggering, especially since Albertans had a two-decade head start.

What makes this shortfall so galling is that it clearly didn’t have to be this way. If Alberta had adopted at least some of the principles used in the public model, it would have fared far better. Lougheed was a full-blooded capitalist, but he believed in asserting government control, including some public ownership, over a resource that belonged to the province’s people in order to maximize benefits for the people.

In an article written after Lougheed’s death in 2012, Andrew Nikiforuk noted that western politicians were effusively praising Lougheed but failing to acknowledge how sharply his approach diverged from theirs: “Unlike the current libertarian ‘strip it and ship it’ crowd that governs most of the West, Lougheed stood for something different. He offered a far-sighted vision that was both progressive and altogether conservative. Although everybody from Saskatchewan’s Brad Wall to Alberta’s Alison Redford now praises the famously competent premier, none walk his talk.”

And, on the environmental front, Alberta has also fallen sadly short of Norway. Norway has taken some serious steps to deal with the environmental damage its oil production generates and is among the world’s leading nations in promoting global action on climate change. Alberta, siding with the oil industry, has mostly resisted action on climate change and has pressured Ottawa to do likewise. Furthermore, to keep the multinationals happy, Alberta has largely allowed them to devastate the province’s physical environment. And, since they haven’t been required to make a serious down payment, the oil companies may be able to walk away once the costly cleanup begins.

Nikiforuk has succinctly described Alberta’s situation today: “The low fruit has been picked and nobody saved anything for the future.” Surely, in any fair-minded contest between the merits of Alberta’s free-market model of oil development and Norway’s public ownership approach, Norway wins. It’s not even close.

Excerpt from The Sport and Prey of Capitalists: How the Rich Are Stealing Canada’s Public Wealth by Linda McQuaig © 2019. All rights reserved. Published by Dundurn Press Limited.

Linda McQuaig
The recipient of a National Newspaper Award for investigative reporting, Linda McQuaig is the author of eight national bestsellers, including Shooting the Hippo.

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