Let’s talk science: premier

Government scientists should sit down with a prominent oilsands critic to figure out why his conclusions about the source of toxins in the Athabasca River are so different than theirs, said Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach.

EDMONTON — Government scientists should sit down with a prominent oilsands critic to figure out why his conclusions about the source of toxins in the Athabasca River are so different than theirs, said Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach.

“If it’s an issue where one scientist and another disagree, then let’s come together and find out why the disparity in the data,” said Stelmach Wednesday.

On Monday, University of Alberta David Schindler published a new study that he says proves industry is emitting heavy metals including mercury and lead into the Athabasca watershed. Levels of several of those metals are already high enough to harm fish.

That finding contradicts the position of government scientists, who have long maintained that such toxins are the result of the river eroding naturally occurring bitumen deposits. They say there’s no evidence that levels of those chemicals are increasing or are high enough to be a concern.

Let’s bring the two sides together and figure out what’s going on, Stelmach said.

“We will compare the data and come to a conclusion. And if it means we have to do something more, we will. There’s no question about it.”

Stelmach promised that the comparison will happen as soon as possible. The results will be made public, he said.

On Tuesday, federal environment minister Jim Prentice expressed his own skepticism over government conclusions on the source of the contaminants. He said he wasn’t satisfied with the advice of federal scientists, whose opinions are similar to those working for the Alberta government.

Environment Canada has funded technology at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon that can use chemical “fingerprints” to track the source of a given compound.

That technology is now being used to get a definitive answer on the source of contaminants in the Athabasca, Prentice said.

Science wasn’t the only source of oilsands conflict Wednesday.

Stelmach also said he wasn’t happy over the fact an anti-oilsands documentary received $54,000 in public funding. But Stelmach didn’t apologize for the funding for Dirty Oil, saying that allowing politicians to make funding decisions based on content could lead to censorship.

“I’m just as upset as other taxpayers that money coming from other taxpayers was used to fund a film that was in many cases anti-Alberta and anti-oilsands,” he said.

“On the flip side, though, there’s this whole question of censorship. Should a politician make a decision based on the content of the particular production?”

The program under which the money was given is not a jury-based grant program. The money is given based on the extent of Albertan involvement with the production and the amount of money it spends.

This film spent about $300,000 during production, said Culture and Community Spirit spokesman Parker Hogan.

Stelmach said that Alberta has done well by the film industry, in both direct economic impact and in encouraging visitors to the province.

Still, he said the grant program is being reviewed as part of an overall look at government expenditure programs.