Well, thank you, Mr. Speaker. It's a pleasure to stand
today and speak on Bill 201, especially, I think, from the point of
view of someone who's been very interested in parliamentary
democracy for most of his life. I will tell you that there are a number
of things about the bill that trouble me, and there are also a number
of things about the proposal, about the discussion in general, which
I have to say has gotten a little off the track on a number of issues.
I want to state from the outset, though, that I understand the
concept that our electors are our bosses. I want to make that very
clear to members on both sides of the House, because I think we all
know this. The question really becomes: exactly how do they
exercise that influence? It really comes down to a debate between
the delegate versus the trustee form of representation. I am an ardent
supporter of the trustee form of representation. I know that the
delegate form of representation is the form that is more commonly
used in the United States, but in my view and certainly in the view
of most parliamentary democracies around the British Commonwealth
it is the trustee form of representation that has won out.
I'm concerned that this bill will drive us towards even more
short-term thinking when we consider things, and the Member
for Fort Saskatchewan-Vegreville made a good point, in that
sometimes there is a requirement to take a stand on things, and those
stands can sometimes be unpopular. Sometimes it takes great
courage to take those stands because it is those stands that move the
social progress of our societies forward. I would personally be very
concerned that there might be less likelihood to take courageous but
unpopular stands if there was a possibility of being recalled at such
a low threshold, as low as 27 per cent of the electors in some ridings
if you apply the 66 per cent to the actual turnout in some of the
You know, there's a quote from James Freeman Clarke that really
resonates with me, and it goes like this: politicians think about the
next election; statesmen think about the next generation. Our job in
this Chamber, ladies and gentlemen, is not to just think about the
next election, and it's certainly not to think about what will avoid
getting us recalled in the middle of a term. Our job is to build this
province, not for the next five years or 10 years but the next 50 years
or 100 years, like the people whose portraits hang on the walls
outside did consistently. That's our job. We have to understand that
our time here may be very finite, but indeed our job is to think about
that next generation. I'm concerned that this legislation will in fact
promote short-term rather than long-term thinking.
I'm also concerned about the mechanics of this. Now, Mr.
Speaker, recall is something – and we'll talk a little bit about our
neighbouring province, British Columbia, that has recall – that is
primarily an American construct. Nineteen of the states in the U.S.
have recall. Six of 26 Swiss cantons have recall. It was put in place
somewhere between 1846 and 1892, the thresholds are vastly
different, and it has never once successfully recalled a state or a
cantonal representative within the canton system in Switzerland.
Now, in the United States the experience has been a little bit
different. I give the example – and this is, to me, a strong argument
against recall – of the city of Covina, California. In Covina they had
recall legislation for their municipal council. Now, the municipal
council brought in a 6 per cent tax increase in order to keep essential
services going. There was a recall of those municipal councillors.
They were all recalled and replaced by a new council, led in large
part by the folks that ran the recall legislation. When those folks
actually got into a position of government and found out what the
books actually were and found out what the cost of the essential
services actually was and that there would be 43 layoffs if they, in
fact, went ahead and didn't go ahead with the tax increase, they
went ahead and increased the taxes, not this time by 6 per cent but
by 8.25 per cent because of the loss of intervening time. So you tell
me how recall served the people of Covina in that situation. To me,
it didn't serve them at all.
You know, the mechanics of recall really run contrary to our
British parliamentary system. In fact, in British Columbia in 2003
– and I'm actually surprised that the hon. Member for Drayton
Valley-Devon didn't sort of do some more research on this because
there's an excellent review of the British Columbia recall. It's in a
71-page report that he published in 2003. I'll table the document
tomorrow. He says on page 13:
The Select Standing Committee noted that recall is “alien to our
parliamentary system of government and posed special problems
if it was to be integrated effectively into our legislative system.”
It found that the concept of recall was highly complex and
required careful consideration to the practical challenges of
implementing recall in British Columbia.
