CALGARY — Decisions on government policy should be made by elected officials, not courts, a lawyer argued Tuesday.
“This case is not about an unlawful exercise of government power,” Melissa Burkett said at a hearing to decide whether a request for a judicial review can proceed into Alberta’s decision to revoke a policy protecting the Rocky Mountains from coal mining.
“This case is about the government’s ability to create and dictate policy based on economic, social, political and other relevant factors.”
Burkett argued that Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Richard Neufeld should not allow requests from ranchers and First Nations for a judicial review.
There’s nothing to review, said Burkett, who argued the 1976 policy was not rooted in legislation or regulation.
“The adaptation and any amendment of the coal policy is exclusively under the mandate of the Minister of Energy,” she said.
Allowing a review would wrongly tie governments to the decisions of their predecessors, she added.
Burkett said the policy had become obsolete given the development of Alberta’s energy review bodies and laws. Overturning the policy has “no practical impact” because agencies such as the Alberta Energy Regulator now exist, she said
And because those oversights now exist, revoking the policy hasn’t violated the rights of those seeking the review, Burkett said.
“The applicants’ rights have not been affected by the recission of the coal policy and therefore no duty of fairness has arisen.”
Earlier Tuesday, ranchers and First Nations who filed separate requests for the review agreed to have their arguments heard together. The Bearspaw, Kainai, Siksika, Blood, Ermineskin and Goodfish Lake First Nations kept the right to bring separate constitutional arguments, which are not part of the application filed by rancher Macleay Blades.
Sonya Savage, the United Conservative government’s energy minister, revoked the policy last May, quietly and without public consultation.
Popular Alberta entertainment figures, including Corb Lund and Jann Arden, have strongly opposed the decision. Petitions against it have gathered more than 100,000 signatures.
On Monday, Savage announced in a news release that the recent sale of 11 coal leases would be cancelled and that no more would be sold on land where open-pit mines were forbidden under the old policy.
She did not provide any more details, promise any consultation or offer to reconsider the decision on the 1976 policy.
Environmental groups point out the 11 leases represented a tiny fraction of the leases sold since the policy was quashed. At least eight provincial recreation areas are either completely or largely surrounded by coal exploration leases.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 19, 2021.
— By Bob Weber in Edmonton. Follow @row1960 on Twitter
The Canadian Press