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When it comes to bad ideas, they don’t get much worse than sinking $1.5 billion worth of taxpayer dollars into a pipeline project that depended on the continued support of the least popular American president in modern history.

But on that score, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney appears determined to outdo himself. In addition to picking a fight with the most powerful economy in the world, his government is trying to make it as easy as possible for foreign corporations to build open-pit coal mines in the province’s scenic Rocky Mountains. Outside of openly rooting for the Vancouver Canucks, he probably couldn’t have found a better way to unite Albertans against him and his government.

The anger a growing number of Albertans are now expressing against the province’s atavistic embrace of open-pit coal mining didn’t happen overnight, mind you. That’s partially because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and partially because the government quietly announced the repeal of the Lougheed-era Coal Policy on the Friday before the long weekend in May.

Even fewer people were aware that in its well-documented zeal to reduce “red tape,” (the government even has an “Associate Minister of Red Tape Reduction”) the Kenney government rescinded Directive 061, which contained hundreds of pages detailing how and where companies could apply to develop a coal mine, and replaced it with a 42-page manual.

In a letter on behalf of the Livingstone Landowners Association, Gavin Fitch, the president of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society, was unsparing in his analysis of the change. “The AER (Alberta Energy Regulator) has eliminated the extensive application requirements of Directive 061 and replaced them with nothing,” he wrote.

But while these moves may have escaped most people’s attention last year, they’re very much in their sights right now. The government is already being taken to court by both a group of ranchers working the land in the Livingstone Range southwest of Calgary and Indigenous communities like the Blackfoot Nations that depend on the headwaters of the Oldman River Basin and view them as sacred to their way of life.

“Alberta acknowledges this reality in its land use plans for the region and (commitment) to consulting Kainai and other First Nations on key decisions,” the Blood Tribe said in a recent statement. “Even so, the government of Alberta made its hasty decision to strip protection of the area without any consultation.”

It’s not just environmentalists or Indigenous communities speaking out against these proposed developments, either. Corb Lund, a fifth-generation Albertan and popular country musician who normally stays out of the political limelight, decided to get involved when it became clear the government’s coal policy could threaten the part of the province he holds most dear. “Basically, we’re giving up the Rocky Mountains — and really jeopardizing our water source for a big part of the province — for peanuts, for a handful of jobs,” he told the Globe and Mail. “The cost just doesn’t add up.”

Lund isn’t the only high-profile rural Albertan who sees it this way. Paul Brandt, a fellow country musician who actually leads a government of Alberta committee on human trafficking, shared his own concerns on Instagram in January about the possibility of new coal mines opening up along the eastern slopes of the Rockies.

Alberta is risking its multibillion-dollar tourism industry and the health and well-being of millions of people who live, farm and fish downstream in order to potentially create a few hundred jobs, columnist @maxfawcett writes. #ableg #abpoli

“Corb Lund is right,” he wrote. “This is a big deal and a bad deal. As an Albertan who enjoys fly-fishing in our clear waters and spending time in the outdoors, I hope our government listens, consults and reconsiders. We can’t put short-sighted economic benefit ahead of long-term consequences that could devastate our people and land for generations to come.”

What’s most perplexing about the government’s decision here, one that has angered a bipartisan community of Albertans who view the mountains as a kind of shared trust, is that the economic benefits aren’t even that substantial. It’s true the proposed projects would create a few hundred direct jobs, along with some spinoff employment at companies that would supply or support the mines. But those could come at the cost of other jobs in the outdoor tourism and recreation sector, to say nothing of the impacts on farmers living downstream from the mines and their potentially toxic byproducts.

And, of course, it may prove more difficult to attract environmentally minded international tourists to Alberta’s national parks if they find out that open-pit coal mines are operating in the same neighbourhood.

What's the economic upside here as far as the provincial treasury goes? A mere one per cent of mine-mouth revenue until the project earns back its capital costs, and an additional 13 per cent of net revenue thereafter. The profits, meanwhile, would flow to the Australian mining companies, who would surely keep their highest-paid head office employees working and paying taxes Down Under.

In the end then, the government is risking Alberta’s multibillion-dollar tourism industry and the health and well-being of millions of Albertans who live, farm and fish downstream in order to potentially create a few hundred jobs and a pitifully small stream of new royalty revenue. Even for a government that’s desperately searching for any kind of economic win (witness Kenney’s 2019 press conference heralding a new McDonald’s franchise in Sherwood Park) this is some conspicuously thin gruel.

