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Why cutting oil production seems so utterly un-Albertan

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Alberta is supposed to be the home of the free market, the province of privatization.

It’s a wide-open market to sell beer, wine, cannabis, and even insurance of every kind. Take a test for your driver’s licence and the person in the right hand passenger seat works for a business, not the government.

The province is often seen as a libertarian hotbed with the common view that less government is better government. That was at the heart of former Premier Ralph Klein’s “Alberta advantage” mystique as he served up massive government cuts and promoted a free-enterprise ethos in the 1990s.

Calgary, in particular, loves to tout its entrepreneurial spirit. It’s the place where business should thrive and there’s no need for a government helping hand.

That’s why the decision by the Alberta government to order a mandatory production cut by the oil industry seems rather un-Albertan. The move flies in the face of how many people in the province self-identify. It’s especially uncharacteristic if one pictures what’s happened in recent weeks — the majority of the oilpatch pleading with the left-leaning NDP government to interfere in the market.

‘A big step’

Beginning January, Alberta will impose mandatory production cuts on the oil sector — a measure aimed at reducing an oil glut that’s punished the price of Canadian crude.

Mandated oil production cuts are the kind of thing that’s expected from Saudi Arabia and OPEC, not Canada.

“To have a government intervene in a free market, which will create winners and losers, is just such a big step from the past 30 years of a deregulated marketplace,” said Richard Masson, an executive fellow at the University of Calgary’s School of Public Policy who has three decades of experience in oilsands development, energy marketing and finance.

“It’s right up there with the most difficult things Alberta has ever had to do,” he said.

There is a backlog of oil in Alberta because of ever increasing oilsands production and a shortage of space on oil export pipelines. (Kyle Bakx/CBC)

In recent years, the oil industry has aired complaints about government policies driving away investor confidence. Now, it’s the majority of the oilpatch wanting government intervention — precisely what investors traditionally dislike. It’s like inviting poker players to a casino where the dealer might change the game on the fly.

“Free markets work and intervention carries trade risks and sends a negative message to investors about doing business in Alberta and Canada,” said Imperial Oil chief executive Rich Kruger, in a statement. Imperial, Suncor and Husky all oppose the production cut.

‘I really am a free market person …’

In the lead up to Sunday night’s announcement of an extraordinary intervention by Premier Rachel Notley, self-described free market champions put their beliefs aside to urge the government to order the production cut. Many of those people needed to preface their endorsement by reinforcing their libertarian views before supporting government intervention.

Even following Notley’s decision, the trend continued.

“I really am a free market person,” said Alex Pourbaix, the chief executive of Cenovus Energy, in an interview on Monday with CBC News. “But I only came to the conclusion that government intervention was merited when I understood the true devastating impact that these wide differentials were going to have on the Alberta economy, the Canadian economy and the upstream industry.”

“We were about to see wholesale devastation in the upstream industry over the next year. For me, that’s the reason I supported this almost-unprecedented involvement by the government.”

It seems free market beliefs are set aside when tens of millions of dollars are being lost every day and job losses are set to mount (around the holiday season, no less). Make no mistake, the financial pain was already starting to hit the oilpatch and experts say widespread layoffs, spending cuts and company bankruptcies were on the horizon.

‘Government has to act’

There is a feeling in Alberta that the economy is fragile. While the province has slowly climbed out of a recession, it has hit an oil slick with the recent oil price collapse and the economy may fall straight back into a downturn.

“There are times when government has to act,” said Peter Donolo, vice-chairman of public relations firm Hill+Knowlton Strategies Canada. He points to former Prime Minister Stephen Harper putting aside his free market beliefs to bail out General Motors in 2009.

Watch as the CEO of Cenovus Energy backs government intervention: 

Pourbaix has lobbied for government intervention as Canadian oil prices have fallen sharply in recent months. 1:10

The question now is what the future holds when a precedent like this is set. The fact is, Canadian oil prices fall far below prices elsewhere in North America somewhat frequently. Former premier Alison Redford described it as the “bitumen bubble” in 2013 as oil prices were about $35 US lower per barrel in Alberta compared to the U.S. benchmark. In January of this year, the outage of the Keystone pipeline was one reason the differential swelled to more than $25 US.

