Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Alberta Oil Sands Story Must be Told Honestly & Openly

The Edmonton Journal Political Columnist, Graham Thomson, is promising to shut up about the oil sands.
Say it ain't so Graham. We need more, not less, reliable trustworthy, knowledgeable and honest commentary to generate a province wide conversation amongst Albertans on the future of OUR oil sands.

The issues on the minds of Albertans over the development of their oil sands are mostly about reclamation, habitat protection and preservation, ecological monitoring, GHG emissions and water concerns.  These are the major driving values that Albertans want to see guide public policy around oil sands development.

The typical Albertan is not focused on how much investment is coming in from where or worried about how many jobs are being created in the development of this vast resource.  Given the size and strategic nature of the oil sands, those aspects are assumed to be givens.  Of course, there are risks around commodity prices and environmental stewardship pressures.  The prices must hold and new technology has to be developed to clean up the oil sands.  However, geopolitical events impacting supply, the growth of demand in the developing world and the eventual pricing of carbon emissions makes continued high energy prices and new technology developments seem inevitable; even in a recession.

Albertans own this vital energy resource.  Industry is our tenant and the government is our property manager.  We need this resource to be treated as a long term asset that generates sustainable real wealth in a responsible way that benefits all Albertans not just the energy sector.  Ensuring responsible oil sands development is the duty of all Albertans.  We have to press our tenants on investing in more value added oil sands opportunity within Alberta.  We have to press our property mangers on creating better regulations, a better royalty revenue scheme and assurance of reclamation that supports biodiversity on those lands.  After all 89% of Albertans believe the oil sands are important to our future prosperity and well-being.  What more of a motivation does a government or political party need to realize they better get better at actually managing this vital asset and not spend so much time and money on phony PR battles.

We Albertans have to ensure that responsible oil sands development happens environmentally, socially, politically and yes economically too.  We must ensure we are being fair to future generations of Albertans on all counts.  Our oil sands value research shows that our property manger governments - both federal and provincial - are not living up to our expectations so far.  What to do about that poor performance is a political decision that are in the hands of every voting Albertan.  Voters must take the time to consider carefully in the consequences of the coming elections. They have to consciously decide who is worthy of their consent to govern and on what goals and values as they decide how to cast their ballot.

Right now only 31% of believe our oil sands are being managed responsibly.  Only 17% of us were satisfied with how our Alberta-based Members of Parliament were representing our interests in the federal government...and all but one of the Alberta MPs is in the governing Harper ruled Conservative party.  The Stelmach government is held in even lower esteem as only 12% of Albertans were satisfied with their provincial government performance.

When asked which provincial party and leader should be trusted the most to responsibly manage Alberta's growth the preferences were very telling.   Stelmach and his PCs were preferred by 23%, Smith and the Wildrose Alliance came in at 19% support, followed by Swann and the Liberals at 9% and the Mason led NDP at only 4% confidence. Here is the kicker, None of the Above was the choice of 45% of Albertans.  That is a sign of political discontent and a rejection of the status quo.  Change is in the political air in Alberta.

So we are now seeing a plethora of new science-based ecological reviews from the Fed and the Province and separate promises from each order of government that they will do better.  Well they better get better and bloody quickly too.  Albertans are watching. They are not amused by what they have seen and sceptical that the current  political power structure is capable or even interested in hearing the public's voice or listening to the opinions of the citizen  owners of the oil sands.

Federal and Provincial elections are coming in Alberta. They will be real contests.  For the first time in a long time the outcomes are not guaranteed for conservatives.  The political culture of this dynamic province is about to change and the presumptions of any conservative based party winning by default are being rebutted by the evidence on our research at Cambridge Strategies.

So 2011 promises more uncertainty, turmoil and anger as Albertans return to engaged citizenship and look for a political approach and capable leadership that reflects our values.  The facts as of today shows that none of the current parties or leaders are measuring up to our new Alberta aspirations. There is a lot of soft support for all the standard brand parties in Alberta that is looking for a viable alternative...beyond the hardcore conservative values of the Wildrose Alliance. If a sizable portion of the 60% of disillusioned and disengaged Albertan returns to active informed citizenship and show up to vote in the coming Federal and Provincial elections, all bets that presume a perpetual conservative political culture in Alberta are off.

Welcome to 2011.

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