Battle for public land can never be ‘won’

Potatogate has quietly closed, the great chipoff is off. Both terms refer to the government’s secretive effort to sell 16,000 acres of Alberta public land, priceless native grassland, to a Tory supporter, allegedly to be plowed under and used to grow spuds for potato chips.

The outdoors recreation of all Albertans flows from and on public land. It should not be sold or disposed of to government friends in secretive dealings.

The outdoors recreation of all Albertans flows from and on public land. It should not be sold or disposed of to government friends in secretive dealings.

Potatogate has quietly closed, the great chipoff is off.

Both terms refer to the government’s secretive effort to sell 16,000 acres of Alberta public land, priceless native grassland, to a Tory supporter, allegedly to be plowed under and used to grow spuds for potato chips.

When the Alberta Wilderness Association found out about this scheme and went public with it, public outrage was instant and massive. Now cyberspace buzzes with news of “having won one, for once.”

Those of us who have fought too many government giveaways of our public land over the years advise caution and continuing the pressure. You can win these battles over and over; lose once, and the war is lost, the land is forever lost as wildlife habitat.

It was the applicant, the potato farmer, and not the government, who gave in to the pressure; he withdrew his application to buy the land.

Sustainable Resource Development Minister Mel Knight, informed the Legislature that the government will continue dealing with our public land in the same way. In other words, it is monkey business as usual.

The applicant could re-submit his bid at any time, and he is sounding like he will, whining that the public was misinformed. He is partially right: the public was totally uninformed.

What did he propose to pay for this scarce and priceless land, and why, really, did he need so much of it? The AWA should find out these and other facts by continuing its Freedom of Information application.

Rewarding your friends with public land has a long and dishonorable history in Canada, starting with Sir John A., our first prime minister. The tradition is particularly alive and flourishing in Alberta.

Any government that can’t comprehend what is wrong with MLAs accepting gifts from lobbyists will never understand what is wrong with giving public property away to its supporters.

The AWA warns of complacency. “It is great news that this irreplaceable piece of native grassland isn’t going to be sold just yet,” says Nigel Douglas, AWA conservation specialist, “but the shameful system that encourages these sorts of deals to go on behind closed doors hasn’t changed.”

The system of administering and managing Alberta’s public land must change. The owners of that land, you, me, all the people of Alberta in common, have been demanding change at well-attended public hearings for more than two decades.

As a general rule, the public has said public land should never be sold; leased perhaps, occasionally, for specific purposes, but ensuring that all revenues earned from public land, other than from specific leased purposes (grazing cattle, for example), should come into the public coffers for the benefit of all Albertans.

But nothing happens.

The government will allow nothing to rock their good ship Patronage. We still seem to be unable even to find out how many multi-millions of dollars of oil and gas surface disturbance money have been doled over the years to grazing leaseholders of public land in a form of “cowboy welfare,” instead of being paid to us, the owners of that land, as would routinely happen with a grazing or farm lease on private land.

Public land is a public trust. Should a trustee be able to dispose of trust property without even notifying, let alone consulting those for whom the property is being held in trust? The answer is obvious, especially when the “trustee” is politically-motivated.

What we need is an independent board of trustees to administer and manage Alberta’s public land in the interest of the owners, the public, always bearing in mind that Albertans love their public land and generally do not want it to be sold.

My father, a Cockney immigrant back in the ’20’s, loved the concept of Alberta’s public land, and considered it made a rich man of a poor boy. He taught me that if you look after the land, it will look after you.

There is much time and inspiration lately to think such thoughts, as I sit for hours watching deer. This year I hold the antlered mule deer tag for the whole huge Wildlife Management Unit, and thus am revisiting old favorite haunts, huge tracts of public land that I can’t enjoy, wander in, and wonder at quite as long and hard as I used to.

Looking back, and considering that the beds and shores of rivers, lakes and streams are also public land, I estimate that Alberta’s public lands — including on native prairie grasslands — have given me three quarters of all my outdoors recreations over the years. Most Albertans could say the same.

There are more rigs drilling on “my” land than there have been in recent years. When the oil and gas is gone, the renewable resources of our public land will sustain us … if we protect and manage it properly and never sell it for a mess of potato chips.