Still, Kenney seems determined to keep serving it up to Albertans. In an unusual turn of events, the government actually acknowledged the concerns raised by people like Lund and Brandt by cancelling 11 recently awarded coal leases. But those leases only account for 1,800 of the 420,000 hectares held by companies in lands protected from open-pit mining under the Lougheed-era Coal Policy, and their cancellation does nothing to dissuade the four Australian mining companies that still plan to turn nearly 1,000 square kilometres into active mine sites in the region.

Adding a pinch of salt or two isn’t going to make this economic pittance any more palatable to Albertans, especially those worried about the environmental costs associated with it. If Kenney isn’t careful here, they may decide it’s time for a new cook in their political kitchen.

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This issue is of critical concern to all Canadians as a devious UCP attempts to destroy the mountains and headwaters of the Eastern Slopes for small profits and temporary jobs in a dying fossil fuel industry. Kenney has deviously made plans to use Albertan taxpayer dollars to invest in a huge open pit, coal mining project , which will benefit more Australian millionaires than Albertans, while blowing tops off mountains, contaminating headwaters and destroying the heart and soul of majestic Alberta. All Canadians must become aware of this and stop this devastation. Protect Alberta’s Rockies and Headwaters- join the movement on Facebook!

The lies just keep piling up. Anyone who says their company can mitigate against selenium contamination in surface water is lying. Anyone who says there are stringent regulatory controls to prevent selenium contamination of surface water is lying. Anyone who says fish stocks and water quality won’t be negatively impacted is lying. Rock dumps leach selenium, full stop. All of this in a basin already closed because of restricted water use and yet there have been back-room guarantees made to the proponents about adequate water supply for the mines. Coal mines are pigs for water. At whose expense will that water be diverted and rendered unusable for any other purpose? Mssrs. Kenney and Nixon and Ms. Savage need to take a look at the country between the Cardinal River Divide and Cadomin near the east boundary of Jasper National Park to get a sense of the scope of irreparable harm they are about to cause. Maybe industry schill Robin Campbell, former Conservative MLA and Environment Minister and current Coal Association of Canada president can give them a guided tour and point out the highlights of that landscape.

For anyone so inclined, please check if you would like further background information and to get more directly involved at ground level.

I've noticed that in general, the politics of "economic development" is not even about "the economy" any more. It's about who has the most concentrated profits with which to bribe and lobby. If player A is one corporation with a slush fund and directorships on offer, whose proposal will make $100 million, and player B is a bunch of individuals and small companies, each too small to have a slush fund, whose proposal will make $1 billion, it's player A that will get the grease and the broader economic benefit that will get the skids.

Anyone buying what Used Car Purveyor (UCP) Premier Kenney is selling?
"Kenney says an old policy that protected the Rockies for 45 years was obsolete and had been superseded by stronger rules."
The old policy prohibited mountaintop removal coal mining in sensitive areas on AB's Eastern slopes. Rescinding the policy opens Category 2 areas to mountaintop removal coal mines.
"Stronger rules" = less protection, more mines, fewer mountaintops, and more pollution.
Nice snow job, Jason.
Expect an avalanche of opposition.

I hope they reach the conclusion that the world of fossil-fuel economy is over and they need to move with the green revolution happening south of our border; otherwise, we will be the biggest losers in this race to decarbonize the economy and our debts will only grow bigger. Smarten up Jason Kenney, for the sake of your people and Canada.

I am currently reading the excellent “Perfect City” by Joe Berridge, a city planner with world wide experience who is based in Toronto. While describing specific projects in different cities, Berridge takes a decidedly holistic view on what makes good cities succeed.

I was reminded of his chapter on Singapore while reading this article on Alberta’s latest adventure into the economic stranglehold of raw resource extraction and export, basic rip ’n ship.

Berridge’s group of consultants won an international competition to plan and design a large waterfront site in Singapore. Before they began, a notable official gave them a short pep talk on the Singapore psyche.

To paraphrase it and compare it to Alberta ….

Singapore 101:

We have no oil or gas.
We have no forests.
We have no agriculture.
We have no land.
We have very little fresh water.
We live at a shipping junction.
What we do have in abundance is brains, and have created one of the most successful city-states with one of the highest standards of living on Earth.
Now get to work.

Alberta 101:

We have oil, gas, coal and minerals in abundance.
We have forests in abundance.
We have agriculture in abundance.
We have land in abundance.
We have water in abundance.
We are criss-crossed with land transportation corridors connecting the heart of the continent to overseas markets.
We have brains in abundance.
But we have failed to use them at our weak and incompetent leadership level to diversify our economy instead of playing blame games. It’s always someone else’s fault, especially when failing to deal with 21st Century challenges.
We have failed to work it out despite inheriting an overflowing toolkit, several Economics For Dummies brochures and loads of good advice.
As the result, the world is passing us by, and laughing.

