Premier Redford complains bitterly about the quality of debate in the Legislature; apparently we need more “big ideas” and less “parochial debate”.*
However her Environmental Minister continues to provide fatuous explanations for why it took nineteen days to issue an Environmental Protection Order in connection with the largest coal mining waste water spill in Canadian history.
On Oct 31, Obed released one billion litres of waste water into the Athabasca River. A toxic plume 150 kilometers long and the size of 400 Olympic sized swimming pools is now working its way to the Arctic Ocean. The government flew below the radar screen for almost three weeks…until the Opposition (bless their feisty hearts) called them on it.
The Government’s response to the Obed spill
Brian Mason (NDP) pointed out that this spill is 20 times bigger than the Exxon Valdez spill and yet Ms McQueen failed to issue a public statement. Sure, she posted an information bulletin, but if you’re not on the government’s media feed you wouldn’t get it. She told communities not to draw drinking water from the Athabasca River but failed to include a number of First Nations in the communications plan. And she sent inspectors to take water samples and so far all they’ve found is one dead fish.
One dead fish? Are you kidding me? What happened? Did it forget to hold its breath when 150 kilometers of mercury, arsenic, lead and cadmium rolled by? Are the rest of the fish happily going about their fishy business or are they floating belly up somewhere downstream?
One dead fish or more “big ideas”?
It’s the government, not the Opposition, who sets the legislative agenda and bears the responsibility (and the blame) for debating about a dead fish instead of “big ideas.”
A government that sets itself up as Joan of Arc, Defender of Industry (and all that is good, noble and true) finds itself in a quagmire when industry does something that warrants censure. The government’s Environment Minister will be trapped into making idiotic comments like:**
- There’s no harm except to the one dead fish (note: the impact on wildlife habitats is not yet known)
- The Environmental Protection Order is a merely a “tool”, like education and prevention, to keep Albertans safe and healthy (note: it’s also a mechanism that can lead to charges for violating the law)
- The drinking water is safe (note: the government told communities to stop drawing their water from the Athabasca and don’t ask about the First Nations because no one knows).
A meaningful debate
As frightening as this may sound to the PC government, the Obed spill presented a golden opportunity for the government to demonstrate what it would do to protect human health and the environment when (not if) there’s a toxic release from an oils sands tailings pond. It was a chance to debate a “big idea.”
Unfortunately Ms Redford and Ms McQueen failed to rise to the occasion and, to paraphrase economist Michael Moore, are not doing their bit in the “concerted effort by both industry and government to gain the trust and confidence of a wary Canadian populace”. ***
But take heart, Minister McQueen assured the House that her government is “very concerned” and is “taking action” and “the company will be held responsible once the investigation is complete”. **
Let’s see….what’s an appropriate punishment given that this government has yet to impose a significant fine for a major transgression? How about a public flogging with a dead fish?
*Premier Redford’s “Building Alberta” Speech, Glenbow Museum, Nov 18, 2013
**Hansard Nov 20, 2013 p 2968
***Daily Oil Bulletin, Nov 20, 2013