Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Federal Court Agrees With Stelmach - Environment Trumps Economy

Premier Stelmach is right the environment trumps the economy…and the Federal Court sees the world the same way. The Imperial Oil’s Kearl oil sands project has been sent back to the federal-provincial review panel because they did not adequately assess the environmental damage in the project in its first decision.

The Court was not satisfied that the environmental damages incurred could be mitigated and with specific reference to the representation that the project would not significantly increase greenhouse gas emissions.
And that is the environment trumping the economy my friends.

Our Oil Sands Survey found that CO2, a greenhouse gas was the second most important value driver that concerned Albertans about responsible sustainable oil sands development. For your interest our surveyfound that protecting wildlife habitat was the #1 value driver concerning Albertans about responsible and sustainable oil sands development.

Alberta is not a place that is all about getting rich or die trying. Once again the Courts intervene to be sure the right thing is done in the right way in the interests of citizens. That is supposed to the job of our governments but it is not always job 1 for those power focused politicians who are chronically disintereted in being statesmen.

Good government is always good politics. Good politics is rarely good government.


  1. Anonymous12:25 am

    When has "no brakes" Stelmach ever said the environment trumps the economy? NEVER. What planet are you on?

  2. Anon - STELMACH WAS WIDELY REPORTED TO HAVE MADE THE TRUMP STATEMENT DURING THE ELECTION CAMPAIGN. He also said Leadership Trumps Issues during the election campaign.

    See my post at for more background

    Go to the Calgary Herald and the Globe and Mail archives and do some research.

    Please try and stay current with the news here on Earth - where ever you may be and who ever you may be.

  3. I don't see how you can connect Stelmach to this decision. The ruling was made by an independent federal court judge and it was made against a joint PROVINCIAL-federal review panel. Which means that if anything this ruling is questioning the province's position on the Kearl project:

    The evidence shows that intensity-based targets place limits on the amount of greenhouse gas emissions per barrel of bitumen produced. The absolute amount of greenhouse gas pollution from oil sands development will continue to rise under intensity-based targets because of the planned increase in total production of bitumen. The Panel dismissed as insignificant the greenhouse gas emissions without any rationale as to why the intensity-based mitigation would be effective…

    … given the amount of greenhouse gases that will be emitted to the atmosphere and given the evidence presented that the intensity based targets will not address the problem of greenhouse gas emissions, it was incumbent upon the Panel to provide a justification for its recommendation on this particular issue.

    Your post is equivalent to saying: "Greenpeace agrees with Stelmach: environment trumps economy." Except that Greenpeace actually believes that the environment should be more important than the economy, and Stelmach just wanted to appeal to voters. Now that he has free reign, we will see if he puts his money where his mouth is. Or if this is just another tired and empty promise from a government who has shown nothing but a general disdain for the environment and people who trumpet this cause.

    P.S. If Sierra Club, Pembina, Ecojustice and others hadn't stepped in and filed this complaint in federal court, do you really think Stelmach would have put the brakes on this project??

  4. Ken, how do you not see the complete absurdity in lauding the fact that Stelmach SAYS that environment trumps economy but has DONE absolutely nothing to demonstrate he actually believes this?

    Your spinning/glossing-over of this reality is truly mind-boggling, especially because you seem to recognize that there is a huge difference between politics and policy.

    Have you looked at our climate change policy? Or our electricity sector? What about his constant, enduring refusal to "not touch the brake" despite calls from almost everyone to do something, anything to manage oilsands growth?

  5. Morning "eh" - The intervention of these ENGOs is a very positive step and the Federal Court results appear to be significant...I have not read the decision yet but I will. I may have more to say then too.

    Governments do not usually intervene in such matters at the Court level. They often intervene at the regulatory hearing level. But that is not the central question here.

    Civil society groups like these ENGOs have to be applauded and encouraged. They are effective so long as they deal with substance like this initiative and not publicity stunts like mascots and placards behind politicians. That is a waste of time.

