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
Hundreds of Fort McMurray workers are expected to rally tonight to send a message to the Conservative government and to Oilsands Companies that the boom in Alberta needs to be shared among all Albertans. The rally coincides with the visit of many Conservative MLAs to tour Fort McMurray.
"Tonight's rally is an event organized by local workers who are frustrated with recent developments in the Oilsands projects," says Alberta Federation of Labour President Gil McGowan. "It is sending a message that Alberta is built by workers, and that workers deserve a fair share of the economic prosperity."
At issue are attempts by oilsands companies to lower wages and working conditions at their mega-projects north of Fort McMurray. Three strategies are being employed: use of employer-friendly unions willing to sign sweetheart deals, use of non-union contractors, and the threat of importing temporary foreign workers.
"At a time of record profits for energy corporations, instead of sharing the growing pie, these companies are trying to trim the edges of the workers' piece," says McGowan. "This is about their greed and the rights of workers to receive a fair share."
"And the government has been actively supporting this effort to bust unions and drive down wages, through the use of rarely used provisions in the Labour Code," adds McGowan.
"In the past, all oilsands construction was built using union labour � not because the employers liked unions, but because unions were able to provide high quality workers who could get the work done," observes McGowan. "The unions are still keeping their end of the bargain, but the employers are breaking it.�
"The rally is to let MLAs and the big energy companies know that workers won't take this lying down."
- 30 -