Labour spokesman wants premier to live up to promises

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

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