Recently, Canadian oil sold at a discount of more than $50 US per barrel, but it has narrowed in recent days to around $30 US. Over the last decade, the oil discount has become more than $20 US per barrel at least ten different times.

In the future, every time there is financial pain in the oilpatch, the government may be expected to step up and tip the scales in industry’s favour again.

Past interventions

Alberta does have a history of government intervention, whether it was former premiers William Aberhart printing money during the Great Depression of the 1930s or Peter Lougheed’s government owning several crown corporations including an airline during the 1970s and 1980s. Lougheed, too, mandated oil production cuts in his battle with the federal government.

Still, the latest oil production cut by government would appear to run counter to the Alberta psyche.

“Of course it does. It upsets a lot of apple carts,” said Keith Brownsey, a political science professor at Mount Royal University. “A lot of people think free markets are the solution to every problem that society faces. That’s simply not true.”

Even a few months ago, most observers would not have guessed the majority of Alberta’s oilpatch would lobby the provincial government to meddle with the market.

It seems everyone wants government out of their way, until there is something government can do to help them, even in Alberta.

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Real Estate

5 ways to reduce your mortgage amortization

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Since the pandemic hit, a lot of Canadians have been affected financially and if you’re on a mortgage, reducing your amortization period can be of great help.

A mortgage amortization period is the amount of time it would take a homeowner to completely pay off their mortgage. The amortization is typically an estimate based on what the interest rate for your current term is. Calculating your amortization is done easily using a loan amortization calculator which shows you the different payment schedules within your amortization period.

 In Canada, if you made a down payment that is less than the recommended 20 per cent of the total cost of your home, then the longest amortization period you’re allowed to have is 25 years. The mortgage amortization period not only affects the length of time it would take to completely repay the loan, but also the amount of interest paid over the lifecycle of the mortgage.

Typically, longer amortization periods involve making smaller monthly payments and having a much higher total interest cost over the duration of the mortgage. While on the other hand, shorter amortization periods entails making larger monthly payments and having lower total interest costs.

It’s the dream of every homeowner to become mortgage-free. A general rule of thumb would be to try and keep your monthly mortgage costs as low as possible—preferably below 30 per cent of your monthly income. Over time, you may become more financially stable by either getting a tax return, a bonus or an additional source of income and want to channel that towards your principal.

There are several ways to keep your monthly mortgage payments low and reduce your amortization. Here are a few ways to achieve that goal:

1. Make a larger down payment

Once you’ve decided to buy a home, always consider putting asides some significant amount of money that would act as a down payment to reduce your monthly mortgage. While the recommended amount to put aside as a down payment is 20 per cent,  if you aren’t in a hurry to purchase the property or are more financial buoyant, you can even pay more.

Essentially, the larger your down payment, the lower your mortgage would be as it means you’re borrowing less money from your lender. However, if you pay at least 20 per cent upfront, there would be no need for you to cover the additional cost of private mortgage insurance which would save you some money.

2. Make bi-weekly payments

Most homeowners make monthly payments which amount to 12 payments every year. But if your bank or lender offers the option of accelerated bi-weekly payment, you will be making an equivalent of one more payment annually. Doing this will further reduce your amortization period by allowing you to pay off your mortgage much faster.

3. Have a fixed renewal payment

It is normal for lenders to offer discounts on interest rate during your amortization period. However, as you continuously renew your mortgage at a lower rate, always keep a fixed repayment sum.

Rather than just making lower payments, you can keep your payments static, since the more money applied to your principal, the faster you can clear your mortgage.

4. Increase your payment amount

Many mortgages give homeowners the option to increase their payment amount at least once a year. Now, this is very ideal for those who have the financial capacity to do so because the extra money would be added to your principal.

