Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Where did the money go?

OK so, I've only been living in Alberta since 1994. Forgive me if I don't know what's going on. But I base my next observations on what other oil and gas producing countries have done with their royalties and frankly, I'm a bit confused and underwhelmed at the same time.

Middle Eastern countries pour their oil money into building massive (and that word is perhaps an understatement) infrastructure and development projects. Have you seen Abu Dhabi and Dubai? Anyone? How about Masdar City? Look it up (Masdar City is pictured). The future is here and it's happening in the UAE.

Some countries save their royalties in rainy day accounts - like Alberta does. Here's where I get confused. Norway, which only started saving 15 years ago, has already saved $512 billion. Alberta has a paltry $15 billion to show for 35 years of savings. It only seems like a lot until you see what others have saved in comparison. By the way, that amount of money would cover 12 months of health costs for the province. That's it.

Granted, we could have used the royalty money for infrastructure and massive development instead. But there isn't anything to show. Nothing. No impressive towers; no high speed rail; a faltering health and education system; crumbling infrastructure; no province-wide water management; no flood management; a trickle of arts funding; rural Alberta is still waiting for promised high speed internet; no electrical grid development; only a few new power plants; high fuel costs; no money for tunnels under new runways; a transit system mired in 1970s technology and design; the list goes on.

Oh wait - we have part of a ring road in Calgary. We also have part of a ring road in Edmonton. Impressive.

So my question is this - where is all the money going? The kind of economic cruising Alberta is doing should be sustainable with regular taxes, but it seems that all the oil and gas money is barely keeping us afloat. How is this possible? How does the rest of the country do it without all of those royalties? Edmonton and Calgary should look like the twin cities of Abu Dhabi and Dubai. Or at least Abu Dhabi Jr. and Dubai Jr. Instead, we look like baby Ottawa and baby Houston. Colour me unimpressed.

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