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Kenney’s coal plan running into mountain of resistance

John Bell

February 19, 2021


Having squandered billions of taxpayer dollars betting on a pipeline that will never be built, Alberta’s premier Jason Kenney is doubling down on fossil fuels to recoup his losses. But this time, instead of counting on the 20th century’s favourite energy sources, oil and gas, he’s turning the clock back even further. 


Kenney wants to become King Coal.


There are plenty of coal deposits on the eastern face of the Rocky Mountains. But those slopes are the source of watersheds that sustain not just Alberta, but much of the North American continent. These are already under growing pressure from climate change, as glaciers recede and aquifers are depleted by industry, agriculture and urban growth.


Modern coal mining is not drilling a hole and scooping out the coal from underground. It is strip mining in its most destructive form, blasting and tearing the very tops off mountains. In industry double-talk that is called “removing the overburden”.


Even previous conservative governments recognized the importance of those water sources and brought in environmental regulation to stop the development of coal mining as far back as 1976. Late in 2020, Kenney’s UCP government used its majority to rescind those regulations and start selling and taking bids on coal mining licenses. Rapacious Australian coal giants were quick to grab them up.


Immediately a new and unlikely coalition of opposition was formed: bringing ranchers and farmers together with Indigenous people and environmentalists. Kenney was risking alienating some of his most stalwart supporters.


NDP MLA Shannon Phillips is organizing opposition in her Lethbridge riding. She told a town hall: “Already, we see communities all across this corridor struggling with (lack of water) or even their water infrastructure because climate change changes when you have more water and the volumes and, you know, extreme weather events and so on.”


“There's not enough words in the English language to share how much this will impact First Nations; how much every time the land is destroyed, how much that tears apart who we are as Niitsitapi,” said Latasha Calf Robe, member of the Blood Tribe (Kainai Nation) and founder of the Niitsitapi Water Protectors.


"To have this go forward and have the headwaters potentially contaminated is a huge betrayal of trust," said Lethbridge Mayor Spearman.


Maybe Spearman began with trust in the UCP, but Kenney’s double-talk and dirty tricks to derail opposition shows how misplaced that was.


Remember that Kenney rescinded the environmental regulations late on the Friday of a long weekend in the midst of a pandemic. This favourite tactic of autocratic government’s everywhere failed. A petition campaign sprang up and gained over 100,000 signatures in short order.


Then Kenney acknowledged the breadth of the opposition and grandly announced that the whole process would be put “on pause”. He said he was cancelling 11 mining leases, protecting 1,800 hectares of slope. As always the devil is in the details. According to reports in The Tyee, Alberta has existing mining leases covering 420,000 hectares of land. 


Apart from that Kenney and UCP MLAs have been stonewalling and avoiding scrutiny. The opposition NDP tried to use a meeting of the public accounts committee, which it chairs, to call government ministers to answer for the deceptions. Kenney’s crew used their majority to adjourn the committee meeting before it began.


The anti-coal coalition is demanding a judicial review of the UCP’s rescission of the environmental regulations, and outrage continues to grow. The legal challenge is given extra weight because of the participation of Treaty 7 First Nations like the Kainai and Siksika nations. The Kenney government did not consult with or seek the approval of these Nations before it started.


Add this to Kenney’s unpopular attacks on teachers and doctors, his general mishandling of the COVID-19 pandemic, his disastrous devotion to a dying oil and gas industry and general corruption and bigotry among his MLAs, and you have the least popular political leader in Turtle Island.


Even conservative pundits like Rick Bell are commenting on how “tone deaf” Kenney is. The far-right Western Standard sponsored a poll that found that only 26% of Albertans support the UCP, and 41% would vote NDP if elections were held today. From the Conservative movement’s biggest star to its greatest liability in just two years – Kenney sets a new record for abuse of power



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