In the Old West, calling a man a coward was a shooting matter, and "Mr. Colt" usually had the final word.
It's unlikely, however, Alberta premier Ed Stelmach is toting a six-shooter or that he would even care if Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, would have called him a chicken-livered yellow belly.
Stelmach might pay attention, however, if thousands of Albertans did.
McGowan, who spoke Thursday in Lethbridge at a session of the Southern Alberta Council on Public Affairs, said Stelmach has lost his nerve and he wants Albertans to help him get it back.
The premier has backed down to big oil companies and is not, despite promises during the leadership race, doing anything about low oilsand royalties, out-of-control development and the shipping of raw bitumen out of the province, he said.
"Based on his performance so far, it seems that our new premier either didn't mean what he said during the leadership race when he promised to turn a page on the Klein era, or that he's lost his nerve," McGowan said.
He said he's prepared to give Stelmach the benefit of the doubt and assume he's lost his nerve. So he's driving a campaign to help the premier get a backbone.
"My goal is not to unfairly criticize the premier or to paint him as some kind of villain. Instead, my goal is to convince Ed that his initial instincts were correct and that he shouldn't backslide on the promises he made during the leadership campaign."
And if enough Albertans speak out, McGowan believes Stelmach will realize maintaining or only tweaking the status quo of the Klein era is not acceptable.
McGowan pointed out during the leadership race Stelmach said the one-cent-on-the-dollar royalty introduced and maintained by former premier Ralph Klein is too low and needs to be increased.
Stelmach also said it's not in the public's interest to let energy companies ship vast amounts of raw oilsands bitumen out of the province without refining or upgrading it, and he promised to do something about skyrocketing house prices and the rapidly rising cost of living.
"Those were the positions taken by candidate Stelmach, but it's amazing what a difference a few weeks can make. Today, the messages emanating from the premier's office sound a lot different from the ones that we heard . . . on the campaign trail."
McGowan said Albertans should be angry oil companies only pay one cent on the dollar for the right to exploit Alberta's resources, especially when the rate was designed to encourage investment when oil was selling for only $15 barrel.
"You should be mad because energy companies raked in more than $15 billion in oilsands revenue last year, but paid only about $700 million in royalties; less than the province collected from gambling.
"You should be mad because all that revenue that we've forgone as a result of the one-penny royalty could have been used to strengthen our health-care system, fix our crumbling infrastructure and to educate our children and grandchildren."
In addition, McGowan said Albertans should be angry because Canada's two biggest pipeline companies are raising billions of dollars to build huge pipelines with only one purpose; to take unrefined bituman from Alberta for processing south of the border. That means thousands of potential refining jobs will follow the pipeline into the U.S. And the jobs that are being created are given to temporary foreign workers who, in turn, are being used as pawns to lower wages and as an excuse not to train workers at home.
McGowan said Albertans need to tell Stelmach to do five things: block construction of the bitumen pipeline; guarantee a fair return for oil resources by scrapping the one-cent royalty; introduce leases for oilsands properties that require energy companies to create jobs in Alberta; tighten rules for temporary foreign workers; and to regulate the pace of oilsands development so there is more time to address the economic and environmental implications of development.
Lethbridge Herald, Feb 9 2007
Byline: Delon Shurtz
Albertans deserve a larger return on their vast oilsands, a provincial committee seeking input on how to best develop the resource heard Wednesday.
The Pembina Institute for Appropriate Development argued that it's time for the province to revamp its royalty rates for oilsands even though oil companies warn changes could mean that Alberta could lose out on projects.
"Government leaders need to take a long-term approach to resource development and recognize that despite threats to reduce investments in the oilsands if fiscal policies are changed they are unlikely to walk away from the second largest oil deposit in the world," said Pembina spokeswoman Amy Taylor at the first day of hearings in Calgary.
The 19-member committee has been travelling the province to hear from Albertans on oilsands development. The hearing continues today at MacEwan Conference Centre at the University of Calgary before heading to northern communities next week.
A report on the panel's findings is expected in November.
