PHOTOS: A Norwegian oil rig in the North Sea. (Photo: Norsk Teknisk Museum, Wikimedia Commons.) Below: The late Alberta premier Peter Lougheed, who founded the Alberta Heritage Savings Trust Fund; the late Alberta premier Ralph Klein, who gave every one of us Albertans enough money to buy an iPod and a six-pack of brewskis (Photo: Toronto Star); and Yngve Slyngstad, CEO of the Norwegian sovereign wealth fund, which hit $1 trillion US yesterday (Photo: Norges Bank Investment Management).

In case you missed it, Norway’s sovereign wealth fund smashed through the $1 trillion barrier yesterday. Alas, the financial sonic boom was barely audible out here in Alberta.

That’s a trillion with a T, by the way. You know, a million million dollars. And those are U.S. dollars.

It’s called a sovereign wealth fund because Norway, being a social democracy and everything, decided the vast wealth generated by its oil resources should be invested exclusively for the benefit of the country’s approximately five million citizens.

After all, Norwegian officials reasoned when they set up the fund in 1996, their fellow citizens owned the stuff in common. All Norwegians should all reap the benefits together.

I mention this because Alberta’s Heritage Savings Trust Fund – established by the government of premier Peter Lougheed in 1976 with very similar goals in mind – is reputed to have partly inspired Norway’s approach to saving, not just for a rainy day, but also for a sunny petroleum-free future.

According to the Alberta government’s last report on the topic, the Heritage Fund is now worth a hair over $17 billion, which is only a couple of billion over where it was in the dull old 1980s. Norway’s fund is almost 60 times larger.

That’s because, as Canadian financial journalist Eric Reguly wrote back in 2013, after we Albertans got tired of Peter-Lougheed-style saving – soooooo boring! – we “decided that a drunken, blow-out dance party today was better than a string of candle-lit dinner parties down the road.”

And, admit it, everyone … the drunken partying was fun!

We got to yell at other provinces about how they should become ultra-low-tax jurisdictions just like us. (Why not? If they were better managers, they would have moved somewhere with oil and gas just like we did, right?) Plus, Ralph Klein gave every single one of us enough money to buy an iPod and a six-pack of Molson’s brewskis!

Was that great, or what? I think I still have the iPod, too, if I didn’t give it to one of my kids. I’m afraid the six-pack is long gone, though.

Norway, according to Mr. Reguly, doesn’t collect royalties on its North Sea oil production, which is now dwindling at the same time, it turns out, as international oil prices are doing the same thing. “It taxes the production profits at a 78 per cent marginal rate. And all the tax revenue collected is funnelled into the country’s sovereign wealth fund that pays out 4 per cent a year to fund current spending on public services.”

But even using the royalty model, the royalties we charged in Alberta were a faction of what they should have been. Conservative premier Ed Stelmach and NDP Premier Rachel Notley both made half-hearted stabs at fixing this, and then gave up when the oil industry bucked.

Albertans may have missed this too, but, despite the country’s more expensive financial structure, energy companies continue to invest in Norway’s oil.

“The Alberta Heritage Savings Trust Fund, the province’s rainy-day umbrella,” wrote the Globe and Mail’s Brian Milner two years ago, “barely has enough capital to deal with a few scattered storms. Norway’s equivalent, which was partly modelled on Alberta’s when it was set up in the early 1990s, could handle a deluge of almost biblical proportions.”

Mr. Lougheed, who died at 84 in 2012, observed in his final years that the fund would have been worth $100 billion or more if we’d stuck with his plan, and that “when a real revenue disaster strikes, Albertans will not have the fund as a shield.”

Well, here we are. Six additional Conservative premiers after Mr. Lougheed, we already had the revenue disaster when Ms. Notley’s NDP government was elected – caused by the very same low oil prices Norway has no need to panic about. And we have … as a famous Alberta political ad once whispered … noooo plaaan.

Well, it’s lucky for the Conservatives, in a way, that we have an NDP government they can kick around for the consequences of their decades’ long irresponsibility.

No plan. Well, not much of one, anyway. Certainly not as good a one as biting the reality bullet and bringing in a sales tax. For a lot of Albertans, the plan is to bring Mr. Klein back from the dead in the form of Jason Kenney.

