"We've all heard the story about the little engine who could," says McGowan. "Well, with Ed Stelmach, what we seem to have is the little premier who can't. He says we can't take action on the pace of development in the oil sands. We can't raise royalties. We can't demand that oil sands jobs stay here in Alberta instead of being shipped down the pipeline to the U.S.
"At exactly the moment that we need bold action and leadership on the oil sands, we have a premier who has bought into the energy industry's scare tactics and who, as a result, is paralyzed by fear."
McGowan says Albertans deserve better and at the AFL election forums tonight in Edmonton and tomorrow in Calgary, he will discuss ways that the next Alberta government can get a better deal for Albertans - if they have the vision and the political will.
The centre piece of the AFL's election forums will be the AFL's new document, "Black Gold, Clear Vision - a Proposed Policy Framework for the Oil Sands," which is available on the AFL website homepage (www.afl.org).
The Edmonton oil sands forum will be held tonight, Friday, February 29th, at 7:30 p.m., in Salon A, Crowne Plaza Chateau Lacombe
The Calgary forum will be held tomorrow, Saturday, March 1st, at 7:30 p.m., in Grand Ball Room, Ramada Hotel Downtown.
As a week marked by massive pre-election spending draws to a close, the $1.3-billion question facing Alberta is whether the province has the manpower -- and capacity -- to complete government's ambitious construction wish list on time and on budget.
Unions and taxpayer groups worry an overheated construction market and chronic labour shortages will cause cost overruns and delays on the flurry of projects Alberta has announced recently, including schools, hospital redevelopments and roadwork.
In the past dozen days, spending announcements made by Premier Ed Stelmach's government totalled more than $1 billion, according to a Canadian Taxpayers Federation tally of the promises.
The spending comes as government estimates $245 billion worth of megaprojects are underway or slated to move ahead in Alberta over the next two years, fuelled largely by massive expansion in the oilsands.
"It's obviously a concern to us," said Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour.
"(Oilsands) projects are going to require a construction workforce of more than 200,000. These public projects are just going to make it much more difficult for contractors to find the workers they need."
But Alberta's associate minister of capital planning said the government projects are part of a long-term plan, which the province also unveiled this week, and will be staged to ensure the work is manageable.
"I don't understand the negativity," said Gene Zwozdesky. "It's not all going to happen all in one day. It's a strategic plan that takes you over a period of several years."
The comments follow the Alberta government's announcement of several big-ticket capital projects in recent days, including 14 new schools, a hospital redevelopment project in Medicine Hat and $300 million to build long-term care centres around the province.
Government announcements continued Friday, with the province unveiling millions more for initiatives like upgrading supportive living units around Alberta.
The promises come in advance of an expected provincial election call next week.
But they also come at a time when Alberta faces a labour shortage and a new Calgary Economic Development forecast suggested the problems will continue in the future. The report released this week concluded 244,000 jobs, including construction positions, could be added to this city over the next decade.
In recent years, a shortage of construction workers has delayed projects, while the rising expense of materials and labour has sent costs soaring.
The south Calgary hospital, for example, was budgeted at $550 million in 2005, but growing building costs and delays in starting the project have since pushed the price tag to $1.25 billion.
Organizations such as the Alberta Construction Association said it's difficult to know whether the recently-announced provincial projects will face similar problems since the timelines around many of the initiatives have yet to be determined.
"We haven't really got a clear sense of the timetable," said Ken Gibson, executive director of the association. "It's tough to comment."
Calgary Economic Development agreed it's difficult to know whether there will be enough construction workers without knowing the project schedules.
Adam Legge, chief economist of the organization, said construction trades are still in high demand today, even though the market isn't quite as tight as it was 18 months ago.
Other groups, like the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, said the province will inevitably pay more for its projects. Federation officials noted the government is competing for materials and labour in a hot construction environment, with Suncor Energy announcing a giant $20-billion oilsands expansion Wednesday.
"The manner they're going about this is going to create as many problems as it will solve," said Scott Hennig of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.
Hennig argued a glut of government capital spending, which he said has grown from $1 billion annually in 2002 to $7 billion in the 2007-08 budget, is further inflating construction prices.
