If not now, when?
In July, the Multi-Stakeholder Committee on Alberta’s Oil Sands delivered its final report and recommendations to the provincial government. This is the committee that was struck by the provincial government to gather feedback from Albertans about the future of the tar sands, the communities around the tar sands, and their impact on the province as a whole.
The committee spent a full year holding public hearings around the province, bringing together “experts” for day-long symposia, and receiving and reviewing written submissions from local governments, businesses and corporations, NGOs and concerned Albertans.
Although a great majority of the oral and written submissions received from the committee included calls for a significant slowdown, or outright moratorium, on tar sands developments, higher royalties, hard caps on gree house gas emissions, and greater long-term investment of resource revenues, all of those items are listed in the committee’s final report as “non-consensus” items, and as such are not explicitly stated recommendations.
The non-consensus label does not mean that submissions to the committee were evenly split on the subject, but rather that the reps from the provincial government and from the corporate sector on the committee did not agree with the recommendations. In fact, on many of these issues there was near consensus among the submissions made to the committee.
The tone of the submissions made two things very clear: that the status quo is unacceptable and unsustainable; and that the path we are currently on will result in significant social, economic, environmental and health concerns in the very near future.
Despite the fact that the government reps on the committee, and Premier Stelmach himself, refuse to accept this reality, there can be no question that a majority of Albertans understand the need for quick and significant change.
Although there is a growing consensus among Albertans, and people all over the world, that there is a need for change, there is much less consensus on how to bring that change about and what the end product looks like. Ideas like justice and sustainability are often tossed about and strongly supported, but rarely defined and explained.
It is for this very reason that the Parkland Institute has decided to focus its upcoming fall conference to a discussion of some of these ideas. The conference, entitled “From Crisis to Hope: Building Just and Sustainable Communities,” will take place from Nov. 16 -18 at the University of Alberta.
The conference, which will look at community in the broadest possible context, will reinforce why we need to make a transition toward justice and sustainability, discuss what steps we need to take today to begin making that transition, and explore what exactly just and sustainable communities look like. Some of the speakers already confirmed for the conference include Patrick Bond, a political economist based at the University of KwaZulu-Natal School of Development Studies in Durban, Richard Heinberg, one of the world’s foremost peak-oil educators, former National Farmers Union president Nettie Wiebe, and numerous other thinkers, writers and activists from around the world. As you read through this issue of the Post, consider the current state of our communities, and think about all that our communities could be. Bring those ideas with you to our fall conference, and let us begin in earnest the work of starting to move in a new direction.
As with most major changes and transitions, it is not likely that government will take the lead on this transition. It is incumbent, therefore, upon Albertans to get us moving in the right direction. Albertans have identified the need for change, and have expressed a keen interest in building just and sustainable communities. What is left now is for us to start discussing what exactly that looks like, and to begin making the changes that will actually get us there. The longer we wait, the more difficult it will be.
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