Other than their general physical shape and market fundamentalist irresponsibility, however, it would be hard to find two politicians less like one another. As is fairly widely understood, Mr. Klein didn’t even particularly like Mr. Kenney.

Mr. Kenney claims they were pals, however, and had a beer together while they came up with a plan to give this province “the Alberta Advantage”!

I can do Mr. Kenney one better, I think. I had a beer with Mr. Klein twice. Mind you, both times were in the company of a large number of carousing journos, and as far as I can recall, there was no dancing.

Alas, Ralph and I didn’t come up with a plan to create an “Alberta Advantage” like Mr. Kenney claims the two of them did. You may think “just as well,” but who knows? Maybe if we’d worked on it together we’d have thought up with a brainstorm like, “Hey! How about we keep putting money into the Heritage Fund!”

No such luck.

But look at the bright side. If Mr. Kenney succeeds with his political master plan, maybe all four-plus million of us will get an iPhone this time, plus enough change left over for a whole case of watery Saskatchewan beer from the home province of the real leader of Western Canada, Mr. Kenney’s real hero, Brad Wall.

Of course, it might cost us our health care system, but … hey! It’s party time again!

Meanwhile, as we await the Green Apocalypse here in Alberta, Yngve Slyngstad, CEO of the Norwegian sovereign fund, was justifiably patting himself on the back yesterday.

“I don’t think anyone expected the fund to ever reach $1 trillion when the first transfer of oil revenue was made in May 1996,” Mr. Slyngstad said. “Reaching $1 trillion is a milestone, and the growth in the fund’s market value has been stunning.”


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  1. Climenhaga’s post is validated by the historical context (@ link below) especially in the commentary from the Lougheed minister who helped design AB’s Heritage Fund, Allan Warrack.

    After Lougheed resigned, Albertans have been sold out and fleeced by the policies/management of AB’s conservative elite in partnership with the petro-industry. Big shout-out to Calgary’s corporate-tower political class.



    PM’s favourite province squandered its petro profits like a ‘banana republic.’ Is this any way to run an economy?
    By Mitchell Anderson 13 Apr 2011 |

    excerpt: ‘Warrack, one of the architects of the iconic Alberta Heritage Fund, told the Tyee earlier this year that the province is being run like a “banana republic” for failing to collect fair rents for non-renewable resources like the oil sands.’


    1. An AB economist in 2015 provided more details on Albertan’s giving away oil/gas at low royalties, except for Lougheed, contrasted with Norway.

      History of royalty rates, from Socreds, thru Lougheed’s peak rates, to the low rates of the Redford PCs.

      excerpt: …Socred era (1962-1971)…average of 17.8% of the value of oil and gas produced when oil prices averaged $3.15 per barrel…Lougheed’s tenure (1971-1985) an average of 27.0% of the value of oil and gas was collected in royalties when oil averaged US$20.52 per barrel. The year 1977 was the peak in royalty collections reaching 37.7% of the value of oil and gas production at a time when oil was trading at US$14 per barrel. During Ralph Klein’s tenure (1992-2006) an average 15.2% of the value of production was collected in net royalties when oil prices averaged US$25.52 per barrel.

      …Redford the lowest royalty return on oil and gas produced in Alberta’s history was reached in 2012 with a mere 9.1% of the value of Alberta’s oil and gas sales collected. This was at a time when oil was trading at record highs of US$92 per barrel and the total value of oil and gas production was $83.6 billion…

      By contrast Norway in 2012 collected US$68 billion in royalties and other taxes or 72.4% of the total of Norway’s oil and gas sales of US$94.2 billion. The majority of these revenues were in turn invested in Norway’s Government Pension Fund that in 2014 was estimated at US$857 billion). In contrast Alberta’s Heritage Fund, which was founded by Lougheed in the late 1970s, many years before Norway’s fund, was worth only $17.4 billion in 2014.

      AB’s conservative political leadership since Lougheed, have been terrible managers on royalties. Stelmach tried to fix the situation but the WRP+oil industry put a political hit on him for his trouble. NDP’s royalty review seemed to have got the industry message to Stelmach.