Frank Atkins, a University of Calgary economist, said he doubted the government projects would have a big impact on labour and materials, noting the initiatives are small compared with the massive Alberta construction market as a whole.
"It's small potatoes," he said.
Calgary Herald, Sat Feb 2 2008
Byline: Michelle Lang
These are turbulent times in the economic world, and tumbling stock markets are just a symptom of a much greater malaise. The so-called "sub-prime mortgage crisis" (which actually has more to do with the proliferation of financial derivatives than with a few bad mortgages) remains a threat to financial institutions around the world, and no one knows exactly how large the problem is, or where the risks lie. Derivatives and similar financial instruments do two things very well: they transfer risk and they can create leverage, spinning large amounts of paper wealth based on a relatively modest foundation of real assets. When they are abused, and in a deregulated financial system they are bound to be abused, this means that instruments initially designed to reduce financial risk by allowing "hedging," instead end up multiplying risk and generating economic volatility.
Alberta Clipper Pipeline Will Create Only Two Permanent Jobs in Alberta - Versus the Thousands That Will Be Created in U.S. as They Refine Alberta Oil Sands
The admission came as part of a regulatory hearing into Enbridge's application to build the controversial mega-pipeline that would have the capacity to transport more than 600,000 barrels of oil each day from Alberta to refineries and upgraders in the United States.
The NEB is required by law to only grant approval to projects that can be demonstrated to be in the "public interest of Canadians." Enbridge executives argued that by creating several hundred temporary construction jobs and two permanent operating jobs, the Alberta Clipper project passes the public interest test.
Alberta Federation of Labour lawyer Leanne Chahley asked the pipeline executives if it would be possible to estimate the job impact the pipeline might have on the creation of upgrader and refinery jobs in both Alberta and the U.S. The executives replied that it was theoretically possible, but they said the NEB had not required them to do such studies.
"This is the really frustrating part of this whole process," said AFL President Gil McGowan who has been attending the regulatory hearings in Calgary yesterday and today.
"Whether it was during the hearings on the Keystone Pipeline last summer or the Alberta Clipper Pipeline today, everyone agrees that it's possible to estimate the impact on Alberta jobs if new pipelines are built to ship unrefined bitumen to the U.S. - but no one is doing it. The pipeline companies aren't doing the research, the NEB isn't doing the research and the Alberta government isn't doing the research. How, in good conscience, can we possibly approve these pipelines before we can be sure that we are not exporting thousands of jobs along with our oil?"
The AFL's position is that the Alberta Clipper's application should be rejected or at least put on hold until proper studies of potential Alberta job impacts can be conducted and an "Alberta First" upgrading policy can be put in place.
"A medium-sized upgrader employs about 500 people and a big upgrading operation like Suncor employs thousands - not to mention the thousands of spin-off jobs and contract maintenance job," says McGowan. "I don't know about you, but I'll take thousands of jobs over two jobs any day."
The AFL will continue its cross examination of company and industry witnesses today - including a cross examination of Greg Stringham, the prominent and outspoken Vice President of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP).
The hearings resume this morning at 8:30 a.m. and will continue until 1:30 p.m. The AFL's cross examination of witnesses will take place in the NEB's main hearing room, on the second floor, 444 - 7 Avenue S.W., Calgary. McGowan will be available to speak to reporters upon adjournment.
For more information call:
Gil McGowan, AFL President @ 780.218-9888 (cell)
The Alberta Federation of Labour responded today to a Conference Board of Canada study, released this morning, stating that wages across Canada are on the rise due to wage pressure in Alberta. The AFL points out that the study is methodologically flawed and does not reflect the actual wage patterns in Alberta for the first part of 2007.
"The Conference Board has dressed up a survey of employers as a bona fide study," says AFL President Gil McGowan. "For all the talk of mythical wage increases, the reality for Alberta workers is one of stagnant real wages."
The AFL points out two flaws in the Conference Board analysis. First, it is not a report of actual wages, but is instead a survey of employer "forecasts" for the next year. Second, its reported wage increases do not factor for inflation, which is currently running at around five percent in Alberta.
"The actual data for wages in 2007 shows a different picture than the Conference Board conclusion," observes McGowan. "For the first seven months of 2007, average hourly earnings show no increase whatsoever - even before factoring for inflation."
