September 18, 2006

Alberta committee begins oil sands consultation process

The Alberta government has launched its oil sands consultation process with a series of seven open information meetings being held throughout the province during the second half of September and early October. The meetings are being led by Vance MacNichol, a former deputy minister of Alberta Environment and of the government's Executive Council. He also heads the Oil Sands Multi-Stakeholder Committee (MSC), which is responsible for the overall consultation process.

The first three sessions were held in Bonnyville, Peace River and Fort McMurray, with the remaining meetings scheduled for September 25 and 26 in Edmonton, September 27 and 28 in Calgary, October 2 in Wabasca, and October 4 in Fort Chipewyan. An interim report with recommendations focusing on vision and principles will be submitted to the Ministers of Energy, of Environment and of Sustainable Resource Development shortly thereafter.

In addition to public input through the consultation panel, the 19-member MSC will review existing data related to environmental, economic, social and First Nations and Metis issues related to oil sands development. By the end of November, the MSC is due to conclude the first phase of its work by making recommendations to government on the vision and principles that should guide future oil sands development. This will be followed by a second phase of work leading to recommendations on implementation; these are expected in the spring of 2007.

Members of the MSC represent three levels of government (municipal, provincial and federal), industry, environmental groups, and First Nations and M√ątis communities. Among the representatives are: Jim Vollmershausen of Environment Canada; Kevin Cliffe of Natural Resources Canada; Jay Nagendran of Alberta Environment; Mick Ekelund of Alberta Energy; Neil Barker of Alberta Sustainable Resource Development; Onno DeVries of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP); Peter Kinnear of Canadian Natural Resources; Brent Sangster of Petro-Canada; environmentalist Martha Kostuch, representing the Prairie Acid Rain Coalition; Lindsay Telfer, from the Sierra Club; and Dan Woynillowicz, from the Pembina Institute.

The composition of the committee has prompted labour leaders to ask why labour is the only stakeholder group not represented on the MSC. "It has business, environmental groups, local government, first nations and Metis representatives, but has completely shut out labour," said Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL) president Gil McGowan. "Working people have as much stake in the direction of oilsands development as any other group in the province. Why are they ignoring the perspective of hundreds of thousands of Albertans?"

McGowan said the AFL is writing a letter to the Ministers of Energy, of Environment and of Sustainable Resource Development urging the government to add labour representatives to the committee in time to fully participate in the discussions and deliberations. "It is a basic issue of fairness," he said.

The AFL has advocated a slowdown in the pace of oilsands development to allow government, industry, labour and local governments to better plan for long term prosperity. "The current pace of development is unsustainable" said McGowan, adding, "Our public infrastructure and the labour market cannot keep up to this reckless pace. We need better planning and a long term strategy for how to balance economic, social and environmental needs."

More information is available on the consultation Web site, www.oilsandsconsultations.gov.ab.ca.

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