Sunday 30 November 2008

Wildrose leader scores a win

November 30, 2008

Full column

Nope, it was the Alberta opposition party with no reps in the legislature that took home the golden drill bit.

Step up Wildrose Alliance Party chief Paul Hinman and accept your gong.

The reason why Ed Stelmach and the Alberta Tories did what they vowed never to do - and ditch a major part of the sacred new royalty framework - was not totally due to Hinman's needling. There was a lot of behind-the-scenes oilpatch arm-twisting too.

But when Stelmach's struggling Energy Minister Mel Knight announced he "remains confident that the NRF is the right plan over the long-term," then trimmed $1.8 billion from the take for conventional oil and gas wells, the political win went to the Wildrose Alliance.

Five days later, Knight was forced to make another "clarification" and roll back the implementation date from Jan. 1 to Nov. 19.

Stelmach claimed it was in response to the "global economic crisis and a slowdown in oil and gas drilling," even though the rig count at the time was up from November 2007.

Stelmach's response would be almost credible if Hinman hadn't stepped up his campaign three weeks earlier, demanding the premier not only cancel the royalty hikes, but scrap the $2-billion carbon capture and storage scheme.

Hinman calls it a "pipe dream."

"Now is not the time for the government to throw another wrench into the economy," the Wildrose Alliance leader spat.

And when the premier and his energy minister - who was always a reluctant passenger on the royalty express - blinked, Hinman issued another statement condemning the move as "too little too late."

Hinman called the Tory backdown "reactionary" and "policy-making on the fly."

He then demanded a "full retraction" of the framework and "full and open consultations" with the industry.

It's a long way from the Milk River Ridge to the legislature.

But the rancher from Welling was clearly savouring his victory last week.

"What these guys cannot understand," Hinman snapped, "capital is the easiest thing to move around the world.

"Had they left things alone we wouldn't be going into a recession right now," he continued.

Then he gave the premier this advice: "Recognize you did wrong, apologize for it and promise not to raise taxes again."

And the winner is ...

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