Premier Alison Redford is Alberta’s greatest salesperson these days, travelling the world and pitching her province’s wares - most of them black and liquid. She has the tough job of pleasing the considerable right wing segment of Alberta voters, while remaining “progressive” in her conservative philosophy, which many other Albertans prefer.
Lately Redford has also been challenged by the slipping revenues from the oil patch, which usually fatten Alberta’s coffers, and that means cutbacks. She has a lot on her plate, and a lot of “pleasing everybody” to do.
Small wonder that Redford is working hard to promote the two proposed pipelines that would export bitumen from the oil-rich sands permeating the northeast corner of the province. Both the Keystone expansion in the US and the Northern Gateway pipeline connecting Alberta to the West Coast would speed oilsands bitumen to offshore markets, allowing the industry to expand. Albertans, and the Alberta government, would grow richer.
Alberta and the federal government have a combined strategy: the active pursuit of American support for the Keystone expansion is spearheaded by Alberta, while the federal government tries to allay the fears of the British Columbia opposition to the Northern Gateway pipeline – a coalition of First Nations and environmental groups plus an unsympathetic BC government. Remember that the head offices of oilsands and pipeline companies populate the highrise office towers of Calgary, a backyard to both Redford and Prime Minister Stephen Harper. If either one of the pipelines goes ahead, Alberta’s oil has an outlet to offshore markets and Canada booms along with it. If both are secured, all the better.
Redford has been door knocking in Washington, sending her cabinet ministers to state capitals and using such means as a half page advertisement in the New York Times newspaper (costing $30,000). Meanwhile, Harper has appointed a new envoy to meet with First Nation leaders in BC and new federal oil spill cleanup measures were announced to allay fears on the coast, should a tanker run aground in the narrow passages as it navigates the myriad islands.
There is a lot of selling going on. The pitch is compelling, highlighting jobs, energy security, new industry – not the least of which is a coastal refinery – a range of rich economic benefits. The problem is, it is done in a context that claims no downside. To appease opponents, the Alberta and federal governments are saying unabashedly that the new pipelines will not cause the oilsands industry to expand. That is not the case. Both governments want that expansion to continue and will do everything in their power to encourage it.
Additionally, Redford is saying over and over that a “world class” monitoring system is in place to oversee the oilsands industry and ensure no negative impacts to the environment and no health risks to citizens. In fact, the monitoring is not world class. The system is in the process of being implemented and the jury is still out on its effectiveness. Furthermore, it came about because the system that had been in place – and was absent for decades – was so flawed and paltry that it became an international embarrassment.
To call these untruths “spin” or even “exaggeration for the sake of selling” is too kind. The lies are blatant – amoral, uncaring and void of dignity. Have Redford and Harper, like so many politicians of today, become willing to do or say anything to get their way?
Redford need not look far for an example of a true world class environmental monitoring system. On her northern border in the sparsely populated Northwest Territories, the government’s tiny budget has found room to fund a water strategy for over a decade. The fact that most of the NWT’s rivers flow north from Alberta and have been a dumping ground for the province’s industrial effluent for decades is no doubt the catalyst.
One thing absent from the new Alberta-federal monitoring program is proper investigation of the leaching of metals and carcinogens from the tailings ponds into the groundwater that then find their way into the rivers. Are the aquifers beneath the oilsands being poisoned, possibly forever? Those tailings ponds do not have impermeable barriers on the bottom.
Common sense says that could very likely be a problem. In their zeal to hurry industrial growth, common sense seems to be missing when it comes to both governments’ approaches.
Covering up the truth just makes governments look bad. It harms credibility and popularity – and that causes elections to be lost.
The primary role of any government is to protect and enhance the lives of its people. If that is not done, what is the point of having government?
Governments must ensure the environment is protected properly and no harm comes to the health or quality of life of the people. That is what “development” and ”progress” is really about.1 comment