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NEWS: McQueen and Morton hold key Alberta cabinet positions to watch

Yesterday, Prairies organizer Scott Harris noted that, with the swearing in of Alberta premier Alison Redford’s cabinet, the province now has a minister of ‘environment and water’.

Today, the Globe and Mail reports, “(Diana) McQueen, a first-term MLA and former mayor of Drayton Valley, Alta., takes over as Minister of Environment and Water, which was rebranded at a time when questions about water quality have underpinned much of the environmental criticism of Alberta’s oil sands. Her predecessor (Rob Renner) is now a backbencher. Ms. McQueen says she’ll focus on the Athabasca River, which runs through the oil sands, and rivers where water demand outstrips supply. ‘Moving forward, those will be a priority,’ she told The Globe and Mail. Over the past year, a series of reports, which she has yet to review, found inadequate or non-existent water monitoring in the oil sands and led the province to begin overhauling its regime. Ms. McQueen demurred on several questions Wednesday, saying she’s not yet prepared to jump into the fray.”

The Vancouver Sun adds, “The rookie Drayton-Calmar MLA has been parliamentary assistant to the minister of environment and the minister of energy since arriving at the legislature in 2008. While junior environment minister under Rob Renner, McQueen was also co-chairwoman of Climate Change Central, which bills itself as, ‘an Alberta-based, not-for-profit organization working to transform the way energy is used’ by removing barriers to ‘a world powered by efficiency and clean energy’. McQueen’s professional background includes working for Amoco Canada.” Amoco is a global chemical and oil company owned by BP.

Additionally, CTV reports, “Alberta must sharpen the environmental performance of the oil sands if it is to continue expanding its most important industry, the province’s new conservation-minded Energy Minister (Ted Morton) warns. …Mr. Morton is a strong fiscal conservative who, in the 1990s, led campaigns against the Kyoto Protocol, which sought to reduce production of greenhouse gases. But he is also a hunter whose more recent public statements have focused on the need to put ‘conservation’ back into the meaning of being a ‘conservative’. He was one of the architects of a land-use planning process that has seen the province seek to set aside certain undeveloped areas of the oil sands to protect. In an interview on Wednesday, he said the oil sands industry must pollute less water and air if it is to continue growth that envisages a doubling in output over the next decade, to three million barrels a day. …’How quickly production ramps up, I think, will be a function of how good a job we do on dealing with tailing ponds, air, water and caribou issues.’ …(Morton also indicated) that the province intends to table a ‘regulatory enhancement initiative’ in the spring.”

For Council of Canadians commentary on water in Alberta in relation to the tar sands and water markets, please see http://canadians.org/tarsands and http://canadians.org/watermarkets.

Stay tuned.