Why Alberta shouldn’t look to Norway, and why that’s a reason to Leap

One of the clearest memories I have from my only trip to Norway is the repeated failures at hitching a ride. What appeared to be an unbroken string of brand new Audi’s and BMW’s whizzed by my friend and I, dirty and sweaty after a few days hiking and camping in the mountains. “Where am I that the comforts of our rich assholes are the rights of common citizens?”, I remember thinking.

You’ve probably seen at least one article saying that Alberta should be more like Norway. I don’t want to rehash that debate. But I think we’ve gone about it the wrong way and seeing why can tell us a lot about today’s sparring over the Leap Manifesto.

Comparing Alberta unfavourably to Norway for squandering its oil wealth has been a familiar trope of media and progressive organizations, especially since the oil price crash (here’s just the CBCToronto Star and Globe and Mail). The comparison has become so ubiquitous that it has also spawned a cottage industry of counterarguments from the right too. In short, Norway has been putting away the money it gets from oil in a sovereign wealth fund since 1990. The fund is now the world’s largest and worth over $1 trillion. Alberta’s fund, although older and actually the inspiration for Norway’s, is a paltry $15 billion. (Norway and Alberta have similar populations.)

The funny thing, however, is that Norway’s gigantic fund doesn’t pay for much of what the government does. Taxes do that. Take a look at the numbers. Public revenues in Norway at all levels of government are equal to over half of GDP (nearly 55% in 2014). Meanwhile, federal, provincial and local government revenues in Alberta make up somewhere around 30% of provincial GDP. That’s a massive difference. Alberta tax rates are lower: on individuals, on corporations and on consumption. In addition, the Norwegian government not only owns a majority share in its largest oil company, Statoil, but also taxes oil profits at a much higher rate. A special tax on “excess profits” takes the top marginal corporate rate on oil corporations to 78%. (more…)

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Cutting through Canada’s election fog: inequality, climate change and free trade

This week’s podcast is a Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives double-header. The CCPA has been an invaluable resource for alternative economic and political analysis for decades and I always enjoy highlighting their work. First up, I speak with Seth Klein, the director of the Centre’s British Columbia office, on how inequality and climate, two major issues to which Seth and the CCPA devote considersable effort, have fared in Canada’s election debate so far. Seth also talks about how the platforms of the parties stack up against the Leap Manifesto. The second half of the episode contains my conversation with Scott Sinclair, the CCPA’s chief trade researcher. Scott talks about the freshly-concluded Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP, and what this enormous trade pact means for us and our democracy.

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Carbon politics: papal and more worldly

Last week, Pope Francis released his encyclical on climate change, Laudato Si. The document speaks out strongly against environmental degradation in all forms and even calls for climate justice between the global North and South. My first guest is Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig, staff writer at The New Republic who writes frequently on the intersection of religion, politics and economics. She spoke with me about the the Pope’s encyclical and how it fits into political and economic debates.

One interesting detail in Laudato Si is a very specific injunction against carbon trading. This market-driven means of trying to fight climate change is one that is gaining popularity. Just last month, for instance, the Ontario government announced it would sign onto a scheme that already includes Quebec and California. In the second interview, I speak with Romain Felli, a research fellow in Politics and the Environment at the University of Geneva. Romain has looked extensively at carbon trading and gives a critical take on theses schemes. (Cancon quota: Romain joined me from Toronto, where he is on a one-year research exchange at York University!)

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Climate catastrophism and building a climate movement

This will be a weekend of global climate activism. Marches and forums are planned around the world, with the largest set for New York City: the three-day Climate Convergence and the People’s Climate March on Sunday expected to draw hundreds of thousands. I spoke with Arun Gupta, co-founder of The Indypendent, author and journalist living in NYC for a critical but constructive take on the weekend’s events and climate politics more generally.

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