As Albertans brace for yet another budget that includes deep cuts to vital services, a coalition of unions is calling on Alberta's Auditor General to investigate why the government is failing to meet its own targets for collecting revenue from non-renewable resource extraction.
"Alberta Energy sets a target for how much it collects from resources companies in exchange for the right to develop publicly owned energy resources. But the government has failed to meet its own target almost every year," says Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL), which represents 140,000 workers.
"The province is missing out on billions of dollars in revenue that it should be collecting. If that money was being collected, then there would be no need to even consider deep and destabilizing cuts to things like health care, education and other core services. That's why we're asking for an investigation into the government's mishandling of revenue collection: given our province's continued prosperity, there is simply no good reason why we should be looking at another austerity budget."
The union coalition - which includes the Alberta Federation of Labour, the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), the Health Sciences Association of Alberta (HSAA), the United Nurses of Alberta (UNA) and the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE) - has written to Auditor General Merwan Saher (click here for full text of letter), asking him to examine government policies and whether it is meeting its own targets.
"The way Alberta Energy sets its targets for resource rent is shrouded in mystery and blanketed in confusion," says McGowan. After auditing the ministry in 2006-2007, Saher expressed concern over inconsistent and contradictory targets the ministry had set and called for it to "clearly describe and publicly state the objectives and targets of Alberta's royalty regimes." (For AG recommendations, click here.)
"This recommendation and others made by the Auditor General appear to have been ignored," says McGowan, so the coalition has called on Saher to investigate what action has been taken on his report.
The coalition letter says: "Our concerns about public reporting on the royalty regime stem from the Ministry's apparent failure to meet the 50- to 75-per-cent target of economic rent every single year between 2000 and 2008 - a target they loosely set for themselves and the only real, tangible target Albertans can refer to."
If the government had collected in the middle of its target range, it would have brought in additional $37 billion over the last decade, according to research by the Parkland Institute. "The government's purse isn't empty because it's spending too much - it's empty because the government isn't bothering to collect what it should - and what Albertans, as the owner of the resource, are actually owed," says McGowan.
"Albertans deserve to know how much of the value of our natural resources we are capturing," says the coalition letter. "Our quality of life and public services overwhelmingly depend on the revenues we get from Alberta's largest industries."
Gil McGowan, President, Alberta Federation of Labour @ cell 780-218-9888 or office 780-483-3021