Irrespective of how small the increase might be, in the long run, it would make a huge difference. For example, if your monthly mortgage payment is about $2,752 per month. It would be in your best interest to round it up to $2,800 every month. That way, you are much closer to reducing your mortgage amortization period.

5. Leverage on prepayment privileges

The ability for homeowners to make any form of prepayment solely depends on what mortgage features are provided by their lender.

With an open mortgage, you can easily make additional payments at any given time. However, if you have a closed mortgage—which makes up the larger percentage of existing mortgages—you will need to check if you have the option of prepayments which would allow you to make extra lump sum payments.

Additionally, there may also be the option to make extra lump sum payments at the end of your existing mortgage term before its time for renewal.

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Real Estate

Mortgage insurance vs. life insurance: What you need to know

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Your home is likely the biggest asset you’ll ever own. So how can you protect it in case something were to happen to you? To start, homeowners have a few options to choose from. You can either:

  • ensure you have mortgage protection with a life insurance policy from an insurance company or
  • get mortgage insurance from a bank or mortgage lender.

Mortgage insurance vs. life insurance: How do they each work?  

The first thing to know is that life insurance can be a great way to make sure you and your family have mortgage protection.

The money from a life insurance policy usually goes right into the hands of your beneficiaries – not the bank or mortgage lender. Your beneficiaries are whoever you choose to receive the benefit or money from your policy after you die.

Life insurance policies, like term life insurance, come with a death benefit. A death benefit is the amount of money given to your beneficiaries after you die. The exact amount they’ll receive depends on the policy you buy.

With term life insurance, you’re covered for a set period, such as 10, 15, 20 or 30 years. The premium – that’s the monthly or annual fee you pay for insurance – is usually low for the first term.

If you die while you’re coved by your life insurance policy, your beneficiaries will receive a tax-free death benefit. They can then use this money to help pay off the mortgage or for any other reason. So not only is your mortgage protected, but your family will also have funds to cover other expenses that they relied on you to pay.

Mortgage insurance works by paying off the outstanding principal balance of your mortgage, up to a certain amount, if you die.

With mortgage insurance, the money goes directly to the bank or lender to pay off the mortgage – and that’s it. There’s no extra money to cover other expenses, and you don’t get to leave any cash behind to your beneficiaries.

What’s the difference between mortgage insurance and life insurance?

The main difference is that mortgage insurance covers only your outstanding mortgage balance. And, that money goes directly to the bank or mortgage lender, not your beneficiary. This means that there’s no cash, payout or benefit given to your beneficiary. 

With life insurance, however, you get mortgage protection and more. Here’s how it works: every life insurance policy provides a tax-free amount of money (the death benefit) to the beneficiary. The payment can cover more than just the mortgage. The beneficiary may then use the money for any purpose. For example, apart from paying off the mortgage, they can also use the funds from the death benefit to cover:

  • any of your remaining debts,
  • the cost of child care,
  • funeral costs,
  • the cost of child care, and
  • any other living expenses. 

But before you decide between life insurance and mortgage insurance, here are some other important differences to keep in mind:

Who gets the money?

With life insurance, the money goes to whomever you name as your beneficiary.

With mortgage insurance, the money goes entirely to the bank.

Can you move your policy?

With life insurance, your policy stays with you even if you transfer your mortgage to another company. There’s no need to re-apply or prove your health is good enough to be insured.

With mortgage insurance, however, your policy doesn’t automatically move with you if you change mortgage providers. If you move your mortgage to another bank, you’ll have to prove that your health is still good.

Which offers more flexibility, life insurance or mortgage insurance?

With life insurance, your beneficiaries have the flexibility to cover the mortgage balance and more after you die. As the policy owner, you can choose how much insurance coverage you want and how long you need it. And, the coverage doesn’t decline unless you want it to.

With mortgage insurance through a bank, you don’t have the flexibility to change your coverage. In this case, you’re only protecting the outstanding balance on your mortgage.

