2013 was a year for transition in the Oilsands sector. The implementation of the Responsible Energy Development Act (REDA), the creation of the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) and the Alberta Environmental Monitoring, Evaluation and Reporting Agency (AEMERA), the implementation of the Lower Athabasca Regional Plan (LARP) and the Joint Oil Sands Monitoring Plan (JOSMP). Transition is difficult and can lead to frustration. This is especially the case when the transition means power moving from local communities directly affected by Oilsands development to bureaucrats and politicians far removed from the region.
While an argument can be made that the Oilsands are a provincial and national resource that benefits the country, it also can be argued that it will be the local citizens in the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo whose lives will be most impacted by development decisions. It will be local communities who drink the water, breath the air, travel the roads and raise their families in the shadow of the Oilsands development, and while the majority of these citizens agree that development needs to move forward, those same citizens would likely agree that they deserve to have a say in how that development proceeds and, more importantly, is monitored. Unfortunately the Government’s of Alberta and Canada are making this transition from the top down and are not incorporating the vision of those whose lives will feel the impacts of Oilsands development the most. The Wood Buffalo Environmental Management Association, a local Not-For-Profit organizations with representatives from local industry, government, Aboriginal groups, and environmental not for profits, which is responsible for conducting Air Monitoring in the region has yet to pass a budget for 2014. This because the Joint Oil Sands Monitoring Program, administered by bureaucrats based in Edmonton and Ottawa, have chosen different priorities for monitoring in the region limiting the funding allotment for WBEA even though Oilsands developers, Aboriginal groups, and Environmental Not-For-Profit groups in the region agree this is a bad idea. It is a similar story for the Cumulative Environmental Management Association, a group responsible for developing Oilsands policy made up of local industry, government, Aboriginal and environmental not-for-profit organizations, which is seeing its funding allotment withheld without explanation. Without CEMA it is unclear how local communities will have an opportunity to influence Oilsands development policies for Oilsands. In both these cases it seems that it is the Governments of Alberta and Canada’s goal to limit the role that Local people play in determining how the Oilsands will be managed in Northeastern Alberta. Further to this point, perhaps this is why the Board of Directors for the Alberta Energy Regulator does not include one member from the RMWB. It seems par for the course that future decisions about development and monitoring will be made by outsiders who do not face the community realties.
In 2014 it will be up to local politicians to speak against the marked shift away from local decision making and to speak up for their constituents. Politicians at the Municipal, Provincial, and Federal level need to ensure when Boards are struck, policies are written, and decisions are made that their communities are at the table providing meaningful input. If the creation of the Alberta Energy Regulator and the Joint Oil Sands Monitoring Program are any indication, it seems that local influence is being stripped. This has lead to one local community to pull out of JOSM process and begin searching for solutions elsewhere. It seems likely that without significant changes more local groups will also remove their support of the program. It is for those who the communities in the RMWB have elected to say that bureaucrats based in Edmonton and Ottawa will not make decisions in this region without taking into consideration how those decisions will impact local communities. It is time for citizens of the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo to expect more. Ask your (now future) local MP or MLA how they are ensuring local concerns are being incorporated into Oilsands development? As them what their position is on the Joint Oilsands Monitoring Program? And demand that local community’s concerns are part of the Oilsands planning process at either the Legislature or Parliament. Only then will our local concerns be heard.
Peter Fortna is the President of Willow Springs Strategic Solutions. He also is a Co-Chair of the Cumulative Environmental Management Association Traditional Knowledge Working Group and Vice President of the Wood Buffalo Environmental Management Association.