There are some other problems with recall that this report found,
and I want to go into them now. The Official Opposition espouses
itself as a party of fiscal responsibility. Well, I can tell you that
while it is perhaps a dangerous thing to put a price tag on
democracy, recall is not cheap, and $5,000 per recall petition
doesn't even come close to covering the cost of recall. In this same
report, for the first nine petitions, that were covered in the 20022003
and 2003-2004 fiscal years the Chief Electoral Officer came
up with an estimate of $553,954 required to administer those nine
petitions, an average of over $60,000 per petition. So – I'm sorry –
the $5,000 figure is hardly cost recovery. As a fiscal conservative
you should be promoting cost recovery. This is scarcely cost
Now, the other thing is that they say: well, if there are no
petitions, there are no costs. Well, actually not. According to the
Chief Electoral Officer of British Columbia
it should be noted that although the number of recall petitions
actually issued and returned affects the costs of administering the
Recall and Initiative Act, Elections BC must incur recall-related
costs even if no applications for recall petitions are received. The
infrastructure necessary to administer the recall process must be
in place at all times to ensure that Elections BC can meet the
requirements of the legislation.
Mr. Speaker, we have in our democratic system in this province
a system of recall. As the Member for Calgary-Elbow says, it's
called a general election. You know, the Member for Olds-Didsbury-Three
Hills said that if recall were in place, it would have changed the behaviour of those
past Legislatures, those legislators from past governments.
Well, recall wasn't in place, but I can tell you that when I meet
with constituents and they specifically tell me that they have an
issue – and specifically, one of the most difficult issues I dealt with
in the last Legislature had to do with pension reform. When I met
with a group of people who were part of the pension plan of
government and they told me how it would affect their lives, I did
change my mind, and I went to our government and I said: we have
to pull this bill because it's just not fair to people who are in the
middle, who have been counting on a certain set of rules, that we
change the rules in the middle of the game. I was very grateful that
our Minister of Finance decided to withdraw those changes that
were proposed to the pension system. I'm not pretending that I had
a lot to do with that. I'm sure I had a lot of colleagues that said the
same thing. But recall wasn't going to change how I approached
Now, I do want to say, Mr. Speaker, however, that I'm a little bit
frustrated with some of the speakers who have spoken against this,
who have tried to drag in things like backdoor financing through
corporations, who have tried to state that this is some attempt to do
a do-over. I don't honestly think that that's the case here. This has
long been part of the policy of the party that's in the Official
Opposition and its forerunner, the Reform Party of Canada, and the
Social Credit Party, for that matter, going back to the '30s.
As I said, Mr. Speaker, I'm a big believer in the trustee system. I
believe that the trustee system of representation serves us well. But,
above all, I'm a big believer in long-term thinking, and I don't
believe that recall legislation serves us. I don't believe that an
American style, an American construct, serves us. Just look at
what's going on in the United States right now. That's all the proof
you need. We are a British parliamentary system – today is
Commonwealth Day – and this is not the time to bring in an
American construct to make us more American in this country.
Indeed, we should be proud of our heritage and stay where we are.
So after waiting eight months, and watching as the resulting uncertainty contributed to thousands of Albertans losing their jobs and the province to lose billions in investment dollars, the long-awaited Royalty Review report was released today.
The take home message?
The existing structure is pretty good. It’s fair to Albertans, the owners of the resource, and fair to the companies extracting the resources. There is really no need to make major changes to the existing royalty framework.
So eight months after the NDP won an election running on a platform that told Albertans they weren’t getting their fair share, that past governments had mismanaged their resources, and that they would make things right, their own expert panel has told them the exact opposite.
And I will give the NDP credit. While they haven’t admitted to misleading Albertans, they have at least acknowledged that they were wrong. The Premier admitted that she didn’t fully understand how the energy economy has shifted, that US oil production now exceeds their imports and that the US is therefore our biggest competitor as well as our primary customer. It reveals a staggering lack of understanding of the global economic forces underlying our number one industry.
The review has some positive aspects. Consolidating multiple drilling incentive programs into a single permanent formula is a good move. Increasing the transparency of allowable costs for oilsands projects is also a positive step. The ten year freeze on royalties for existing conventional wells gives some certainty. Retaining the current structure and royalty rates for the oil sands is also, I suspect, a huge relief for those investors, companies, and workers for those firms.
But the new royalty framework for conventional oil and natural gas is yet to “be calibrated”. More uncertainty, more delays. Details of the incentives for value-added programs are still unclear. Oil & gas producers will be able to write off the carbon tax as an allowable expense. Will that same competitive advantage be offered to everyday Albertans? To farmers? To forestry companies? To tourism operators?
The Royalty Review Panel has done excellent work and provided the government with a balanced set of conclusions and recommendations. Much of it was news this government didn’t want to hear. I give them credit that they are moving forward with measures that directly contradict what they campaigned on last May. It will mean that some of the support base will feel betrayed, but that’s their problem.