Sunday, June 7, 2009

WIldrose Alliance AGM - part IV

In the policy voting session on Saturday, the first major issue (other than the motion to strike out "unified Canada", which was not really an issue in my view since it was voted down by something like a 6 to 1 margin) was whether to require policy proposals to go through constituency associations. By a close vote it was decided to stick to the existing system of just requiring 5 members to submit a proposal. I had a strong opinion on this, not least because the policy booklet itself contained 50 proposals from the same 5 people. Having these go through a constituency association first would have provided another level of vetting without centralizing the vetting in the party exec. I could then only roll my eyes when, in the afternoon, an almost unanimous vote threw the 50 proposals to the executive for vetting! Looking at what happened now, it is not so contradictory as it seems. The constituency association thing was perhaps rightly voted down because it would have empowered southerners at the expense of Edmonton area members. There are few constitutency associations in the Edmonton area meaning that members there would have to send proposals to some other association, say in Calgary, and that should rather obviously be problematic (how would "we propose increased funding for the [Edmonton based] University of Alberta" go over?). In any case, the fact the 5 who submitted the 50 proposals saw them fail to get considered for a vote (hopefully) sent a lesson to everyone there that if you want serious consideration of your proposals, get them trimmed down and vetted in advance.

A policy that was struck out by a narrow vote would have allowed "deeded landowners to receive up to 1% of the provincial royalty income generated on their land". It is worth a little background on this issue. Until about the 1880s, gold and precious minerals were not routinely reserved from Crown land grants and it wasn't until after the turn of the century that oil and gas were also reserved to the Crown. This means a greater percentage of oil and gas in Alberta (about 80%) is owned by the province than, say, the oil and gas in Manitoba, because Alberta was generally settled later. There are nonetheless many private landowners who own both the surface and the sub-surface rights. When driving through the countryside if you see an oil pump on a farmer's land, you might be inclined to think the farmer has struck it rich but usually that is not the case. It is the owner of the subsurface that is legally entitled to a royalty, not the owner of the surface. If anything, the oil pump is an inconvenience to the farmer. However, he or she is compensated, and the Alberta Surface Rights Board has authority here. I spoke up on this question to argue that the 1% policy should be struck. It creates a legal right out of thin air (ok, perhaps that is not the best metaphor here, but you know what I mean). In my view, it was therefore not consistent with the party's policy calling for property rights to be added to the Alberta Bill of Rights and the party's "principle" that individuals should have "the freedom to own, enjoy, and exchange private property in a free market". That the property right would be taken from the government and given to a private surface owner misses the point, because given that the policy rationale is to help out the surface owner, what about the case where the surface is owned by one private party and the sub-surface by another private party? Are you going to help out that surface owner? No? Then how is the policy really fair? One speaker shared my view describing the measure as providing a "windfall". The proper way to deal with this, of course, is to adjust the mandate of the Surface Rights Board, not just send a slice of the province's royalty wealth to a sub-set of landowners. Figure out a way to enlarge the cheque already being received for having to put up with a pump on the land, in other words, instead of introducing a second cheque, the size of which would be totally unrelated to any work or capital contribution by the surface owner.

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