Support journalism that lights the way through the climate crisis by June 3

Goal: $100k

By now, you likely know the story of a massive oilsands tailings leak in northern Alberta that went unreported for nine months before neighbouring First Nations were alerted.

You may also have concluded the Alberta Energy Regulator charged with regulating and monitoring the performance of oilsands and other energy projects failed miserably in its duty to protect the public. You perhaps heard Premier Danielle Smith vowing to take steps to ensure better regulator oversight — essentially a promise to police the police, which shouldn’t be necessary but is in this case.

Truth is, the regulator has always jumped to the tune of Alberta’s fossil fuel industry while those in government have looked the other way. Oil and gas rules Alberta and always will, unless media like Canada’s National Observer continue to expose the lax regulations, environmental and climate damage and the industry’s lack of concern for the health of people and the environment.

Natasha Bulowski and John Woodside, two of Canada’s National Observer’s crackerjack reporters, jumped on the story as soon as the news broke. We covered the story as it unfolded as deeply as we could, without going there.

Every ounce of my editorial instinct screamed: put them on a plane and get them into the communities immediately. Without travelling to the Athabasca Chipewyan and Mikisew Cree First Nations, without talking to people there face to face, it is impossible to capture the sense of betrayal residents feel, the fears they harbour over damage to the environment and their own health.

In a perfect world, we would have hopped on that plane. But round-trip flights from Ottawa to Fort McMurray cost upward of $800, especially on short notice. And from there, you’re a good drive on winter roads away from either First Nation. Add in the expenses of vehicle rental (it’s got to be four-wheel drive in the winter), food and accommodation, which runs high in the North, and the costs would climb into the thousands. For just one story.

I dream of a day when we have the resources to cover all stories the way we know they should be covered: with boots on the ground and cellphones and cameras in hand. Our reporters do their best work that way; they know it, and you’ve probably noticed, too.

Take some of our recent examples, like Cloe Logan’s deep dive into the history of safety violations and emissions that will result from the reopening of the Donkin Mine, Canada’s only underground coal mine in Cape Breton. You may recall Rochelle Baker’s beautiful feature on a climate and environmental success story, the rebuilding of Campbell River’s estuary. Or Marc Fawcett-Atkinson’s fascinating story about a B.C. politician-turned-businessman who is developing a high-tech system using soil samples, artificial intelligence and drone imaging to measure and maximize soil health and cut down on fertilizer use.

Sending John Woodside to COP27 allowed him to forge relationships that resulted in this insightful profile of Environment and Climate Change Minister Steven Guilbeault. Setting Natasha Bulowski loose at a recent conference of conservatives led to this lively story on what draws young people to join Pierre Poilievre’s Conservative Party. And an in-person interview with Sen. Patrick Brazeau gave this story by Matteo Cimellaro an emotional impact and depth that would not have been possible over the phone.

Stories like this — stories full of life that touch readers and show the impact of climate change and industrial development on people, or highlight the successes of climate solutions in a personal way — are the stories that make a difference. They also take the most time and cost the most money.

This is why we at CNO are asking for help to keep us doing our best work. To leave the office, meet people and sources in person and take the time required for investigative reporting. It’s expensive, and we can’t do it without you.

If you are reading this note, it’s because you care about what happens to our planet. Please consider purchasing a one-year subscription to Canada’s National Observer for only $50 during our Spring sale, and we’ll continue to keep you informed and inspired each day.

*Subscription renews at $100 in 2024