Oslo, Norway 06/08/14
We have spent the last couple of days walking around Oslo. First time here so no yardstick to measure it by, but I have been to Stockholm a number of times and I expected it to be much like that. We were very surprised at how much smaller the city was, more like a provincial market town than the capital city of one of the richest countries in the world.
The city is very accessible, very good public transit and most things reachable by walking. We are right in the city centre staying at the Oslo Grand Hotel, a very large old building with an air of faded elegance but comfortable enough, right next to the Parliament House and a 5 minute walk from the waterfront, the Royal Palace and many shops and restaurants.
The sense of provincial market town is compounded by the fact that shops close at 5, are not open on Sunday and there is a general feeling of low-key restraint. Prices in shops and restaurants are truly jaw-dropping and after a brief period of shock we no longer convert to Canadian dollars but simply pay; there is no point in trying to find out the dollar equivalents since the prices are what they are and our bank will let us know when we return how profligate we were.
Norwegians have a very healthy, those to the right of the political spectrum would say punitive, tax system, which adds enormously to the cost of everything imported into or purchased in the country. However, there is no tuition for university students, the health care system is, like Canada’s government financed, the transportation system works, is extensive and is low cost to the extent of providing seniors’ discounts to all its citizens and to its visitors, us included.
Norway has wisely chosen a direction that our country very foolishly chose not to adopt when our oil and gas reserves began to be exploited. They are building a national investment fund that is, by statute, invested outside the country. So only a small percentage of their oil and gas revenues are allowed to be spent inside Norway, the rest must be invested outside Norway and the returns on these investments continue to be re-invested. The country’s operating costs are minimally funded by oil and gas revenues, hence the significant tax burden, with the overall goal of self-funding the costs of running the country while building a reserve fund for when resource revenues begin to decline.
We, on the other hand are busily engaged in bread and circuses, lowering taxes and in Alberta’s case, eliminating sales taxes. Part of our problem arises from our governance structure created at the time of the BNA Act which put natural resource responsibility in the hands of the provinces and not in the hands of the federal government, thus ensuring that there would be no capability for enacting a national energy strategy. Instead we have 10 provincial fiefdoms, each jealously guarding their own resources and giving the finger to the rest of the country. Sad, foolish and unnecessary and giving validity to the dictum, Structure is Destiny.