Two things about setting up so many ways to not make sense is that it leaves fewer ways that could possibly make sense, and it’s likely intentional. Dog-whistle stumping for Alberta’s United Conservative Party has evolved into an existential air-raid siren during its inaugural first term in power, facetiously thumbing its SoCon nose at modern society, it’s neoliberal nose at conservatism and basic economic theory, its bigoted nose at indigenous nations and environmentalists, and its partisan nose at the electorate and the federation. Now, after thumbing its nose at Covid too, it’s impossible not to notice a pattern of almost ritualistically bizarre idealization radiating out of the UCP like a primal scream, any toy on its play-war room floor suitable ammo for enraged hurling, any tantrum, no matter how puerile, rationalized by the siege the party has surrounded itself with—not without a measure of irony.

The new UCP’s maiden voyage on both Alberta’s political sea and in government was launched on a surge tide of about 60% popularity, yet its captain Jason Kenney appears determined to stay his course, even as incumbency’s tallest lookout disappears behind the horizon, the party having sunk to below 40% popularity and still taking on water. As Captain K’s ship is tossed more upon the foam of his fury than upon stormy chop, the NDP’s fleet, smaller but more capable, is in safe harbour steadily provisioning its armada, readying for its next electoral expedition in just a couple of years. The question of course is whether the UCP can meet the challenge ship-shape. Some of the issues to which it has been most obstinate so far—like Covid, bitumen, and Canadian federalism—will certainly still be resonating in Alberta by then. Kenney can hardly reverse course and make for calmer waters in time, even if he wanted to—which he doesn’t much look like, anyway.

Why is Kenney doing this? I can only offer that a considerable portion of the Alberta political right are bitumen fantasts with their heads stuck in the sand about the industry’s prospects, about changes they don’t want to see, a reality as sure as climate change itself. The government is plainly paranoid, its delusions of bitumen grandeur besieged by the province’s loyal opposition, by British Columbia, the federal government, and environmentalists, domestic and foreign. It’s one order away from blaming the whole cosmos for its predicament.

I liken it to the American “Redoubt Movement”—the aspirational white-Christian-right ‘homeland’ which would just happen to be across the US border from Alberta. Redoubters cross time as well as space: the Mormons’ “Deseret” is a classic example (indeed, fundamentalist Mormons emigrated to southwestern Alberta in the 1890s when Utah Territory was compelled to outlaw polygamy as a condition of statehood). In the Canadian Territories, the Métis provide another example: westward migration from Manitoba to establish a Métis homeland or redoubt (a dream that was snuffed at Frog Lake and Batoche by Canadian troops in the Northwest Rebellion, 1885). In short, ‘redoubterism’ involves a faction which wants to remain separate from the rest of the world and migrates—or, in many cases, retreats from perceived, potential, or real harassment—to a region or redoubt remote and rugged enough to for a small, sometimes defeated group to defend, presumably to protect a way of life, but often cultivating a narrative of recuperation and vengeful return to reclaim what its leaders say was unjustly deprived of them. The basic unit is the circled wagon laager bristling with gun barrels while occupants pray and pass around the ammo. No dissent allowed, only purity of purpose—but often of race and religion, as well. It’s no surprise such a polity becomes reactionary, xenophobic and classically paranoid: the converted think they have something the outsiders covet.

I think the case that Kenney affects the Redoubter Movement in Alberta can only be bolstered by the fact that it’s starting to look like he’ll have to make a stand and circle the wagons within his own party, many of caucus rightly wondering what their respective electorates will do to them if things don’t turn around—and Kenney’s not for turning.

The Alberta right is already schizophrenic—that’s how Kenney reassembled its four or five factions into the United Conservative Party. We might compare this with the plight of the Mormons after their fanatical leader Brigham Young finally relinquished power—he died. Some twenty-odd schismatic “churches” quickly hove off the once unified and long dominant Mormon Church, some emigrating to the Canadian Territories (some even further to Bountiful in the mountains of southeastern BC). The dream of Deseret came to and end, even after it was held onto with conviction while large chunks of the prospective nation were confederated as other states, as US federal troops manned artillery batteries in the hills overlooking Salt Lake City so that federally appointed judges could try cases without death threats and vandalism upon their domiciles. Even after Brigham Young had died.

It’s nigh impossible to separate from the world these days, especially when the titular ‘independent state’ expects to sell its products to it. Redoubts eventually become acerbic, but merely irritating cysts on the body politic. Nevertheless, the Mormon religion today proselytizes successfully around the globe and the Métis have made considerable gains in court—neither having secured the nations they wanted. The same could be said of ethnic diasporas around the world.

Will there be a Chruch of Kenney some day? Maybe...