    Looks like Alberta intensity targets for GHG emissions are now going to come under reconsideration for their ecological effectiveness. They were originally intended to be a temporary measure to assist the industry to transition to hard caps. Those hard caps on the big GHG emitters will likely happen sooner than later in Alberta now.

    With this court decision that interim timeframe for intensity targets may be much shorter than originally anticipated.

  6. ch at 9:32 - There are lots of initiatives in the policy development mill from land use management, to water strategies to a parks policy to boreal forest offsets to cummulative impacts to the two Radke Reports on growth in Ft Mac and the Edmonton Capital Region.

    All of those will be forthcoming to the public for input in short order.

    The GHG intesity targets legislation that was passed was action too. You can argue if it enough and timely but you can't deny stuff is happening.

    Is it enough - no! Is it comprehensive and integrated...I think that is all coming in short order with the stuff in process I mentioned.

    Give Ed a break - he needed to clean up the Klein mess for the past 14 months. Now we can see what he will do with a mandate and what governing philosophy he will bring to bear on the interelated social, ecologial and economic reality of the next Alberta.

    Give him another year and then pass judgement. Albertan's in their wisdom decided to do just that in the election results last Monday.

  7. Anonymous11:27 am

    Your last post was very well said. It will take time.

    However the generation coming up behind me is used to rapid speed in obtaining their wants. They grew up in the McDonalds style world, Instant action.

    The internet gave them the whole world and any resource they wished just with the right goggle search words.

    Somehows the political sytem will have to recognise that growing culture.

  8. Anonymous11:46 am

    Why? I mean, you've still failed to explain why in the last decade or so as infrastructure minister he was unable to come up with an infrastructure plan until after Klein had left. And even then, it took him nearly 14 months to get it together.

    Was he holding back on Albertans in order to gain political advantage thereafter? Was he just ineffectual at getting change through a declining Klein leadership? Or was he just complacent in Klein's continued popularity with the Albertan people, so happy to sit on his hands until he realized he had to produce something for an election?

    Why was the EUB split in such a way that the citizens, who you admit are well ahead of the PC's in their concern for the environment, no longer have any power? Could it be because Stelmach didn't want his lip service being forced to translate to real action?

    I gave Stelmach a chance. I gave him a year and two months. At the end of that year and two months he exempted his own retiring MLA's from the accountability legislation. He mis-used the throne speech as a campaign advertisement. He mis-used the halls of government for campaign announcements. He refused to acknowledge that having the party in power select those responsible for deciding who can vote is a bad idea. He hid an environmental report that his own (anti-)environmental plan is supposedly based on. He turned away from discussion about the real issues to fear-mongering about a 20 year old dead policy written by a dead man.

    A year and two months.
    In that time, he shoveled money at the teachers who were threatening to strike during an election, ignored EVERYBODY on their assessment of the royalty regime -- the Alberta government auditor, the Royalty Review Policy Panel, the Oil and Gas industries, and the Environmentalists, and instead tried to come out with a half-ass "middle of the road" policy without actually checking to see if the middle of the road was the fast-lane, slow-lane, or even oncoming traffic.

    He had a year and two months and, at least to me, proved himself as short-sighted and incompetent as his time as minister of Transport and Infrastructure suggested he might be.

  9. You are so right Anon. I come from the 60s where we decided never to trust anyone over 30.

    Now we have to entrust the world to those under 30. That is a good thing but not easy to do with how our institutions work these days.

    thx for the comment.

  10. Did this already get through? Browswer problems...

    There is sure something coming down the policy shoot indeed - I really look forward to knowing what the tar sands sustainable development secretariat and Suncor VP / "unbiased" Deputy Minister Heather Kennedy will advise the government to do to have "environment trump the economy."

    You say give Ed a year or two - well, tar sands have been waiting for responsible development policy for almost 40 years...why should we believe PCs are going to give us good tar sands policy now?