According to Statistics Canada (CANSIM Table 281-0029) average nominal hourly wages in Alberta was $20.05 in January 2007. In July 2007 - seven months later - it was $20.04. If inflation is factored in, wages actually dropped during the period.
In fact, Alberta wages are not going up during this boom, says the AFL. "According to Statistics Canada data, average real hourly wages was lower in 2006 than it was in 1999," notes McGowan. "Workers are not getting ahead in this boom. They are, at best, treading water."
The problem, says McGowan, is that bad labour laws, aggressive employer tactics, the growing use of temporary foreign workers and spiraling inflation are preventing Alberta workers from benefiting from the boom.
"When it comes to wage data, I will put my trust in Statistics Canada over some employer survey any day," says McGowan.
"The real issue here is why wages are not going up and what we can do about," concludes McGowan.
- 30 -
For more information call:
Gil McGowan, AFL President @ 780.218-9888 (cell)
As the economic boom in Alberta reached its crest over the last two years, employers and the business media alerted the public to a new problem: the "labour shortage". At first this was described as a shortage of skilled labour, especially in the construction and health care sectors. Very quickly, however, the "hospitality sector" was identified as another area of the economy starved for labour.
New research produced by the Alberta Federation of Labour and the Parkland Institute shows that wages in Alberta are lagging behind the rate of inflation. As well, inequality is on the rise in the province. The numbers reveal a disturbing trend that suggests average Albertans are not benefiting from the boom.
The research is one of the highlights of Treading Water: Workers, Wages and the Boom, a conference this weekend co-sponsored by the AFL and Parkland Institute. The conference runs Friday evening and all-day Saturday at the downtown campus of Grant MacEwan College.
Some of the data to be presented at the conference include:
- After factoring for inflation, the average hourly wage in Alberta in 2006 was $19.30. In 2001 it was $19.37. Decreases were found in many industries.
- Real wages in construction have dropped, from $25.28 in 2001 to $23.35 in 2006.
- Preliminary data for the first part of 2007 shows stagnant and declining wages.
- Despite the boom Alberta has become the province with the highest percentage of employed clients visiting food banks.
- Corporations are benefiting from the boom. In current dollars, Alberta corporate profits rose from $12 billion in 1998 to $54 billion in 2006
"The bottom line is that average Albertans are not benefiting from Alberta's boom. Wages are stuck in neutral," says Parkland Executive Director Ricardo Acuna. "Inflation is eating up any minimal wage gains being made by workers and as a result inequality is on the rise."
"Basically the claim that wages are skyrocketing in Alberta is a myth," says AFL President Gil McGowan. "The boom is only working for oil companies and a handful of people at the top of the pile. For most of us, the struggle to make ends meet continues."
The conference will also highlight how the boom is making things worse for some groups. For example, Aboriginal unemployment is on the rise, and young workers are falling farther behind.
Other highlights of the conference include:
- Friday 7:00 pm. Keynote Speaker, Sam Gindin: "The Politics of Wages: Who's Holding You Back and Why."
- Saturday 9:00 a.m.: Official release of new wage research by AFL and Parkland
- Saturday 3:30 p.m.: "Getting More In Your Wallet: Policy Solutions"
The media are welcome during all portions of the conference.
- 30 -
For more Information:
Ricardo Acuna, Parkland Institute Executive Director, (780)492-8558, (780)951-7180 (cell)
Gil McGowan, AFL President @ 780.218-9888 (cell)
Inflation Alert: Inflation in Alberta is seriously out of control. In June the Consumer Price Index for Alberta was 6.3% higher than one year ago. See the data and analysis starting on page 6.
CALGARY - If approval is granted to the proposed Keystone mega-pipeline, literally thousands of potential Alberta jobs in upgraders and refineries will be lost and Alberta will miss out on an historic opportunity to build a more diversified economy.
That was the message delivered today by Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan as he testified before the National Energy Board in Calgary. The NEB is currently considering an application from TransCanada Pipelines to build a major new pipeline to transport huge volumes of unrefined bitumen from the Alberta oil sands to upgraders and refineries in the United States.
The AFL - along with groups like the Communication Energy Paperworkers union and the U of A's Parkland Institute - is attempting to stop or delay the project until policies can be put in place to promote Alberta-based upgrading and refining of bitumen from the oil sands.
