Parallel approach to oil sands and health – Editorial

The superficial approach adopted by the provincial government with regard to the environmental damage inflicted by the oil sands development has once again come under criticism, this time by a fairly authoritative and convincing report.

The report by the Royal Society of Canada, published last week, is described by Bill Donahue, a well known independent expert, as “a scathing indictment of the failure of Alberta to regulate.”

Among other things, the scientists who contributed to the report found that environmental assessment process had “serious deficiencies in relation to international best practice.”

The report said the environmental damage monitoring and assessment guidelines in use in Alberta were even below the standards set by the World Bank for developing countries, where, admittedly and unfortunately, the bar is always set much lower than in developed countries.

That very report, critical of the Stelmach government’s shallow concern for environmental damage, was attacked by First Nations who inhabit the areas of oil sands.

Beaver Lake Cree Nation Chief Al Lameman said “the report failed dismally by not including knowledge held by First Nations on the impacts of the developments to our land, water and animals.”

“What I find most alarming about this report is it uses a lot of industry and government data and ignores the thousands of years of traditional knowledge or land use of the Dene people. It’s undeniable that our people have seen significant impacts on the levels and quality of our river and lakes due to the tar sands. We have seen sicknesses and disappearance of traditional food sources,” exclaimed Chief Allan Adam of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation.

That such a report, touching the nerves in such a big money-making sector, is criticized by a wide variety of stakeholders is no surprise.

What is surprising is the fact that within just a week of the publication of the Royal Society report, Environment Minister Rob Renner announced the “kick start of a world class monitoring system” for the oil sands development projects.

One wonders if this is really a kick-start, or the announcement of a kick-start that is to get underway at some undefined point in time. If one draws a parallel between the clumsiness in health care and the response to the Royal Society report, the concern becomes clearer.

Immediately after the crisis triggered by Raj Sherman, MLA, Alberta Health Services announced shortening of wait times, only to declare days later that some patients would have to be sent home early to be able to do that. Similarly, only days after the Royal Society report, provincial government announced improved monitoring of oil sands development, with a lot of future tense in the language of the statement.

One can not help feeling that Alberta is being governed haphazardly, without any strategic notion and with just enough public service to win the next election.