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Alberta has come a long way on environmental leadership

By Glen Argan


ST. ALBERT, Alta. — Until a year and a half ago, Alberta was “ground zero” for lack of trust in protecting the environment, says Andrew Read of the environmentalist Pembina Institute.

But then Albertans elected an NDP government, and Pope Francis issued his ground-breaking encyclical Laudato Si’ (On Care for Our Common Home).

“It seems like the world has really changed since Laudato Si’ was published,” Read told about 60 people at an Oct. 29 symposium at St. Albert Church sponsored by the Oblates of Mary Immaculate.

From being the only jurisdiction in North America without an energy efficiency policy to showing more environmental leadership than any other oil-producing region on the globe, Alberta has come a long way in a short time, he said.

Read was joined on a panel with provincial Environment Minister Shannon Phillips and Ian Anderson, president of the pipeline-building firm Kinder Morgan. The daylong symposium also featured input from church and Aboriginal leaders and a reflection on the 200th anniversary of the founding of the Oblates.

Phillips noted that the roots of the NDP lie in the social Gospel movement of the first half of the 20th century, and that many of the party’s leaders emerged from that movement. Her own social involvement was spurred through her Anglican upbringing.

Pope Francis’ ecological philosophy is not alien to the NDP, Phillips said. “In theological terms, this is an issue of our responsibility for creation.”

The minister outlined details of the Alberta government’s Climate Change Leadership Plan, including a cap on oilsands emissions, a carbon tax combined with rebates to two-thirds of Albertans, phasing out coal-fired electricity production by 2030, and investments in green infrastructure and energy efficient homes.

While the government has been criticized for its plan, Phillips responded, “There is no ‘do-nothing’ anymore. Climate change changes the rules of the game. There is no no-cost solution.”

However, Phillips maintained the province has a responsibility to continue fossil fuel production so families can put food on the table. Albertans elected the NDP to restore economic stability after a dramatic drop in the price of oil left tens of thousands of people unemployed.

Anderson’s Kinder Morgan is proposing to twin its Trans Mountain Pipeline from Edmonton to a marine terminal in Burnaby, BC

He paid tribute to the Alberta government’s efforts in “threading the needle” by meeting the concerns of a wide variety of interests affecting the development and transport of petroleum. “I greatly applaud the work Premier (Rachel) Notley has done.”

Canada currently has “a spirit of co-operation” which is enabling it to become a global leader in the battle against climate change, he said. “Industry is changing; government is changing.”

Anderson said Kinder Morgan’s vision for the pipeline project is “No voice will go unheard.” He estimated he has attended between 300 and 400 meetings on the nearly 1,000-kilometre pipeline route and knows every First Nations chief along the way.

“There is no replacement for being in these communities and understanding how what you do affects their lives.”

When asked why Canada is wants to export oil while simultaneously committing itself to cutting greenhouse gas emissions, Anderson replied that those foreign markets will consume oil whether they get it from Canada or elsewhere.

Oil exports will enable Canadian producers to get the world price for their product which they don’t receive on domestic sales, he said. Further, 80 per cent of oil exported from Canada is currently shipped from California.

As well, the move away from fossil fuels will require funding for significant technological development, something only likely to happen in a stable, prosperous country such as Canada, he said.

Bob McKeon, the former longtime director of social justice for the Edmonton archdiocese, said Pope Francis has done much to raise the profile of ecological concerns in the church.

Along with issuing his encyclical, he also added the Sept. 1 World Day of Care for Creation to the liturgical calendar, McKeon said.

That feast is to be a day for a serious examination of conscience of our sins against creation, followed by a confession of those sins, he said. “With Confession comes a firm purpose of amendment, a commitment to change our sinful ways.”

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