Saturday, November 09, 2013
What'll It Be, Christy - Alberta or Norway?
A report came out this week concluding that British Columbia's reserves of natural gas may be twice as great as previously thought. The numbers, if accurate, would put British Columbia right up there with Alberta in the "money for nothing" club only our wealth would be in a windfall of natural gas whilst theirs would be in the leper of fossil fuel petroleum - bitumen.
When you come into this sort of unearned bounty, decisions have to be made. It's sort of like a 16-year old discovering he's inherited ten-grand from his maiden great-aunt Tilley. Left to his own devices he may want to blow it on a tricked out beater, his first set of wheels, and a bit of bling but he would really be better off investing it in his college fund. In other words, he'll be tempted to act like Alberta when he'd really be far better off acting like Norway. One spends, the other invests.
To the extent she mentions this promised wealth at all, Christy Clark seems to have a touch of Klein-Redford fever. She talks of moving as much as possible as quickly as possible and spending the proceeds. She sees that potential wealth as the property of today's voting public, not as something that belongs to a province and its people today and those to come. It's pretty plain she sees that cashflow, just like Ralph Klein saw it, as a key to retaining political control into perpetuity.
The Norse thought this one through. They realized that once you take the lid off the cookie jar you won't stop until it's empty, a.k.a. the Alberta model. They also realized that wealth was a national asset that belonged to future generations as much as to the current generation. They mulled it over and pretty soon came to a national consensus that their windfall bounty should go straight into a sovereign wealth fund where it could grow and serve the people far into the future. Now little Norway has perhaps the largest sovereign wealth fund in the world. Alberta, by contrast - well we know and they know what happens when you keep putting all your chips on red.
It's a bad moment for British Columbia. We have a government that doesn't consult the legislature much less the public as we stand poised to become the gaseous equivalent of a petro-state. Now, more than ever, the public deserves consultation and needs to be heard by the trolls in Victoria. Yes we have a provincial debt to pay off but that doesn't mean we should steal from future generations to repay the debts we racked up.