  2. The UCP and the other right wing gangs WILL PAY NO PRICE. “Everyone knows” the only reason Alberta has no Trillion dollar nest egg is Trudeau and Transfer Payments. Actual policies of 35 years of post-Lougheed Conservative governments and the strong preferences of 65% of the Alberta electorate had nothing to with it. It was Trudeau and those free-loaders in Quebec. Maybe the idiots I have sparred with over the years are not representative, but I fear they are. These people seem entirely beyond the reach of fact, or even of repeated punches in the nose. It’s disheartening…..because I think Kenney has a very good chance of being the next premier. I was so delighted when the NDP won the 2015 election, I had almost wished I still lived there. But the deck is stacked against them….when unspeakable shadowy powers can manoeuvre a man like Kenney into the leadership of the opposition, how can truth or even good sense hope to prevail?

    1. Provinces have never paid money to other provinces. Ever. Ottawa is the one who takes care of equalization payments. With the exception of Peter Lougheed’s government, the other Alberta PC governments were all extremely corrupt. They blew Alberta’s wealth on many, many extremely costly scandals, got pathetic royalty rates for our oil and had bad tax policies that lost even more money. Can’t expect the UCP to be any different.

    2. Nonsense. Visions of sugarplums when renegotiating oil royalties when oil was $150, getting gobsmacked with snake-oil share the risk share the reward rhetoric, along with gross mismanagement of find under a series of incompetent PC governments is why we got so little in HTF now. Trudeau and transfer payments are red herrings.

  3. You can argue about taxes on production or royalties on resource extraction all you want. That is not the difference between Norway and Albaturda. The difference is that the Norse men and women had the cojones, and the intelligence, to show the petro-corps the door – before negotiations even begun.
    Any right thinking person, with even a lick of sense, knows that we, the people, the owners, the public, don’t need the petro-corps. Not for a second, not for jobs, not for technology, not for a single thing. They are parasites.
    The petro-corps need us, the owners of the resource. They need us, the regulators of activity. Without our permissions they would have nothing, they would be nothing.
    Unfortunately for “us”, we have been weak, cowardly and stupid. For a long, long time.

  4. First and foremost Norway is a sovereign country with control over its own coastal access and has total control over getting its product to market and over all of its tax revenues.

    Albertan’s since the early 2000’s have been sending approximently $10 billion more to Ottawa in personal and corporate tax revenue per year than we have recieved back in transfer payments. Over 15 years this would amount to $150 billion dollars. Now if we are being compared to Norway, imagine the difference if we had a 25% sales tax like Norway. In theory for every 1% of applied sales tax in Alberta there would be $1 billion in revenue, so in theory with a 25% sales tax if you remove the GST, there would be 20% left or in theory $20 billion per year in revenue. Over 10 years that is $200 billion dollars. Now I believe the royalties on conventional oil in Alberta peak out at roughly 40% of the value of a barrel of oil. So at $100 a barrel you would recieve $40 a barrel. I believe Alberta produces a little over 1 million barrels per day of conventional oil. So at the theoretical return of $40 a barrel it would generate $1.46 billion per year, which if you doubled the royalty rate to 80% would still be less than $3 billion per year or the equivelent of a 3% sales tax.

    I certainly agree that looking back it Alberta and by extension Albertan’s should have payed more taxes and save energy royalties for future generations. You can blame various governments but Albertan’s voted them in and therefore by extension are responsible for where we are today. Very few Albertan’s lobby for higher taxes and fewer yet lobby for higher taxes so that we can put away our oil revenues as savings. Many on the progressive side lobby for higher royalties to fund more government programs and higher taxes for bigger government but I never hear them talking about savings. To emulate Norway we need to raise taxes to fully fund government and set all energy royalties aside for future generations. In closing with Rachel Notley’s government putting together a string of $10 billion plus deficits we are getting further from from being like Norway everyday. Enjoy your day 🙂

    1. As usual, Farmer B, you argue your case well. I am telling myself that every time I hear a someone complaining about the sad state of Alberta’s finances, and how we are leaving a financial mess for our children, I will point out how we need taxation levels like Norway. I am sure that Norway funds their social programs much more generously than we do.

