EDMONTON - Leaked Alberta government documents released today by the Our Water Is Not For Sale (OWINFS) Network outlining plans for a million-dollar “Water Conversation (WC)” with Albertans indicate that long-awaited public consultations about Alberta’s water allocation system will amount to little more than a public relations effort.
“This clearly isn’t the broad and meaningful consultation on the future of the province’s water that Albertans have been waiting for since the fall of 2008,” says Scott Harris, Prairies Regional Organizer with the Council of Canadians, a member group of the OWINFS network. “It seems as though this process is about putting a tick in the box to say that Albertans have been consulted, without allowing them to actually address the issues or influence policy.”
The documents detail that the “Water Conversation” – which in addition to water management will also cover the issues of hydraulic fracturing, drinking water and wastewater, and healthy lakes – will involve stops in 20 municipalities and an online component. The outline of the public events shows that in each of the three-hour meetings, the public will have just 30 minutes of discussion, at one of five tables, to address these complex issues.
“This is the public’s one chance to have a say in the future of water in Alberta, but it’s not clear that the government cares what they have to say,” says Bill Moore-Kilgannon, Executive Director of Public Interest Alberta, another member organization of the OWINFS network. “On the one hand, the documents say that this conversation will ‘position government to develop, and be positioned to make decisions on policy’ – possibly by the end of the year – but on the other hand they state that ‘this is not a process to consult on policy.’ If this process doesn’t actually allow citizens to influence government policy, then this WC is just flushing money down the drain.”
“Worse yet, the government has already predetermined the outcome,” adds Moore-Kilgannon, “saying in its ‘High-Level Solution Statement’ that citizens participating in the conversations will ‘appreciate that there is no water crisis today’ but that ‘some changes may be required.’”
The documents also reveal that controversial plans to introduce a province-wide market for water licenses are apparently still on the table. An earlier document, attached in the appendix, reveals that a “move to formal water pricing” was at that time mentioned as being out of the scope of discussion, but later documents remove this and replace it with “water for sale to the US.”
“Sale of water to the US is a red herring. Minister McQueen is the only person who has raised it as an issue in the allocation review and as part of new water legislation,” says Harris. “What Albertans deserve to know is if the government is still planning on introducing a province-wide water market. We deserve a meaningful process where concerns about such a plan will actually result in a water policy we can support.”