Oilpatch stimulus hit dry hole: union Provincial AFL head wants MLAs to probe 'outrageous misuse of government funds'

Alberta's program to stimulate drilling during the recession cost taxpayers $2.9 billion and failed to create promised jobs, new wells or new investment in the oilpatch, says the Alberta Federation of Labour.

AFL president Gil McGowan said Friday the program merely padded the profits of oil and gas companies while depleting the treasury of revenue that could have been used to fund health care and education.

He has passed on AFL's findings to Alberta's auditor general and also requested the all-party legislature public accounts committee investigate the program.

"When Albertans learn about this, they will see this for what it is, which is an outrageous misuse of government funds," he said.

Hugh MacDonald, the Liberal MLA who chairs public accounts, said he will canvass the 17 members of the committee to determine whether they wish to call a special meeting to examine the program.

Conservatives have 13 seats on the committee.

MacDonald suggested the auditor general's officer might have a better mandate to determine whether the program met its goals.

But Auditor General Merwan Saher tossed the ball back, noting his office has audited the program.

"At this moment, I don't have a compelling reason to launch a particular audit," Saher said.

He said McGowan's request for a public accounts review is "a legitimate request."

"He is asking the public accounts committee to do what public accounts committees do -examine how policy is being put into effect and whether Albertans are getting value for money."

McGowan said someone should investigate where the royalty tax credits went because a loophole in the program created a "grey market" that enabled companies that had more credits than they needed to sell them to other companies. The program allocated $200-per-metre drilling credits on a sliding scale based on how much the companies drilled in 2008.

Companies that purchased extra credits were able to defray the amount they paid in royalties owed to Albertans without having to hire more workers or drill new wells, McGowan said.

But Albertans won't know who cashed in the credits because Alberta Energy keeps that information secret, he complained.

Edmonton Journal, Sat Jul 16 2011
Byline: Darcy Henton

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