The institute is advocating an immediate increase in royalty rates for new oilsands projects and a phase-in for existing ones. Currently operators pay one per cent of gross revenues until capital costs and a return allowance are recovered, after which the rate jumps to 25 per cent.
Originally designed to spur oilsands investment, Taylor said the royalty program should be reviewed with public input considering the level of investment currently being poured into the projects in Northern Alberta, where production is slated to triple to three million barrels a day by 2015.
"Oilsands are no longer considered a marginal resource," she said.
Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, likened the oilsands royalty regime to "putting the economy on steroids."
He said the province will continue to lose out on revenue as project costs continue to soar due to high demand for labour and equipment.
"The more expensive a project gets the longer we have to forego revenues," he said.
Other speakers who registered for a 15-minute opportunity to address the community said the government should slow development to curb the growth of carbon dioxide emissions and other negative environmental impacts.
Industry representatives also raised the point that the province must invest in the communities to help support the growth in the oilsands industry. Bill Clapperton, a vice-president with Canadian Natural Resources Ltd., said oilsands operators do their part by providing revenue through royalties and taxes as well as more jobs for the economy.
"The needs for infrastructure in the municipality are urgent in municipality of Wood Buffalo and Canadian Natural believes the government must maintain their traditional as helper and operator of public infrastructure," he said.
Calgary Herald, Thurs Sept 28 2006
Byline: Lisa Schmidt
A provincially-backed farm safety council is expected to find ways to reduce the number of on-farm injuries in Alberta without adding more rules or more costs.
The Alberta government on Tuesday announced it will name a farm safety advisory council in the new year, to be co-chaired by "government and industry" with members from farmer, farm worker and farm safety groups and Alberta municipalities.
"This council will bring industry and government together to find ways to reduce farm injuries without increasing the regulatory and financial burden on our producers," Agriculture Minister Jack Hayden said in a release. "We need to work together to find solutions."
Once it's set up, the province said, the council is expected to develop a "joint industry-government action plan" on farm safety for submission to Hayden and the government, addressing the "co-ordination and communication needs" that the ag industry noted in recent consultations.
That's a reference to consultations by the province's ag and employment departments in 2009 and 2010 with stakeholder groups, including "all of the major commodity groups," on ways to enhance health and safety for people working on farms and ranches.
A report on those consultations put forward a number of recommendations for the province to consider -- such as incentives for farms through lower Workers' Compensation or crop insurance premiums, or increased grants to agricultural societies that undertake health and safety activities.
In Alberta, the report noted, most farming- and ranching-related operations are exempt from the province's Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) Act, meaning there's no formal OHS investigation of a farm fatality and no government investigation of on-farm injuries for purposes of improved safety practice or third-party reports for insurance claims.
Farming and ranching are also exempt from the Workers' Compensation Act, and while Workers' Compensation Board (WCB) coverage for disability and insurance is available to farmers and ranchers for their employees on a voluntary basis, "costs limit subscriptions," the report noted.
Also, the report noted, the province's Employment Standards Code exempts farm workers from standards on hours of work, overtime, general holiday pay and vacation pay. Farm workers are also excluded from the Labour Relations Code.
The Alberta Federation of Labour on Tuesday criticized the province's proposal for an advisory council as an "empty gesture," with AFL president Gil McGowan predicting the council "will be an industry-dominated joke."
"In the nine years the Alberta government has said it is consulting on how to improve safety for agricultural workers, 160 people have died on farm worksites," the AFL said.
In his 2008 inquiry into a farm worker's death in 2006 in a silo at a High River-area feedlot, Provincial Court Judge Peter Barley recommended the province lift its exemption excluding farms' paid workers from workplace safety regulations.
"Rather than take that obvious and simple step, we have an industry-dominated advisory body looking at education measures," McGowan said Tuesday. "This is what you get when governments talk only to the business community and not to workers."
The labour group also scoffed at the notion that protections such as employment standards and OHS rules would punish family farms.
"Large agribusiness" dominates the industry, the AFL said Tuesday, with farms of over $250,000 in income accounting for three-quarters of farm cash receipts in 2007.
Country Guide, Wed Nov 24 2010