The Alberta Government has announced the creation of its promised working group to design an oilsands monitoring system. “This group of experts will help provide information to inform government how to best design independent effective and scientific oversight of the enhanced monitoring system,” said Environment and Water Minister Diana McQueen during a March 13 press conference. McQueen said the working group’s assignment is to find out, “What should the make-up of the oversight body look like? How should the body be governed, and by whom? How do we ensure the increased monitoring activities have secure and stable funding?”
The six-member group will be led by University of Lethbridge management professor Howard Tennant, and includes University of Alberta botanist Greg Taylor, ecologist Ron Wallace, former TransCanada president and current Talisman Energy board member Hal Kvisle, lawyer Neil McCrank, and Environment and Water Deputy Minister Ernie Hui.
Chelsea Flook, executive director of the Sierra Club for the prairie region, is not happy with the composition of the group.
“I think it’s a continued trend that we’re seeing, that community members and environmental organizations are being left out of the process,” she says. While McQueen emphasized the importance of First Nations’ concerns relative to environmental monitoring, Flook says First Nations should have a representative on the panel. In reference to the working group and environmental review processes overall, Flook believes the government systematically restricts who is considered a stakeholder, and works to keep the public out of the decision process.
Other environmental groups are criticizing the government for jeopardizing the independence of the panel.
When the federal and Alberta governments announced the monitoring system on February 3, the plan recommended that the system be totally independent of the government. That may not happen.
“We’re asking the group to look at, could that still happen within a government structure, or should that happen outside at an arm’s-length?” says McQueen. “Information is how you make policy decisions, so we just want to know that we have access to that information.”