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Why Alberta Oil Savings is Not like Norway but should

It is entirely plausible the only result from the Alberta savings fund (currently at just under 18 billion) after the oil boon will be a paltry 4.6 billion. That’s $4.6 billion generated from decades of revenues and trillions of royalty dollars.

A handful of Albertans lament on the lost savings and the short sightedness of politicians (can’t blame corporations, their duty is to the shareholder and that’s revenues in the present). There’s a good article out of Alberta Oil Magazine touting the irreconcilable differences between Alberta and the country Norway when it comes to savings of oil wealth. It’s an easy comparison to make–rich Norway vs. now poor Alberta.

The article is right, comparing the two isn’t a fair comparison, they are different entities, in particular the tax structures. The article, however, opens with the most profound statement of the problem–Alberta has done a horrid job in the past 30 years saving their oil wealth. The culture in the province is spend hard and fast.

There’s no question that Alberta has done a bad job of managing the wealth that its oil and gas sector has been throwing off for more than half a century. Despite generating almost $190 billion in non-renewable resource revenues since 1980, the value of the Heritage Fund stood at $17.3 billion at the end of last year. And of the $33.4 billion in income that it’s thrown off, the Heritage Fund has retained just $4.6 billion. Norway, in contrast, has managed to save much, much more of its non-renewable resource revenues. The value of its sovereign wealth fund sits at nearly $1 trillion, or $177,000 for every Norwegian citizen. Alberta’s per-capita figure? A shade over $4,300.

If oil friendly media doesn’t want to make the connection between Norway and Alberta, and we can do some more work in connecting Alberta with Alaska. Although they aren’t Norway, Alaska has done a far better job then Alberta in saving their own oil royalties.

It’s true Alberta probably couldn’t save at the same rate as Norway, but they could get close to Alaska. The stunning reality is, recently, Alberta hasn’t saved and all and isn’t in a position to do so for perhaps a decade. Politicians attempt to make the argument that merely protecting the Alberta Heritage Fund from inflation is a triumph. It doesn’t help that the same ruling party has been in power in Alberta for nearly fifty years.

At the end of the day, there is no political pressure to save the vast oil wealth for future generations. There was a time, even before oil was $100 a barrel, where there was talk Alberta could save enough to completely eliminate income taxes. That was only 15 years ago, but now it’s talk about running deficits and increasing taxes. This reality could be permanent.

The wealth of Alberta has been squandered and it can never be recaptured. The only saving grace is that people may have had the chance to personally save more because of overall lower taxation. But who saves money for the future, right?

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