Remember 2017 when Jason Kenney continually invoked Peter Lougheed’s name in his quest for the UCP leadership?
Well, it’s 2021 and Mr Kenney isn’t wrapping himself in Mr Lougheed’s mantle any longer. He’s ripping it to shreds.
Next week the Kenney government is going to court to defend its decision to rescind Peter Lougheed’s Coal Policy (which has been in effect since 1976) and open the eastern slopes, the Rockies and the foothills to open-pit coal mining.
Open coal pit-mining in the headwaters of three major rivers, the Red Deer, the Oldman and the South Saskatchewan, are you kidding me?
The Coal Policy
Mr Lougheed’s government raised the Coal Policy in the Legislature in the spring of 1976. It became policy in June 1976. Mr Lougheed took his Cabinet on a road trip, two actually, over the summer recess—they visited 32 communities in June and 27 communities in September—getting feedback on the Coal Policy and four other priorities.
On Oct 14, 1976 Mr Lougheed updated the Assembly on the government’s progress on these priorities.*
With respect to the Coal Policy, he said the decision to impose restrictions on coal mining was controversial, but his government had achieved “a very good balance between development and protection of the environment.” It had set “aside many key areas of land use where environmental or recreational features can be maintained and neither exploration nor development will be permitted.” He noted “other areas were set aside…in which there would be no development unless there could be full assurance of satisfactory reclamation.”
He called the Coal Policy a bold and dramatic decision, made after considerable thought, and acknowledged it hadn’t been easy, but it would serve Albertans well.
In the coming months Mr Lougheed and his Cabinet answered many questions in the Legislature about the impact of the Coal Policy on proposals to supply coal to Ontario Hydro, on royalty negotiations with Japanese corporations and on projects proposed in the Genesee, Sheerness and Sundance areas.
They tabled reports and studies on future world markets for non-coking coal, the cost-benefit analysis of coal development in Alberta, and the present and future outlook for Alberta coal in selected world markets. They responded to requests for detailed information on the cost of compensating coal mining companies affected by the Coal Policy, who held the leases, and where they were located.
The Minister of Energy and Natural Resources, Mr Getty, carefully explained the process, he wanted to take the time to go through it properly because it was new. He outlined a three-step process:
- The company would provide the government with “preliminary disclosure” and the government would indicate “on a preliminary basis” whether there were any problems in principle with the project.
- Then the company would do “disclosure to the public” and hold “a public meeting in the area most affected by the development”
- Then, and only then, was the company allowed to proceed to the Energy Resources Conservation Board.
The Coal Policy was controversial and raised many questions, but the Lougheed government was steadfast in its commitment to the preservation of agricultural and recreational land and the environment for Albertans.
Under Covid Cover
Fast forward from 1976 to 2020.
Mr Kenney cancelled the Coal Policy without any consultation by posting an information letter on the Department of Energy’s website on the May 31 long weekend.
You remember that weekend, the first long weekend of covid, when we were battling through the first wave and trying to figure out how to cope with everything from working at home, masking, and whether or not we were eligible for federal or provincial (hah) relief.
Fast forward again to January 2021. In the midst of attacks on the Capitol, globe-trotting UCP MLAs, bewildering lockdown restrictions and exceptions, concerns about new covid variants, and contradictory reports of vaccine shortages, Albertans finally figured out what Mr Kenney did to them in on the May 31 long weekend.
And they’re furious.
It didn’t have to be this way.
Instead of hiding behind lawyers who will argue the government has no duty to consult when it’s rescinding a policy, Mr Kenney could have followed Mr Lougheed’s lead and been upfront and transparent about what he intended to do.
But transparency highlights Mr Kenney’s problem.
Unlike Mr Lougheed who stood up to protect Albertan’s agricultural and recreational lands and environment in the face of strong opposition from the coal industry, Mr Kenney betrayed Albertans’ trust by selling Albertan’s agricultural and recreational lands and environment to the coal industry.
Which brings us back to where we started.
In 2017 Mr Kenney proudly presented himself as the right leader to carry on Mr Lougheed’s legacy.
In 2021 Albertans know that Mr Kenney is not fit to be mentioned in the same breath as Mr Lougheed, let alone stand alongside him.
*Hansard, Oct 13, 1976, starting at p 1449