    Including the Regional Issues Working Group (RIWG) texts and the Radke report, numerous voices have said there is a SHORT window of opportunity to make good policy decisions for tar sands development - according to industry timelines, one or two years from now, tar sands development will be, pardon my french, a fait accompli.

    Government is so deep in with mega corporations in this region that along with an absence of political opposition in the province, and the extreme "nationalistic" tendencies we see associated with conservatism and economic development in Alberta, why would Ed and buddy Heather do anything to protect environment over economy (other than, perhaps, to protect Suncor's long-term interests in the convenient)

    Sorry for being a downer, but politics in this province are sick. We have a crisis of governance, and without external forces reconsidering development plans here, there will be no separating the bare economic bond between the provincial government and tar sands development.

    Like the Regional Infrastructure Working Group said in it's 2005 Wood Buffalo Business case, there is a "shared government-industry vision for ongoing [tar] sands development" that will result in the production of 3 million bbl oil per day by 2020. So far, "no-brakes" Ed gives us no reason to believe that this vision has changed in any way.

    I am desperate to be proven wrong.

  11. Ken,

    Given the prospects of baby boomers hanging around in offices longer and longer, this under-thirtier is also feeling the crunch.

    Sometimes, with this tar sands development, I get the idea that there are a bunch of close-to-retirement fellows who are desperate to see their vision through before they head out to pasture. Hence the rush to get most projects built by 2011/2012.

    Although I do see notions of instant gratification in people of my generation, I also get the feeling of "what's the hurry?" "why am I working 10 hours a day?" and "what is all this work going to result in - nobody knows!"

    I think our generation is an impatient one, but also one dreaming of a better life for all the work we do to achieve other generations' dreams...

  12. Anon @ 11:46 - I have a deadline but let me take a minute and respond in part at least. I am not going to try and dispel your suspicion and cynicism. I am however, going to lay out some facts and context around your comments.

    Infrastructure Plan was in process under Stelmach Ministry. You have the Stelmach 20 Strategic Capital Plan that he announced before the election as proof of part of his efforts in the past 14 months. You don't do that overnight.

    While under Klein the approach was for the Premier to go golfing and fishing more than get governing and planning.

    Stelmach in Transportation had over $700M taken out of his budget by Steve West and Ralph Klein and the money put to paying down the debt and deficit. That is what Klein said he would do in an election in 1993. He got elected on that promise and he became famous for keeping his political promise. Not Stelmach's fault as an individual - obviously.

    I was not in Cabinet and don't know what happened but as a Cabinet Minister in our system of governance if you don't like a decision you go along with it, resign, cross the floor or go independent...mostly that means you don’t get to fight another day unless you stay.

    I don't know enough about the EUB split except to say the old institution had lost the confidence of the public - for damn good reasons. The Split was to spread the work load that was and is growing fast.

    Citizen access to the review process is a political decision - I trust we have not heard the last of it. That too is a good thing.

    You don't change 15 years of the Klein culture in 15 months with just the outcome of the leadership as your weapon...especially when most of the caucus you inherit supported another guy - who you beat- to everyone's surprise.

    Stelmach did a great job in getting the things done he wanted anyway and done in his way in that time frame.

    Now he has his own people and his own mandate and his own agenda. The expectations on him are higher as well and that is as it should be. Check his performance out and revisit your judgment about him in the next year.


  13. Neo - I helped write the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo Business Case - in 2005 along with Heather Kennedy when she was President of RIWG.

    I know Heather Kennedy and I know Ed Stelmach and I have no doubt you will be proven both instances. Stay tuned.

  14. Anonymous1:29 pm

    This Federal Court ruling has nothing to do with the Alberta government. It is an administrative law assessment of a administrative body's decision. Good try though!

  15. Anon @ 1:29 - I have not read the judgment yet and based on media reports you are technically right. This is not a government matter per se.

    This is a Court deciding to send an administrative tribunal's findings back to them for clarifiction and justification of a specific finding they made.

