Last Sunday, the Energy and Utilities Board, Alberta’s energy regulator, threw out over two years of hearings into a massive power line linking Calgary and Edmonton. News that the EUB had hired private detectives to spy on landowners opposed to the line forced the move, as well as the dismissal of an agency security unit.
Such a mea culpa, says University of Alberta political scientist Ian Urquhart, is “as unprecedented in the EUB’s history as it is to have a regulatory agency hiring private investigators.”
The whole affair acknowledges a fear among many Alber tans that their govern ment is, as the Uni versityofLethbridge's l-IaroldJansen puts it, `basically an agent of
the energy industry." It may also hint at Pre mier Ed Stelmach's response to recommen dations byaroyalty review panel that recently called for a $2-billion hike in oil and gas dues. If the once infallible EUB can stall a major project, maybe Stelmach can up Alberta's royalties.
Alas for Stelmach, it’s not so simple. Last week, EnCana Corp. threatened to pull a billion dollars in spending from Alberta should he do so—a gambit that “approaches corporate blackmail,” says Urquhart. Then Alberta’s auditor general issued a scathing report agreeing with many of the panel’s findings—specifically that government inaction has cheated Albertans out of billions in royalties.
Stelmach’s job is to find a compromise he can sell to an electorate fed up with an oil boom many complain rewards too few. That middle way would balance the oil sands, considered robust enough to take a hit, against the smaller oil and gas firms near Fort McMurray, now struggling with high labour costs and a strong Canadian dollar. Finding the balance may be the easy part. But Stelmach hasn’t so far succeeded in selling his decisions. Fumbling this could cost his party the next election—which would be as unprecedented in Alberta as an energy regulator hiring private investigators to spy on landowners. M
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