Conservatives have got to go

Pay attention all you outdoors lovers pondering your vote in Alberta’s April 23rd election: this will be my one robo col.

Pay attention all you outdoors lovers pondering your vote in Alberta’s April 23rd election: this will be my one robo col.

First advice, if you’re known not to favour the PCs in Alberta: don’t take the word of one of those telephone robo calls telling you where to vote. Check it out.

When I arrived at Dalhousie Law School in 1959, I was told that, immediately after the Diefenbaker landslide victory in 1958, Dean Horace E. Read, known as an “awful” Liberal down East, noted that Tory times are hard times and that the school would soon have to start teaching bankruptcy law again.

Over the years since, I have mused that, whatever else they do, the Conservatives, ironically, seldom conserve (in the sense of “use wisely”) anything. I might have written “never,” but they sometimes start out right, but then recant and regress.

For example, my old first year Dalhousie law schoolmate, Brian Mulroney, who loved fishing, became prime minister in 1984, and in 1986 his PC government, enacted section 35 (1) of the Federal Fisheries Act, protecting fish habitat. It is probably the strongest environmental legislation we have in Canada with a long record of protecting fish habitats in the territories and provinces.

Now, 26 years later, the Conservative government of Stephen Harper is trying to gut section 35 (1) by adding vague wording and removing the word “habitat” from it, apparently because of an unsubstantiated perception that the section as is somehow stands in the way of some peculiar Conservative view of “progress.”

Forty one years ago, Peter Lougheed became premier of Alberta, and his first PC government brought in considerable excellent conservation legislation. Suffice for me to mention the Buck for Wildlife program that acquired, maintained, protected and conserved fish and wildlife habitats.

But in the 41 years of Conservative rule in Alberta since that fine first Lougheed term, there has been a steady decline in any conservation agenda regarding any of Alberta’s natural resources, renewable and non-renewable alike. There has been a steady erosion, almost a war against the renewable resource side in favour of non-renewable resource development as the Alberta conservatives regressed to their traditional mode that, “if it’s good for big oil, large logging and ranching, then it’s good enough for Alberta.”

Our once superb fish and wildlife division has been gutted of its fine biologists, its too-few fish and wildlife officers recently transferred to the solicitor general. New Sustainable Resource Development minister, Frank Oberle, should he last long enough, is pledged to fight for the funds to rebuild.

Meanwhile, what is left of fish and wildlife is waging an expensive and shameful helicopter and poison war on wolves in West Central Alberta, allegedly to save the woodland caribou. But the caribou are doomed anyway, not by wolves, but because of non-renewable resource development fragmenting and destroying its habitat. The body count of the collateral holocaust on other wildlife, grizzlies included, probably far exceeds the number of wolves killed.

We are concluding long-term watershed clear cutting agreements without public consultation, as though we had enough water, let alone to waste. Potatogate anyone? We try twice to “sell” a huge tract of priceless public land, scarce native Prairie grassland, to a Conservative Party supporter, allegedly to plow up and grow spuds for potato chips.

Premier Lougheed prudently established the Heritage Savings Trust Fund to help sustain Albertans when the oil and gas run out. The Conservatives since don’t add much to it and tap it so often that it has hovered around $15 billion for the last decade. Meanwhile, Alaska’s similar fund stands at $40 billion after very few years, and Norway’s is $560 billion.

Conservatives have jammed us so deep in the pocket of big oil that we don’t dare even mention increasing royalties. Anyone out there in Wild Rose Country remember “Honest” Ed Stelmach?

But why go on? Go to the right poll on voting day instead and think about things that are important to you before you vote. Personally, I have decided the Conservatives have got to go; they have destroyed and are wasting too much of what I love abaout Alberta. I’ll survive it, but I worry about you young folks.

Is Wild Rose the answer? I doubt it, because they claim they are even more conservative than the PCs, which to me means they will conserve even less. In fact, neither of the two conservative parties running neck and neck in this campaign say much of anything about the non-renewable natural resources of this province and the fact that — if we look after them — they will be all we have left when the oil and gas run out.

No matter who wins, I am hoping it is not the usual Alberta avalanche and that there is a very strong opposition.

In my lifetime there has never been a strong opposition in Alberta. We should try one: it seems to work in other jurisdictions to improve the bad government we chronically endure in Alberta.

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

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