    2. You go on, and on, about taxes as if they are a bad thing. You might consider coming in from the back 40 for a spell.
      Further, royalties are not taxes. It’s rent. From your children. And their children. And their grandchildren.
      You completely miss the point. This is theft. From children. Because you and yer buddies were out in the back 40.

    3. …Norway is a sovereign country with control over its own coastal access and has total control over getting its product to market and over all of its tax revenues…

      Absolutely right, and this is a point that the Right doesn’t bring up sufficiently often. As a sovereign state, Norway is responsible for its own defence, its own foreign aid, its own domestic security, its own social welfare, funding its own scientific research, its own fisheries administration… all of the burdens that a sovereign state must bear for its citizens. Alberta has Ottawa to carry those cans for us. So you’re quite right to point out that the situations aren’t really comparable. Alberta has had it much much easier than Norway. Yet, under a succession of Tory governments, the ball has been dropped again and again. Yessir, excellent point – Norway makes us look even worse.

    4. Alberta has not sent $10 billion a year to Ottawa since the early 2000s. The Alberta PCs, other than Peter Lougheed’s government, were the worst money managers. Scandals should have been the Alberta PCs name. They are why Alberta has hardly any wealth right now.

    5. Oh please, Farmer, you’re smarter than that. The money that leaves Alberta is NOT oil money – never has been. Also, the fact that Alberta is not a sovereign state like Norway works to it’s advantage as well. For example, Alberta doesn’t have to pay for it’s own military or the cost of police force for rural regions. When the bottom falls out from Alberta’s economy, all those oil sands workers don’t stick around and use Alberta’s overused health and social services; they head back east from where they came and use other provinces’ expensive services. That wouldn’t happen in Norway.

          1. Murphy, I will respond although I am sure my grammar will not meet your satisfaction. My take home message from Dave’s blog was that Alberta’s previous Conservative government’s did not charge high enough royalties on energy and this was the reason the heritage fund did not grow. He also put a great deal of blame on Ralpk Klein’s lap.

            My thoughts on this are that when Ralph Klein ran for election in 1993 he ran on a platform of cutting government spending and balancing the budget. He won and did exactly what he said he was going to do. Why then is this Ralph’s fault? He was not a dictator and was re-elected several times. So as the late Jim Prentiss said “look in the mirror.” I also tried to point out that even if royalties were increased the budget would still not be balanced and therefore energy royalties could not be saved for future generations. A substantial increase in taxes will be required to balance the budget when you consider to put the royalties into savings first we need over $10 billion to balance the budget and another $2-3 billion at today’s oil prices to replace oil revenue so that oil revenue could be saved instead of spent on day to day operations. Even doubling the level of oil royalties would only increase revenue by $2-3 billion or as I stated the equivelent of a 3% sales tax. Unfortunately Albertan’s and by extension our Alberta government are convinced a sales tax isn’t going to happen so the present government has created a financial situation in Alberta that makes a reoccurrence of the Klein revolution very likely. Increasing spending at well above inflation hasn’t helped either. So did I address how Albertan’s are compensated for oil and gas production, no I guess I didn’t but I did attempt to address why the heritage fund has failed to grow. Enjoy your day:-)

        1. You’re right. You did say that. I still think my point stands, though. The fact that more money goes out in taxes than comes in transfers is irrelevant, since (a) the reason more money goes out is that people (and corporations) in Alberta make more money than those in other provinces (an effect, until recently, of the economic distortion created by the OPEC oligopoly) and (b) money going into trust would be from oil royalties, so it wouldn’t matter how much went out in taxes.

  5. “And those are U.S. dollars.”

    USD $1,000,000,000,000 =
    CAD $1,226,110,000,000

    or, almost enough for a down payment on a starter home in Vancouver.

  6. I do understand that Mr. Klein’s folksy style and simple messages resonated with some Albertans. However, this shows his legendary financial legacy is just that – a legend.

    In the boom and bust cycle that oil and gas goes in, Klein had the good fortune to come into power as the bust was ending and the boom was starting and to leave before the boom ended, somewhat like Lougheed. Unlike, Lougheed he didn’t plan as well for the future and the Heritage Fund mostly languished for a decade while millionaires enjoyed low taxes that the bountiful resources revenues temporarily allowed.

