Alberta premier resists calls to sack environment minister over parks row

FORT SASKATCHEWAN, Alta. — Alberta Premier Rachel Notley is resisting growing opposition demands to fire her environment minister over comments about RCMP involvement in a new parks plan.

“I certainly will not (fire Phillips),” Notley said when asked Thursday.

“We have made tremendous progress in the last three years (on the environmental file) and that has happened as a result of the determined, informed, intelligent leadership of the minister, who has my complete support.”

The Opposition United Conservatives and the Alberta Party want Phillips to step down over her remarks about the RCMP’s role in public information sessions on a proposal to create a network of provincial parks in western Alberta.

The plan calls for eight new parks covering 4,000 square kilometres in what is known as Bighorn Country along the eastern edges of Banff and Jasper national parks.

Residents and area officials have raised concerns about how the project might affect oil and gas exploration, the forestry industry and off-road vehicle use.

The government is getting public feedback online and planned to hold a number of community information sessions.

Two were held in Rocky Mountain House in December. But last weekend Phillips announced she was cancelling the remaining four scheduled for this week after receiving reports that public safety was at risk.

Phillips told media on Sunday that she made the decision after consulting with her officials and the RCMP, but Mounties said in a statement they did not — and cannot — give advice on such matters.

On Wednesday, addressing concerns she had over-reacted on the security threat, Phillips said nine of her officials had reported being harassed over the Bighorn plan.

She also said there were at least two RCMP investigations into the matter.

Hours later, she clarified that the RCMP had received two complaints, but there were no investigations.

Mike Ellis, the United Conservative justice critic, said it’s an intolerable pattern of deception and Phillips must go.

“The minister has shattered any trust that remained between herself and those most affected by the Bighorn plan,” he said in a statement.

“It’s clear that the minister can no longer effectively perform her duties.”

The United Conservatives have said they share all safety concerns, but have not seen such behaviour at the forums.

Alberta Party Leader Stephen Mandel said in a statement that “misleading the public as to the level of threat and the involvement of the RCMP affects the credibility of Ms. Phillips as a cabinet minister.

“She no longer has the confidence of the Alberta Party to be able to execute the duties attached to her role, and as such she must resign immediately.”

Matt Dykstra, a spokesman for Phillips’s department, said the minister’s statements were honest mistakes which she quickly clarified.

“Her words have since been twisted by the UCP and Alberta Party in ways that have been inaccurate, disproportionate and irresponsible to public debate,” said Dykstra.

“The minister always strives to provide accurate statements and has corrected herself when misspeaking.

She extends the same courtesy to others, asking for clarification and resolution before demanding action.”

Phillips has said she will try to reschedule the in-person sessions in Drayton Valley, Red Deer, Sundre and Edmonton if she can be satisfied people would be safe.

She has been in the environment portfolio since Notley’s NDP government came to power in 2015.

The minister has shepherded files on Alberta’s climate change plan, the carbon tax and a cap on oilsands emissions.

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