Bob Scammell is an award-winning outdoors writer living in Red Deer.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The first Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine dose in Canada is prepared at The Michener Institute in Toronto on Monday, Dec. 14, 2020. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn)
Not all long-term care workers have received their vaccines including a Red Deer facility

There continues to be confusion in long-term care and supportive living facilities… Continue reading

Cattle graze winter pasture in the foothills of the Canadian Rockies near Longview, Alta. on Jan. 8, 2004. Concern over the provincial government’s decision to drop a coal policy that has protected the eastern slopes of the Rockies for decades is growing among area communities. At least six cities, towns and municipal districts in southwest Alberta have now expressed concern about the decision and the fact it was made with no consultation. The latest is Longview, where mayor Kathie Wight is drafting a letter to the government opposing the move. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
More southern Alberta communities voice concern over province’s plans to expand coal

Concern over the Alberta government’s decision to drop a coal policy that… Continue reading

Some residents say there is no longer an effective Nordegg fire department to respond to emergencies in the West Country. (Contributed photo).
Some Nordegg residents worry about lack of emergency response in the West Country

The possibility of wildfires or accidents is ‘scary’ says former fire leader

(Advocate file photo).
Six idling vehicles stolen in last 48 hours: Red Deer RCMP

Red Deer RCMP said Wednesday six idling vehicles in the city were… Continue reading

An oil and gas pumpjack is shown near Cremona, Alta., Thursday, Oct. 1, 2020. Canada's oil and gas producers are expected to maintain spending discipline in 2021 as optimism from recently stronger oil prices is offset by fears of continuing weak consumer energy demand due to new strains of the COVID-19 pandemic.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Cautious optimism rules oilpatch as fourth-quarter reporting season dawns

Cautious optimism rules oilpatch as fourth-quarter reporting season dawns

A man works in the broadcast centre at the TMX Group Ltd. in Toronto, on May 9, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darren Calabrese
S&P/TSX composite wipes out early gains of 2021 after worst day since October

S&P/TSX composite wipes out early gains of 2021 after worst day since October

In this undated image made from a video taken by the Duke of Sussex and posted on @SaveChildrenUK by the Duke of Sussex and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, shows the Duchess of Sussex reading the book “Duck! Rabbit!” to their son Archie who celebrates his first birthday on Wednesday May 6, 2020. The Canadian Paediatric Society is reminding families that the process of raising a reader starts from birth. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Duke of Sussex/@SaveChildrenUK via AP MANDATORY CREDIT
Canadian Paediatric Society says raising a reader starts from birth

The Canadian Paediatric Society is reminding families that the process of raising… Continue reading

People wearing face masks as a precaution against the coronavirus walk past a depiction of Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., in Philadelphia, Monday, Jan. 25, 2021. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
Bernie Sanders’ mittens, memes help raise $1.8M for charity

About those wooly mittens that U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders wore to the… Continue reading

Bags of methamphetamine seized at Coutts, Alta., border crossing is shown in this December 2020 handout photo. The Canada Border Services Agency says it has made Canada’s largest-ever seizure of methamphetamine at an Alberta land border crossing from the United States. The agency says on Christmas Day, it flagged a produce truck at the Coutts border crossing for further inspection. Officers found more than 228 kilograms of meth with an estimated street value of $28.5 million. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO - Canada Border Services Agency
Alberta border agents made record meth bust after pulling over produce truck

COUTTS, Alta. — The Canada Border Services Agency says officers in southern… Continue reading

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Toronto on Thursday, Jan. 7, 2021. Quebec’s director of national health says he’s still not sure when the province will begin administering COVID-19 booster shots — 42 days since officials started injecting people with the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Calculated risk or gamble: Experts differ on merits of Quebec’s vaccine strategy

MONTREAL — Quebec’s director of national health said he’s still not sure… Continue reading

This electron microscope image made available by the U.S. National Institutes of Health in February 2020 shows the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, in yellow, emerging from the surface of cells, blue/pink, cultured in a lab. The Canadian Armed Forces is dealing with a dramatic increase in the number of troops who have been infected with COVID-19 over the past month. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-NIAID-RML via AP
Canadian military dealing with surge in new COVID-19 infections since December

OTTAWA — The Canadian Armed Forces is dealing with a dramatic increase… Continue reading

Advocates for the homeless hold a protest against the COVID-19 curfew Monday, January 11, 2021 in Montreal. The Quebec government says it will not challenge a temporary court order granted Tuesday that exempts the homeless from a provincewide curfew imposed to limit the spread of COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Quebec to exempt homeless from curfew after court finds measure endangered safety

MONTREAL — The Quebec government said Wednesday it will not challenge a… Continue reading

Most Read