Edward Burtynsky John Gerretsen

hej enhver! lade os gennembanke alberta!

As an Alberta, there are very few things more patronizing than being lectured by an Ontario politician. At the COP15 Conference in Copenhagen this week, our province’s less than perfect environmental record was the target of Ontario’s Environment Minister John Gerretsen:

“Our biggest fear is that the feds may try to use the good work that’s been done by [Ontario and Quebec] as part of their overall goal, and thereby allow the tar sands development to proceed without hesitation.”

I have seen the steel mills in Hamilton and am familiar with the work of Edward Burtynsky. As Debra Yedlin pointed out, Ontario and Quebec have the highest number of registered drivers. This means that they significantly contribute to the transportation-related activities which account for 25% of Canada’s emissions (the oil sands make up 5% of Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions). Alberta’s environmental record in developing the oil sands is nothing to brag about, but it is also a convenient distraction to the current problems facing elected officials in Ontario.

I am a proud Albertan and I know we can do better. The tailing ponds and the contamination that they have caused are embarrassing. According to the Pembina Institute, current tailings ponds waste water is equal to 220,000 Olympic swimming pools. By 2020, it is expected that Alberta’s oil sands will create enough tailings ponds to fill 400,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools.

Even in the midst of an economic recession, Alberta is the financial envy of Confederation. If we are serious about keeping our position as leaders in energy development, we need to turn our province’s biggest public relations weakness, the oil sands, into our greatest strength. Instead of playing the same games as those who would demonize our province as the bad child of Confederation, we should be putting Ontario and Quebec to shame. If we are serious about creating a new economy, our actions will be more powerful than any government-bought expensive half-page newspaper advertisements (see the advertisement to your left that was in yesterday’s Vancouver Sun).

We can do better and we know it.

In his book ‘The Good Society: The Humane Agenda‘, economist John Kenneth Galbraith wrote:
“The market system and its incentives are an accepted part of the good society; this is not in doubt. But there is no divine right of free-enterprise, or free choice, for the producing firm. Or for its consumers. The largest community interest must be protected, as also the future climate and well-being, and there must be concern as to depleatable resources. Since automobiles must be built, have fuel and be driven, and other consumer goods and services must similarly be supplied and utilized, a compromise between the current financial and long-term public interests in essential and inevitable. As a broad rule, however, this compromise must favor the larger community interest and the interest of those to come. That is because the business and political voice and money are allied with the current economic power – with the firms that produce the goods and services, their lobbies and captive or susceptible politicians. The community and the longer public future draw on less specific support.”

Government is not going to solve this problem. Innovation will. Our natural wealth affords us the opportunity and ability to define the cutting edge. Alberta has longed been dubbed as ‘Texas of the North‘, if this is the case where is our T. Boone Pickens? Instead of just relying on our current resources (and the boom-bust cycle) to define who we are and what we do in the eyes of the world, we need to create an innovative economy that will develop real new and efficient renewable energy and technology for the world here in Alberta. Government is not going to solve this problem, but it can play a positive role by helping create an environment where innovative ideas can flourish, not be crushed under the massive funding of short-term public relations campaigns like Carbon Capture and Storage.

As Albertans, we have the opportunity to decide the future of our province – do we continue on the same path or do we take some bolder action with the financial wealth we have inherited?

(Apologies to her Majesty for the rough translation)