"Every barrel of bitumen shipped down the Keystone pipeline or other similar proposed pipelines is a barrel of oil no longer available for value-added production and job creation here in Alberta," said McGowan.
McGowan argued that as many as 18,000 jobs could be "shipped down the pipeline" if Keystone is allowed to proceed. He pointed out that more than a dozen proposed Alberta upgraders and refineries are on the books - more than enough to handle projected increases in oil sands production. But he said he's worried those local projects "may never see the light of day if their potential feedstock is sent to refineries in places like Illinois, Texas and Ohio."
"Why should we settle for the 17 long-term jobs that Keystone would create at a handful of pipeline pumping stations when we could have 18,000 jobs in upgraders or refineries?" asked McGowan.
"Why should we sit on the sidelines while big, U.S. controlled integrated oil companies use our oil to revive their aging refineries in the U.S. mid-west and on the Gulf Coast - when that oil could be used, instead, to transform Alberta into North America's newest hub for upgrading and refining?"
McGowan reserved some of most scathing criticism for the Alberta and federal governments - who are not appearing at the NEB hearings and who have not raised any objections to the Keystone proposal.
"Where are our governments? Who's protecting the public interest? The failure of our governments to be here and promote Canadian-based, value-added production and protect Canadian jobs is nothing short of a travesty," said McGowan.
"I'm particularly disappointed in Ed Stelmach. During the leadership race he promised to be a champion for Alberta-based upgrading and refining. But the silence from his office is deafening. He and his energy minister, Mel Knight, are missing in action on an issue of critical importance to our province's economic future."
McGowan urged the NEB to use the power granted to it under federal legislation to put the pipeline on hold until a "Canada first" approach to managing the oil sands is developed.
"If you follow our advice, a few pipeline and oil companies might face short-term financial setbacks," said McGowan. "But Albertans, the real owners of the resource, have little to lose and much to gain."
McGowan will be available to talk with the media outside the NEB hearing room after the hearings wrap up today at 1:30 p.m. The hearings are being held on the 2nd floor, 444-7th Ave SW, Calgary.
For more information call: AFL president Gil McGowan @ 780-218-9888
Note: Full transcripts of the hearings can be obtained by calling Kristen Higgens, NEB Communications Officer, @ 403-292-4800
CALGARY - Under heavy cross-examination from union lawyers, the man in charge of the proposed Keystone mega-pipeline admitted he doesn't really know how much raw bitumen from Alberta will be shipped down his pipeline to refineries in the U.S.
In response to questions from lawyers representing the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL) and the Communication Energy Paperworkers union (CEP), Robert Jones, Vice President of TransCanada Pipelines, said the amount of bitumen going down the pipeline will be up to oil companies contracting with the pipeline, not TransCanada as owner of the pipeline.
Jones' admission was made shortly after National Energy Board dismissed a motion from the AFL and CEP to subpoena witnesses from Big Oil. The Board ruled that evidence from oil companies with contracts to use the pipeline would not be necessary for the purposes of the hearing currently underway at the NEB's office in Calgary.
"This really makes you wonder who's looking after the public interest," said AFL president Gil McGowan. "The pipeline company says it's only the oil companies who can tell us how much unrefined Alberta bitumen will be shipped to the U.S. - and yet the so-called watch dog agency says it's not necessary to make Big Oil answer those questions. This is no way to make pubic policy."
McGowan was originally slated to appear before the Board on Wednesday (tomorrow), but is now scheduled to give evidence on Thursday, along with Tom Pearson a retired Dow Chemical executive and Diana Gibson, research director of the University of Alberta's Parkland Institute.
McGowan, Pearson and Gibson will all argue that the Keystone pipeline will result in the loss of literally thousands of potential Alberta jobs as upgraders and refineries are built in the U.S. instead of Alberta.
The NEB hearings on TransCanada's application to build the Keystone pipeline will be held in the NEB Hearing Room, 2nd Floor, 444 Seventh Avenue S.W. Calgary AB. Hearings start at 8:30 a.m. and wrap up at 1:30 p.m. each day.
- 30 -
For more information call:
Gil McGowan, AFL President at 780.218-9888 (cell)