After Potatogate, what?

Was it only in April that I went west to look for signs and portents of what was going to happen on that day’s hotly-contested provincial election?

Was it only in April that I went west to look for signs and portents of what was going to happen on that day’s hotly-contested provincial election?

I came back as one of the few observers even to suspect a PC majority and expressed the hope that Alberta’s first elected female premier would retain Hon. Frank Oberle as minister of Sustainable Resource Development whom she had appointed to that position in her first cabinet following her automatically becoming premier when she won the PC leadership in September last year.

So much for the influence of this column: the newly-elected premier not only turfed Mr. Oberle, but effectively SRD as well, combining it with Environment under Hon. Diana McQueen as minister.

That alone was sufficient to drive me out west again to divine the signs and meditate on the environmental record of our government and Hon. Alison Redford in her first full year as premier, automatic and elected.

My favourite indicator aspen bluff that was not even in leaf in late April, was now in glorious gold, but shedding sufficient leaves at each slight breeze that you know the first real blow will leave nothing but bare, gray trunk and boughs: symbolic, somehow, of what the hopes of many for real change with a renewed government have come to.

Recent government trends show a continuation of the shedding of any and all concern or protection for the environment and conservation of the renewable natural resources of the province, including fish, wildlife, public land and water, leaving them bare, exposed, and fending for themselves, while we concentrate on business as usual, the bare bones of rapid development of our non-renewable natural resources.

Not only was SRD downgraded and left with no minister, its Fish and Wildlife Division, after more than a century of achievement in fish and wildlife management and conservation, has recently been wiped out, totally.

In response, Gordon Poirier, president in waiting of the Alberta Fish and Game Association mused on what could replace the defunct F and W Division that might “remove half the political baggage and infighting among the levels of bureaucracy.”

A case in point was Ms. Redford scoring points during the last election campaign by slamming shut Potatogate, the scheme to transfer 16,000 acres of priceless native prairie grasslands to a PC supporter, allegedly to be plowed under and used to grow spuds for potato chips.

What are the odds of it opening again? Hon. Redford’s government has recently transferred, without any public input, 14,000 acres of public land mostly priceless native prairie grassland to the counties of Vulcan and Taber, probably to be destroyed by local political processes.

Conservation organizations are excited that Bill 202, now in the legislature, might prevent this sort of thing by requiring ecological assessments and public discussion before such transfers of public land could take place.

That excitement indicates how desperate people are getting for any environmental protection in Alberta: Bill 202 is a private member’s bill, and, even though introduced by respected PC MLA, Dr. Neil Brown, private member’s bills haven’t the slightest hope of passage.

Premier Redford has a penchant for making an early supportive statement when she doesn’t know the full extent of the looming disaster.

She hustled to Glennifer Lake on June 8 to say this about the just-discovered Red Deer River oil spill: “We are fortunate in this province that pipeline spills don’t happen very often and we can have some confidence that when they do happen, we have plans in place to deal with them.”

Now, the government and industry’s own Energy Resources Conservation Board leaves it up to us to decide whether more than 10 spills per week in 2010 is “very often,” and I can’t find a landowner along the affected shores of the river who are happy with the cleanup and the way they are being dealt with.

Likewise, Hon. Redford recently stepped up to the plate, well before the full extent of the problems in the Brooks XL Foods beef recalls was known, to declare staunchly that she “stands behind Alberta beef.”

This column humbly and respectfully advises that she not stand too closely behind; that pipeline may contain “product” far thicker and more harmful to humans even than the 3,000 barrels of light sour crude Plains Midstream spilled into the Red Deer River.

We wend our way home through what is still Wild Rose Country.

But apparently we’ll soon expunge that slogan from our licence plates so that we are not continually campaigning at public expense for the political party astute enough to appropriate our floral emblem for its name.

Other than that strategic coup I can’t recall any position taken by our Wildrose opposition, let alone one that might show a way of navigating the dire straits in which Wild Rose Country’s environment and renewable natural resources are floundering.

Beware Wildrose: oppositions that don’t do their job tend to fade away in Alberta.

Bob Scammell is an award-winning columnist who lives in Red Deer. He can be reached at bscam@telusplanet.net.

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