Do you need a medical exam to qualify? 

With a term life insurance policy from Sun Life, you may have to answer some medical questions or take a medical exam before you’re approved for coverage. Once you’re approved, Sun Life won’t ask for any additional medical information later on.

With mortgage insurance, a bank or mortgage lender may ask some medical questions when you apply. However, if you make a claim after you’re approved, your bank may ask for additional medical information.* At that point, they may discover some conditions that disqualify you from receiving payment on a claim.

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Real Estate

5 common mistakes Canadians make with their mortgages

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This article was created by MoneyWise. Postmedia and MoneyWise may earn an affiliate commission through links on this page.

Since COVID-19 dragged interest rates to historic lows last year, Canadians have been diving into the real estate market with unprecedented verve.

During a time of extraordinary financial disruption, more than 551,000 properties sold last year — a new annual record, according to the Canadian Real Estate Association. Those sales provided a desperately needed dose of oxygen for the country’s gasping economy.

Given the slew of new mortgages taken out in 2020, there were bound to be slip-ups. So, MoneyWise asked four of the country’s sharpest mortgage minds to share what they feel are the mistakes Canadians most frequently make when securing a home loan.

Mistake 1: Not having your documents ready

One of your mortgage broker’s primary functions is to provide lenders with paperwork confirming your income, assets, source of down payment and overall reliability as a borrower. Without complete and accurate documentation, no reputable lender will be able to process your loan.

But “borrowers often don’t have these documents on hand,” says John Vo of Spicer Vo Mortgages in Halifax, Nova Scotia. “And even when they do provide these documents, they may not be the correct documentation required.”

Some of the most frequent mistakes Vo sees when borrowers send in their paperwork include:

  • Not including a name or other relevant details on key pieces of information.
  • Providing old bank or pay statements instead of those dated within the last 30 days.
  • Sending only a partial document package. If a lender asks for six pages to support your loan, don’t send two. If you’re asked for four months’ worth of bank statements, don’t provide only one.
  • Thinking low-quality or blurry files sent by email or text will be good enough. Lenders need to be able to read what you send them.

If you send your broker an incomplete documents package, the result is inevitable: Your mortgage application will be delayed as long as it takes for you to find the required materials, and your house shopping could be sidetracked for months.

Mistake 2: Blinded by the rate

Ask any mortgage broker and they’ll tell you that the question they’re asked most frequently is: “What’s your lowest rate?”

The interest rate you’ll pay on your mortgage is a massive consideration, so comparing the rates lenders are offering is a good habit once you’ve slipped on your house-hunter hat.

Rates have been on the rise lately given government actions to stimulate the Canadian economy. You may want to lock a low rate now, so you can hold onto it for up to 120 days.

But Chris Kolinski, broker at Saskatoon, Saskatchewan-based iSask Mortgages, says too many borrowers get obsessed with finding the lowest rate and ignore the other aspects of a mortgage that can greatly impact its overall cost.

“I always ask my clients ‘Do you want to get the best rate, or do you want to save the most money?’ because those two things are not always synonymous,” Kolinski says. “That opens a conversation about needs and wants.”

Many of the rock-bottom interest rates on offer from Canadian lenders can be hard to qualify for, come with limited features, or cost borrowers “a ton” of money if they break their terms, Kolinski points out.

Mistake 3: Not reading the fine print

Dalia Barsoum of Streetwise Mortgages in Woodbridge, Ontario, shares a universal message: “Read the fine print. Understand what you’re signing up for.”

Most borrowers don’t expect they’ll ever break their mortgages, but data collected by TD Bank shows that 7 in 10 homeowners move on from their properties earlier than they expect.

It’s critical to understand your loan’s prepayment privileges and the rules around an early departure. “If you exit the mortgage, how much are you going to pay? It’s really, really important,” Barsoum says.

She has seen too borrowers come to her hoping to refinance a mortgage they received from a private or specialty lender, only to find that what they were attempting was impossible.

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