    That was apparently based on a conclusion of the joint fed/prov review panel came to on GHG emissions from the Kearl project. the panel concluded that the GHG emissions die not havesignificant environmental implications.

    The court was not satisfied that this conclusion, the reasons for it and the evidence to support it was explicit enough in the panel's report.

    The government will officially respond indifferently as you suggest - but only from a legal persepctive.

    They will however respond very differently from a political and public polity perspective.

    With the public policy lens applied to this Court decision ordering an administrative tribunal on a major oil sands project to revisit its findings, the GOA will be very engaged. It will be monitoring the review process and be very interested in the outcome. Because it could very likely have public policy implications.

    It is too early to say if the policy implications will be significant but there will be GOA engagement for sure. If for no other reason than the media will be engaged and reporting on the matter and the politicians will be asked questions.

  16. I suppose it's not about Ed Stelmach and Heather Kennedy being good people or not - it's about having a governance structure where we don't have to just trust them to be that way.

    Economic development is, of course, of great importance to society. The point is that there has to be prudent and transparent review of how it is done so that we know we are getting the best option, not just the one that certain interest groups want us to focus on to their own benefit.

    When we have a government with no opposition represented, and a tar sands company VP (still employed by her company) in a key policy development position that will be directly related to her company's profits, the possibility that we are not getting the full and uncorrupted picture is unreasonably high.

    I know Heather Kennedy lives in Fort McMurray and is viewed by many as a good person. I appreciate that she worked with you to develop the 2005 Business Case. I know that her and Mayor Blake go way back and seem to be on similar wavelengths.

    But isn't it a central requirement of our system of governance that there be a separation between interests, even if she is a good person for the job?

    Isn't it a central requirement of our system of governance that there be an opposition to government to make sure that we're getting the best option, not just the easy one?

    Because of the closeness between an uncontested government and a "too-close" relationship between government and industry, we the public will never know if what we are getting is what is best, or if it has been tainted by conflict of interest.

    I would be pretty happy too if I were Ed Stelmach this week. But I would also be very disturbed by being elected by %20 percent of Albertans. Heck, 10% of Albertans voted Liberal, and look what happened. If Ed were really into his "not how long, but how good" governance idea, he would be looking at electoral reform in the province, and looking at conflicts of interest in key policy positions to ensure that Albertans are really getting good governance.

    I will stay tuned to what comes down the pipe on tar sands development, out from behind those closed doors...I do hope that we get something that benefits all of society. But I will be disappointed that we will never know if we could have had something better.

  17. Anonymous2:34 pm

    Thanks for clarifying that point Ken. As you know, there are court cases like this occuring all of the time time.

  18. Neo @ 2:08 - Now this comment I almost totally agree with conceptually. However, my advantage is that I know Kennedy and Stelmach. I trust them both in terms of character and capacity...based on personal experience.

    The lawyer in me also knows that all the rules and laws in the book will not create good character. At the end of the day that character thing in our servant-leaders is what really counts in how we are governed and by whom.

    There has been an erosion of quality candidates prepared to take on political life - and for logical reasons...the job sucks for the most part.

    When we get really really good ones like Stelmach, Hancock, Stevens, Renner, and Danyluk we have to be thankful.

    When private sector people of character, capacity and skill like Heather Kennedy are prepared to side track their careers for the greater public good we also have to be thankful.

    I don't think Heather Kennedy is an example of the cozy relationship between the energy industry and the government but I understand how some people hold that as their default position.

    She is a civil servant and not a politician and that makes all the difference. She can merely recommend - not decide.

    The behind closed doors energy elites and politician coziness is what sticks in my craw and must be changed. Politicians make key and consequential decisions on behalf of citizens all the time. When they get subject to the Stockholm syndrome they end up losing their independence of thought and action by tending to favour a friendly special group interest over the greater good. That is when the system breaks down and citizen cynicism becomes well founded.

  19. Anonymous4:27 pm

    Ken, you refer to "the lawyer in me". My guess is that you are not a practising member of the Alberta Bar? Can you confirm?