    Also, no conservative Premier since Klein dealt successfully with the boom and bust approach to government spending. It was still the old pattern, when oil prices fall – lay off nurses, cut back spending on education. So when approximately 10 years later when Premier Prentice asked Albertans to “look in the mirror”, we did reflect and decided that the boom and bust style roller coaster approach to manage government services needed to end.

    I suppose Kenney wants to go back to the approach of Klein and his PC successors. However, Kenney certainly lacks Klein folksy style and does not seem to be able to camouflage his mean spirited style with a pleasant demeanor that Klein sometimes did. If anything, I think Kenney is more rigid in his thinking than Klein, who for instance wanted to privatize health care but backed down several times due to strong opposition. Whether Kenney coined the phrase “Alberta advantage” or not, I do not know and of course, Mr. Klein is no longer around to clarify this. To paraphrase the saying, I think “Kenney is no Klein”. He is a pale imitation of him. He seems eager to copy some of Kleins faults, but does not seem to have inherited any of Klein’s better attributes. Kenney may consider himself the successor to Klein to try appeal to certain voters, but perhaps it is just as imaginary as the Alberta Advantage.

    1. David Ralph Klein had no good attributes. Like Don Getty, major corruption was what he was involved with. The Alberta PCs after Ralph Klein were also heavily corrupt. The UCP is seemingly like them and it shows.

  7. Here! Here! Exactly right. But, as the writer points out, Klein and Getty (who first redirected money away from the trust fund), are not the only ones to blame. A bunch of someones voted them in. Over and over again. Albertans need to sober up.

    1. Joanne Helmer They can’t and probably won’t. The $400 Ralph bucks gave the Alberta PCs immunity from their epic scandals that they did, after Peter Lougheed got out of politics.

    2. The Alberta NDP had a well understood policy platform which the people of Alberta soberly voted for. Change, including dealing with the oil and gas industry along Norwegian lines was expected. The Notley government bungled that. And by re-affirming the capture of the regulatory system by the O & G sector the NDP ended any rural credibility they may have had. Signing deals for Public/Private/Partnerships (P 3s) and other neo-Con policies soon followed.

      If you think the Neo-Con policy of a sales tax will fix anything, you only need to look at Alabama and their hook worm epidemic because they can’t afford sewage treatment.

      Alabama has both state and local sales taxes killing jobs and small business just like Louisiana, Oklahoma, and the north-eastern states. None of these places are good economic or social role models because unlike Norway, Alberta’s economy is heavily weighted towards capital intensive industries like agriculture and oil service which are damaged by sales taxes.

      The NDP’s weakness has paved the way for Mr. Kenney or one of his clones to become the next Alberta Premier. It is not like the Ab NDP were not given fair warning about the need to clean the neo-Cons out of the civil service.

      How pathetic are the NDP? They can’t even change day light savings time!

  8. Again, Mr. Blogger, you are being generous. Far too kind about Mr. Klein, and I had multiple beers with him. He was an empty vessel for the scheming of the energy industry and the money men. It is so weird that the former Wildrosers, now the UCP, invoke his name in dreamy adulation as some sort of model manager of the province. He was a sly but ignorant man. Not that dissimilar to certain politicians inhabiting Washington these days.

  9. Klein was literally taken out to a remote lodge and assessed by The Powers That Be to determine his level of obedience. The man was a debauched imbecile, and simply a puppet of the oil and gas oligarchs. Not to mention a hard-core wife-beater. I would equate him with a pimp who made the people and resources of the province available to our masters in exchange for a cut. The business with his wife being given shares to be paid for upon their sale was just a typical foetid maneuver by the slithering set that rules our little heaven on the prairie.

  10. “But even using the royalty model, the royalties we charged in Alberta were a faction of what they should have been. Conservative premier Ed Stelmach and NDP Premier Rachel Notley both made half-hearted stabs at fixing this, and then gave up when the oil industry bucked.”

    The royalties were much too low decades ago, but today we are scraping the bottom of the barrel with tar sands, fracking and secondary recovery. These are barely profitable without royalties. How many Albertans know the year in which conventional oil production peaked?

