Congratulations and condolences to Peter Kent the newly condemned Harper Con Minister of the Environment. I think Jeffrey Simpson's column in the Globe and Mail today captures the conundrum the Toronto based Minister will face internally. Harper is a one-man authoritarian control freak and that will put the laudable investigative journalist instincts Mr. Kent somewhere between the back burner or buried in the closet.
The external pressures the new Minister faces are even more disheartening as he is clearly appointed for political purposes as a bone to Toronto as Harper prepares to engineer the timing of his next election, likely over the budget or his execution of same, not his ineptness and indifference to the environment.
Do not expect Mr. Kent's journalistic talents to be seen or even allowed to be applied to his new portfolio. Harper does not like science, evidence or opinion that runs contrary to his dogma - especially from his Cabinet or Caucus. That is really unfortunate but Harper is the strict authoritarian abusive father figure. He uses his power to control the lives of his underlings and his lesser-beings in Cabinet and Caucus because he, and he alone, makes the rules and all the decisions for all those who serve him at his pleasure in in his house.
ALBERTANS ACCEPT SOME FEDERAL INVOLVEMENT IN OIL SANDS
As for Mr. Kent engaging effectively about federal involvement in oil sands policy and regulation, the Albertan industry and the Alberta government will watch him with a wary eye. The Alberta public knows that the oil sands are key to our future and continued prosperity. Only 17% of us are in any way satisfied with the performance of our federal MPs - and that was before Jim Prentice left politics and the oppressive regime of Stephen Harper. Mr, Kent will do nothing to reverse those fortunes and impressions of how effective our MPs are in protecting our interests as Albertans.
Our research shows that Albertans know the provincial government is responsible for managing our natural resources. We overwhelming (90%) hold industry liable and responsible for any environmental damage they cause. Interestingly 62% of Albertans see some role for the federal government in the development of the oil sands. In the Chretien Liberal days of the mid 90's that federal role was federal tax breaks instigated by Alberta MP and former Deputy Prime Minister Anne McLellan.
EXPECT A FED-PROV FIGHT OVER WHO RUNS THE OIL SANDS SHOW?
Today the Harper Cons are belatedly entering into the environmental monitoring role as a federal government. We found that 68% of Albertans believed the federal government has increased its role in the development of the oil sands.This is unnerving to the Alberta government who are responding with an even more belated entry into responsible environmental monitoring. There is a looming jurisdictional donny-brook over who is ultimately responsible for environmental monitoring and re-mediation policies to assure Albertans, as owners of the oil sands, that their resource is being developed responsibly. The partisan hand wringing in the province is all behind closed doors but there are signs surfacing of the inter-governmental competition for the trust of Albertans, not just the political hearts and minds. This may be the fed-prov "crisis" that Premier Stelmach will use to trigger an early Alberta election...but I doubt it.
WISE GOVERNING OR DUMB LUCK?
Bottom line is both the federal and provincial governments are wise to be focused on the issue about environmental monitoring regarding oil sand development. That is a good start because 18% of Albertans said that was the most important concern they had around how their oil sands were being developed. While it is a start is is noting to brag about because that same survey showed 20% Albertans were concerned about having assurance that the proper type of oil sands reclamation was being done. Add to that the 19% how said their top priority for responsible oil sand development was habitat protection and you see why I say ecological monitoring is just a start for government engagement and regulation.
So we have a Toronto media type with proven investigative journalist credentials allegedly running Harper's environment portfolio. Actually Harper was pretty clear who would be running the file in the Kent appointment announcement when he said Kent's mandate was "to stay the course." That is code for continue to do nothing but talk a lot so it does not look like you are doing nothing.
So Mr. Kent welcome the Harper in Wonderland world of inert environmental policy and authoritarian political control of you and your soul. We don't expect to see much of you in Alberta after the first run through. Your real job is to get more seats in Toronto next election, not to champion economically enlightened planet saving environmental policy. Don't expect industry to be calling on you much after the first grin an grab initial rounds of meet and greet the new Minister. They have real fish to fry...oops - bad metaphor.