  20. Maybe the under 30s wouldn't be so cranky if the over 30s could show a modicum of interest in planning for the future...

  21. 'really really good candidates' in other parties besides the PCs.

  22. Jonathan - there are great and even good candidates everywhere in all parties.

    My point is our best and brightest or wisest and respected don't come to the game...because we have turned it into a game.

    Servant leadership is no longer a calling or a duty - it has too often attracted self-absorbed egotists or campaigners not statesmen.

    Governance is more complex than the marketing of ideas, nothwithstanding how much fun that is for guys like me.

    We need a thoughtful and reflective person with courage and conviction and life experiences that giee them tools of wisdom and judgment We need those to come forward who have a pionnering spirit congruent with the needs of the times.

    Not a very common commodity in politics these days...BECAUSE we undervalue the job and belittle the participants.

    I don't want this to be a condemnation of those who have put themselves forward for elected office. thank God they do.

    But we have to look at our selves as citizens when we ask why we are not attracting our best fellow citizens into politics and public service.

  23. Anon @ 4:27 - I am a member of the Alberta Bar - why do you ask?

  24. Ken;

    Really interesting discussion you've been having with neo. One thing I have to mention: I just can't come to terms with the Heather Kennedy thing.

    To me, this appointment defines conflict of interest. What if she were to advise on a hypothetical decision that, if implemented, would cut Suncor's profits in half but would be in the best interests of the people of the province?

    I don't think that her being a civil servant and not a politician really makes a difference, if the advising that she does do is influenced by her position as a VP of a tarsands company.

    Like neo, I'm not questioning her character. I just can't accept your contention that someone who is still employed by a company with interests that often run counter to those of Albertans can advise objectively on issues where these interests collide.

  25. "Not a very common commodity in politics these days...BECAUSE we undervalue the job and belittle the participants.

    But we have to look at our selves as citizens when we ask why we are not attracting our best fellow citizens into politics and public service."

    I will definitely agree with you there - and I think the your first paragraph answered the question you raised in the second paragraph.

    Consider what is "expected" of an opposition to be "effective"....

    The last time I went door knocking, people asked about the Liberals "passing laws" or "blocking votes" as if any opposition party could stop proceedings at any time. I got the sense that basic understanding of democracy was quite poor.

    When the opposition speaks out, they are labelled as whiners and complainers. When detractors want to marginalize the opposition, they crow about how ineffective they are. The media (pre-election) barely speaks to the opposition at all.

    When you consider the uneven playing field plus the limited resources that opposition parties have, I'm not surprised that the situation seems to be very unlikely to change.

  26. I lost an election bet and have to buy a journalist dinner right now. I will respond on this later tonight OK?

  27. one alberta voter10:36 am

    The current round of headlines, about plans to kill and sterilize wolves in order to enhance ungulate populations for hunters, is not doing anything to enhance the new government's reputation for environmental sensitivity. It appears that respecting natural ecosystem functions is not even being considered as SRD spokepeople talk about new ways to manipulate wildlife populations to suit human preferences. Pretty sad stuff!

  28. Jonathan - read my March 7trh post - it will interest you I am sure.

  29. Anonymous10:41 pm

    Alberta has the lowest environmental standards in Canada . It is a joke to think that a Federal Court decision somehow reflects well on the PC government.

    Only 41% of Albertans voted and, due to outspending their opponents 10 to 1, the AB PCs won.

  30. Anon @ 10:41 - actually Alberta doens not have the lowest standards in Canada...our forest management and water are leading edge and we aare the first to implement regulations on GHG emissions - not good enough but better than others who have yet to respond.

    And the Federal Court decision had nothing to do with the PC government but rather a decision of an independent quasi-judicial tribunal

    And we don't yet know what the parties spent of the election.

    Please participate on this Blog BUT stick to facts and comment on something you know about please.

    You are right on one fact - 41% of eligible Albertans voted - because they wanted to. What is your point?