    But the low royalties gave us a series of economic booms that were very lucrative for Tory cronies and resulted in our much larger population.

  11. One of former fiscal (not the now neo-liberal) Conservative Premier Peter Lougheed’s ‘Six Principles for Resource Development’ was, ‘Collect your fair share’ which, as we now know, was not done in Alberta after the Lougheed era.
    Norway, again, did not do royalties on their oil and gas production, but they did a fair tax on oil and gas industry profits. This propagated a fair return for Norwegian citizens, to whom the resource belonged, but allowed the industry to thrive as well.
    If Alberta had followed Lougheed’s ‘Six Principles,’ we might not have had $1 trillion in our Heritage Trust Fund but we possibly could have at least had a few $hundred billion.
    The other 5 principles are: “Behave like an owner, Save for a rainy day, Add value, Go slow, Practice statecraft.”
    None of these principles were followed which flies in the face of all Albertans, the actual owners of the resource, thanks to the 40 + years of shabby advocation by all of the neo-liberal Conservatives who followed Lougheed.
    I would not expect the now neo-liberal right wing politics in Alberta to be any different. They will not get my vote.

  12. You know, I am so sick & tired of hearing about the sainted Peter Lougheed. I was one of those Eastern bastards freezing in the dark, back in the 1970s & early 80s, and have far less charitable opinions of his government. In fact, out on the East Coast, the NEP didn’t sound like such a bad idea. Have a Crown-owned integrated oil company to participate in the market and try and limit the dominance of the Seven Sisters, and secure Canadian oil & gas for Canadians… sounded fine to me. Let all Canadians take advantage of a resource that no human beating had any hand in putting under the ground, just the long-dead & decayed corpses of various & assorted extinct animals and plants… good idea, bring it on.

    Mr Lougheed’s government may have been less doctrinaire conservative than a Jason Kenney government might turn out to be, but it was hardly a progressive government.

    From a reluctant Alberta resident living in the heart of the Monterey & Duvernay gas formations …

    1. For the record:

      Ralph Klein is the source of the ‘freeze in the dark’ comment and the leader most responsible for giving AB a brand of being a bunch of selfish westerners. Ralph was Mayor of Calgary when he made that comment. Lougheed never talked like that. He had class. Ralph could be a crude vulgar politician. Probably his drinking underwrote most of his worst stuff… who knows.

      Lougheed signed the NEP after negotiating the best deal he could for AB. He was never an ass in his communications about it while he was negotiating.

      The NEP became this big bugaboo when it was scapegoated by the extreme right political leaders in politics and the corporate sector in AB, those to the right of Lougheed that is. They wanted NEP as a symbol of how the West is always ripped off by Ottawa/Eastern provinces… in fact AB’s econ. crash that really hit hard in ’81, which was due to declining oil prices which were in turn due in large part to the recession brought on by largely by the incredible and sudden 10%+/- increase in prime interest rates in July 1980 that USA Fed. Reserve chairman Paul Volcker brought in to kill inflation. Killed inflation alright, but put North America’s economy into a stall and then severe recession, and which of course had a ripple effect on the global economy.

      Lougheed’s legacy included creating in 1973 AB owned energy company.

      Klein sold off AB’s share of Alberta Energy Company at ‘fire sale’ prices.


      excerpt: Lougheed not only constructed one of the country’s most able civil services, but actively funded the same sort of environmental science and research that the Harper government has dismantled. To keep an eye on the industry’s real profits and costs, Lougheed’s government even owned an oil company: the Alberta Energy Company.

      I don’t praise all Lougheed’s policies, especially on environmental issues, but IMO, if on reviews AB history in various books covering AB political history and the online sources, most of the worst AB PC mismanagement and cray right wing policies got a foot in the door under Getty but mostly it was under Klein’s leadership that AB was launched into full-fledged corporate plundering and destruction/privatization of public assets… Stelmach didn’t make matters much worse and did try to invest in much-needed infrastructure that Klein had let deteriorate and he did try to reverse the royalty giveaways. Redford was more like Getty.

  13. I think our trust fund would much bigger if we didn’t have give Quebec 10 or 12 billion dollars every year for the 40 or 50 years. I think that works out to about 400 or 500 billion dollars

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