Skip to main content
Canada’s most-awarded newsroom for a reason
Enjoy unlimited digital access
$1.99
per week
for 24 weeks
Canada’s most-awarded newsroom for a reason
$1.99
per week
for 24 weeks
// //

Alberta Environment Minister Jason Nixon speaks in Calgary on Sept. 15, 2020.

Todd Korol/The Canadian Press

Alberta cabinet ministers are defending the government’s widely criticized plans to consult the public over open-pit coal development in the province’s Rocky Mountains.

“Our goal is to ensure the government’s approach to coal reflects the best interests of Albertans and will balance stringent environmental protections and the approach to resource development,” said Energy Minister Sonya Savage in an e-mail.

On Thursday, Savage’s department released rules for the consultations, which resulted from an outcry over the government’s surprise plan for a massive increase in coal mining along the summits and foothills of the Rockies.

Story continues below advertisement

But those terms of reference limit what the five-member panel gathering the feedback can listen to. Presenters can only address issues that come under the authority of the Department of Energy.

Concerns over the destruction of a beloved landscape and the possible contamination of headwaters for most of the province’s freshwater are off the table.

That’s despite the fact that those issues have been the most commonly raised by Albertans. Thousands of hectares have been leased for exploration as road building and drilling continue.

At the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association convention on Friday, Mayor Jim Willett of Coutts, Alta., asked Environment Minister Jason Nixon if his department would supplement Savage’s plans.

“We all thought a review of the coal policy would include a discussion surrounding water sources and usage and the land use act,” he said. “Is there a plan for another panel to discuss the points Albertans are most concerned about?”

Nixon appeared to suggest there’s no need for one, saying the province’s water management is unchanged.

“Nothing has changed when it comes to water licences, water approvals, the Water Act or environmental legislation when it comes to water around coal,” he said.

Story continues below advertisement

“All of the strict water rules remain within this province. They have not changed and they will not be changed in any way associated with coal.”

Willett, whose municipality is in south-central Alberta, called that a “non-answer.” He pointed out the government has opened discussions on water allocations in the area with a view to making the resource available for coal mines.

“We know it’s being discussed. And if it’s being discussed, why shouldn’t we have some input on it?” he said. “Why is it such a narrow mandate that (the government) has given to the coal study group?”

Savage said concerns such as Willett’s “go beyond the scope of coal.”

“This engagement is focused on how the province manages coal resources,” she said.

Savage said the consultation is designed to gather input around the protections for various land categories contained in Alberta’s coal policy, which the government rescinded last spring and recently restored under public pressure.

Story continues below advertisement

“(It’s) largely focused on the aspects of coal which sparked public concern – for example, the protections outlined under the coal categories.”

Nigel Bankes, professor of resource law at the University of Calgary, said that’s the problem.

“If this is all we’re going to get out of this consultation, then it’s a policy on development of coal, not a policy on the eastern slopes of the Rockies.”

The consultation is, he said, “incredibly narrow.”

“I suspect within cabinet there was real push to keep this confined. I think it was a deliberate political decision.”

Our Morning Update and Evening Update newsletters are written by Globe editors, giving you a concise summary of the day’s most important headlines. Sign up today.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow topics related to this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

UPDATED: Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies