Alberta Votes

Oil CEOs weigh in on Alberta election

Cenovus CEO Brian Ferguson was the first to weigh in on Alberta's election campaign, pouring cold water on an NDP pledge to review the province's energy royalty system.

Executives won't pick a party, but do warn about certain policies

TransCanada CEO Russ Girling answers questions about the current Alberta election campaign at the company's AGM. (Kyle Bakx/CBC)

Within days of Albertans going to the polls, investors are wondering how the heads of Calgary's biggest companies are viewing one of the most wide open elections in decades.

Cenovus CEO Brian Ferguson was the first to weigh in on Alberta's election campaign, pouring cold water on an NDP pledge to review the province's energy royalty system.

"I don't think there's any room for any increase in royalties," Ferguson told Bloomberg News. "If there are changes that make the structure uncompetitive, that will be negative for investment in Alberta."

All week, energy company CEOs have been asked about the NDP, royalties and the like. Companies are holding annual general meetings and are facing inquiries not just from reporters, but shareholders too, wondering whether a change in government is feared, especially if a progressive party forms the government.

On Friday, TransCanada CEO Russ Girling was asked three questions about the election. Clearly, he would much rather discuss corporate financial reports and new pipeline projects on the go in North America. He answered "no comment" twice and the other time chose to talk about how important it is for the premier to lobby other governments about the merits of pipelines.

Executives with Imperial Oil and Canadian Oil Sands also faced inquiring minds at their respective AGMs. A shareholder wanted to pick the brain of Imperial Oil's Rich Kruger. He didn't offer much of an opinion, stating the company will make the same investment decisions it always has depending on the fiscal regimes, taxes and other factors.

Executives in the top floors of the towers in downtown Calgary usually stay mum on politics, but will speak out from time to time.

There was outrage from industry when former PC premier Ed Stelmach reviewed, then increased, royalty rates in 2007 after becoming premier. He caved to industry and reversed the change in 2010. 

In 2013, Alberta's energy industry help Christy Clark's Liberals in the B.C. election. They openly raised cash for her and celebrated her victory.

With Albertans heading to the polls, it's not clear whether the oil and gas industry has anything to fear whether or not there is a change in government. Andrew Leach, a professor of energy policy at the University of Alberta, went through the NDP's energy platform piece-by-piece and found there is no real reason to be either concerned or comforted.

But after the sharp fall in oil prices, which sent company revenues tumbling, the energy sector may be sensitive to a possible government change.  Cenovus in particular, had a loss of $668 million in the most recent quarter.


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