Force oil companies to share fabulous wealth

Lana Payne
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Gas and home heating prices are raging. Yet where is the outrage?
There is plenty of resignation. Lots of acceptance. But no revolt.
Why is it that the citizens of Canada are so uncomplaining and compliant when it comes to the obscene profits of oil companies?
Why are we not demanding that more of those profits are taxed and returned to the country's treasuries to be redistributed, offsetting the financial toll on Canadian families from the high cost of energy?
Where is the outrage over the federal Conservatives' decision to make these oil companies even richer by cutting their taxes, adding to their overflowing bank accounts and the accounts of their shareholders?
This is money that could have been used for the common good, like building child care or social housing, increasing the guaranteed income supplement for seniors or the child tax benefit. These oil and gas resources, after all, belong to the people and are merely being developed by corporate oil. Therefore the people should benefit the most from them.
Have we lost our sense of fairness and justice? Have we allowed the Harperites to steal our moral sense of right and wrong? Because it is wrong to feather the nests of those who have more than they will ever need in 100 lifetimes while our elderly can't heat their house or afford prescription drugs, or while people sleep on the streets of our cities because they have no home.
It is just plain wrong. Yet you'd never know it listening to Prime Minister Stephen Harper. You would never know it by his actions and decisions.
It costs over $90 to fill up the minivan. And some homeowners paid over $1,000 to fill up their oil tanks this past winter.

Hard times
The high cost of energy is driving people into the poor house. And the response from those with the power to do something about it is deafening silence. The response is to allow a few to accumulate super wealth at the expense of everyone else. When did our priorities in this country get so messed up?
Imagine the state our elderly and our most vulnerable families will be in this winter because it appears there is no ceiling to the price of a barrel of crude oil. Imagine how over-populated that poorhouse is going to be.
There is also no ceiling to the profits being hoarded by corporate oil. According to analysis by Andrew Jackson, an economist with the Canadian Labour Congress, the current production cost per barrel of oil is about $40 - far below the current price which nearly hit $150 last week.
He notes that operating profits for Canadian oil and gas companies hit $26 billion in 2007, of which less than $6 billion was paid to governments in corporate tax. Those profits will be greater again this year. And even taking into account the fact that some of these profits will be reinvested in new developments, there is still plenty of room for extra taxation or a super royalty.
Jackson argues that these tax dollars be used to help lower- and middle-income families survive the assault on their living standards posed by the skyrocketing cost of fuel, which is also driving the cost of food and other goods through the roof.
Many economists say high energy costs are here to stay. With additional demand from Asia outstripping supply, an unsettled Middle East and the invisible hand of the speculators, the days of cheap energy appear to be long over. Even a bust will unlikely see the price of crude oil go below $80 a barrel.
So there is no sense waiting this one out. Governments must act before energy costs erode the financial stability of millions of Canadians living from paycheque to paycheque.
Sadly, we cannot depend on the federal government to act. Their solution has been to throw up their hands in the face of all that greed and, more importantly, all the need that greed is creating.
That leaves the province with the task of holding the federal government accountable while acting to ensure the well-being of its citizens.
Newfoundland and Labrador coffers are overflowing, mostly thanks to oil and gas revenues, royalties and taxes.
But we have our share of problems. When 20 families are living in tents in the small northern community of Happy Valley-Goose Bay, including a couple awaiting the birth of their child, enough is not being done to share the oil wealth.
Added to the cost of fuel is the rising cost of housing from St. John's to Labrador City and all points in between.

Great expectations
Families are hurting, especially those struggling on fixed incomes and social assistance. But there is hope. We can make life better for those with the least. We can certainly do a better job than Ottawa, which has done no job at all.
It means cushioning the pain of high housing and energy costs, and that means doing things differently. It means we may have to take a decade or a lot longer to pay off the debt instead of racing to get it done in five years.
It means putting people first. Not so novel an idea, but maybe something we all need to be reminded of as the oil corporations cash in on our resources while seniors, working people and the most vulnerable among us are left holding the bag.

Lana Payne is a former journalist who is active in the labour movement. She can be reached by e-mail at column returns Aug. 3.

Organizations: Conservatives, Canadian Labour Congress

Geographic location: Canada, Newfoundland and Labrador, Asia Middle East Happy Valley Goose Bay St. John's Ottawa

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