Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Alberta Heritage Fund in disrepair

Below is an e-mail I sent to Danielle Smith, leader of the surging Alberta Wildrose Party. As they look poised to form Alberta's next government, their policies and announcements need to be analyzed carefully. As you'll see below, at least one of these policies, although very popular among some voters, is shortsighted and not what I expect of my political leaders.

Dear Mrs. Smith:

I initially read with great interest and excitement your proposal to finally bring the Alberta Heritage Fund to a respectable level. I was confused and disappointed when I later read your proposal to pay a $300 "energy dividend" to every Albertan.

The mindset that initially drove Ralph Klein to give us all "prosperity cheques" is no different than the one behind your announcement to pay us each $300. It is, no doubt, the same mindset that has flourished under 40 years of Conservative rule in this province and led to the pathetic current market value of the Alberta Heritage Fund. The fact that you announced it as a key policy plank leads me to believe that Wildrose rule may be no different, and that disappoints me. I found your policy platform very well thought out and not as "right wing" as many claim your party to be. But to implement this $300 policy would be evidence that your party knows nothing of responsible governance or fiscal management and thus, are no different than the Conservatives.

What you, Ms. Redford, Mr. Mason, and Dr. Sherman all need to hear is that the people of Alberta elect our government to make difficult and complex decisions on our behalf for the betterment of our province and its future. If you want to give us each $300 per year, lower our personal income taxes. Taking the money from us and then giving it back is not only a huge administrative expense but brings into question our leaders' creativity and passion for future generations. It takes a real leader to think beyond their lifetime and invest for the future. That is exactly what the leaders of Norway have been doing since 1990. And by every measure imaginable, the Alberta Heritage Fund is an absolute embarrassment compared to the Norwegian sovereign wealth fund.

If you consider Alberta as a unique political entity, our Heritage Fund lags Norway's as a percentage of government revenue, government expenditure, GDP, annual petroleum revenue, and dollars per capita. It is even more embarrassing to learn that the Heritage Fund's inception was in 1976 while Norway only started in 1990. Even with that temporal handicap the latter has a full $500 billion more in value. Even considering equal starting points, an aggregate average of all the measures for Norway's fund would suggest that ours should contain $211 billion by now had our leaders been as responsible and forward-thinking as those in Norway.

What if the Conservatives of 1976 invested $300 in 1976 dollars (roughly $75) for each Albertan (1.8 million at the time) in the Heritage Fund, and continued to do so until now? At a very modest growth of 3% per year and converting it into 2012 dollars, it would put the value at $33.8 billion, double its existing value. Instead, it looks like we've invested only $250 million in 2012 dollars for 35 years, only 0.71% of total government revenue. Clearly we can AND must do better.

Think, Mrs. Smith, of the legacy you could leave if you were to abandon your reckless proposal and focus on bringing the Heritage Fund to its fair value? Your original proposal of $200 billion is right on the money. This would be a Heritage Fund to be proud of. This would show fearless and intellectual leadership. The hard working people of Alberta deserve nothing less.

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