(BLACK PRESS file image)

Opinion: Coal consultations won’t restore trust in UCP

Jason Kenney, in the wake of Aloha-gate, promised to restore Albertans’ faith in his government: “Trust has been broken, and I accept that that trust must be repaired.”

That was in regard to government insiders flying off to tropical resorts over Christmas while the rest of us stayed home in keeping with his government’s instructions. But the ongoing controversy over strip mining our foothills and mountains hasn’t helped either.

From all signs to date, the UCP’s management of that controversy won’t rebuild trust. If anything, they’re digging the hole deeper.

The coal problem originated in hubris. In an October 2018 speech to the Calgary Chamber of Commerce, Kenney explained his strategy for changing Alberta into a paradise for wealthy investors. “You move with speed because speed creates its own momentum,” he said. “It also makes it harder for the opponents of reform to obstruct it.”

So that’s what they did.

They moved fast, after they were elected, to not only rescind Alberta’s Coal Development Policy, but to lease out thousands of square kilometres of our foothills and mountains.

Speedy Kenney was wrong. Opponents of coal reform did indeed obstruct it. In fact, Albertans of every political stripe, from every walk of life, rural, urban and First Nations rose up in a protest movement unlike anything Alberta’s ever seen before. One Facebook page alone has over 35,000 members, all of them steaming mad.

So the government brought back a modified version of the coal policy and promised to consult with Albertans on a new policy.

But if they wanted our trust, the first thing they should have done was pay attention. Those tens of thousands of Albertans never asked for a new coal policy. They were upset about not having been consulted before revoking the good one we already have — the one keeping our mountains free of open pit mining. The single overarching message that has come from the uproar is that most Albertans simply don’t want coal mining in our mountain headwaters.

Setting aside the fact that only the government and some mining investors want a new coal policy, let’s assume they really do want to hear from Albertans who are content with the old one. If those consultations are real, then logically any new coal development activities would be put on hold.

But Kenney’s government has not cancelled all the new leases that they issued after cancelling the coal policy last spring. Worse: they haven’t cancelled permits to explore those leases. Which means, as early as this summer, fleets of bulldozers and drill rigs are able to fan out across our eastern slopes, carving up our foothills and mountainsides in search of coal.

Continued coal exploration makes sense if the government intends for coal mining to proceed. But that would mean they aren’t serious about consultion, because what most Albertans have been saying is that our Eastern Slopes are too valuable to be stripped for their coal. Phoney consultation, needless to say, won’t rebuild trust.

There’s another reason the government should cancel those leases and exploration permits: fiscal prudence.

Assuming all or some of those new leases are ultimately cancelled — which seems a likely outcome — Alberta taxpayers will be on the hook. Companies are entitled to compensation for sunken costs. Those will be far higher after another season of exploration activity. Bad enough that we’re already stuck with the bill for Kenney’s latest bad gamble – the $1.3 billion wasted on the Keystone XL Pipeline.

Kenney will not regain trust by offering Albertans a contrived consultation process with a predetermined outcome, while setting us up for big dollar losses we can’t afford. He seems determined to learn that the hard way.

Kevin Van Tighem is author of fourteen books including Heart Waters: Sources of the Bow River and Our Place: Changing the Nature of Alberta.

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