I have lived my entire life on the Prairies. I grew up on the unceded lands of Treaty 4, traditional territories of Anihšināpē, Nehiyaw, Lakota, Nakota, and Dakota peoples, and the homeland of the Métis people. Winters here are cold, windy, and sunny. Spring finds us watching the magnificent return of various species of birds and it is always a welcome to hear their return to these lands. Unfortunately, this territory is also witnessing a significant shift in weather patterns as climate change is underway here, as it is across our world.
Here as elsewhere across this land, the political landscape is leaving its own impact. In a previous analysis I stated:
“The controversial and divisive Alberta Sovereignty Within a United Canada Act, Bill 1, was passed by the Government of Alberta’s legislature after the provision that granted Danielle Smith’s cabinet the power to bypass the legislature and rewrite laws as it saw fit was removed.
Bill 1 in Alberta and the similar Bill 88 in Saskatchewan are cause for reflection on key issues. As the global environmental crisis deepens, unprecedented change is unfolding in lands and waters around the world. Isn’t it time we started to think differently about our relationships with each other and with the lands beneath our feet?”
On December 8th, 2022, the Guardian published an analysis of Bill 1:
“The New Democratic party leader, Rachel Notley, condemned the bill as “horrible, anti-democratic legislation” and pledged to scrap it if her party wins the provincial election in May. Indigenous leaders have also criticized Alberta’s legislation, as well as a similar bill that recently passed in Saskatchewan.”
Of course I am referencing the Alberta provincial election on May 25th. The prospects of the coming Alberta election has a lot of us watching and listening closely. It could be and should be a game change for the people, industry, the economy, and the environment.
The Alberta tar sands and their tailings
On March 2nd, 2023, CBC published a shocking news article that has caused and is continuing to cause significant implications to impacted communities:
“A northern Alberta Indigenous leader has accused Imperial Oil Ltd. of a nine-month cover-up over a massive release of toxic oilsands tailings on land near where his band harvests food.
Chief Allan Adam of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation said Thursday that Imperial executives had several chances to tell him in person about the leak after it was discovered in May 2022.
He learned about it after the province’s energy regulator issued an environmental protection order on Feb. 6.”
The Imperial Oil scandal has triggered widespread criticism and controversy as it is becoming increasingly clear that the Alberta Energy Regulator should have been more transparent and done its due diligence as it was aware for at least nine months that the Imperial Oil’s Kearl mine was leaking tailings into the Athabasca River.
Last fall, our Edmonton chapter co-hosted a three-part webinar series with the Indigenous-led Keepers of the Water, specific to the Alberta tar sands and the impact tar sands and tailings have on biodiversity, the environment, and communities in the region. It was a great success and in February and March of this year, the chapter followed up with three online study and action circles that provided attendees with the opportunity to delve deeper into the complexities of this disastrous situation and what steps can be taken moving forward. The specific goal of the study and action circles was to ensure that the environmental and social crisis that is the tar sands and tailings are an election issue for the May 25th Alberta provincial election.
In addition to the fight against toxic tailings, there continues to be discussions on a campaign to sue Big Oil.
Leaks from the tar sands’ tailings aren’t the only threat posed by extractive industry in the Prairie region, and there are alarming signs that the ongoing destabilization of the environment is having unpredictable impacts on the region.
On November 30th, 2022, a 5.6-magnitude earthquake shook the remote Peace River region in northwestern Alberta. This drew the attention of scientists, as the region has been experiencing increased seismic activity. On March 16th, 2023 the region experienced more, smaller tremors. The activity is a part of Canada’s oil sands region. On March 23rd, 2023, Stanford University researchers published an article that finds wastewater disposal from oil production is what triggered the major earthquake and highly likely the ones after. Our Edmonton chapter is working on a response to this!
Small Modular Reactors (SMRs)
With the threat posed by fossil fuels becoming increasingly – and catastrophically – obvious, the conversation around energy transition is becoming more urgent. It’s critical at this time to make sure that industry doesn’t get to drive the conversation around what that energy transition looks like. One area where we’re fighting is against the push for SMRs.
Our Regina and Saskatoon chapters have engaged in discussions around SMRs and the need to have a campaign to push back against moving forward with a plan to build them. SaskPower has published a blog that states a decision on whether or not to transition to nuclear power through SMRs won’t be made until 2029, and SMRs will “have to be cost-competitive with other sources of baseload, GHG emissions-free generation options, and make economic sense for Saskatchewan for us to proceed.” However, Saskatchewan activists have been working diligently to demonstrate that SMRs, which are an unproven technology that can generate nuclear waste with a half-life of thousands, if not millions of years, is not a safe or meaningful climate solution. We all need a just transition away from not only oil and gas but all energy sources that threaten our environment.
A major focus of discussions from the Edmonton chapter and NGO allies has been ensuring that all efforts include discussions and consultation with Indigenous peoples of their area. This has resulted in opportunities to share mutual concerns and build strong solidarity networks. This coming year is rapidly shaping up to be one that provides Indigenous-led direction and an increased recognition of the vital need to ensure that there is little duplication of efforts among organizations. We all must ensure we are using what capacity we all have as a collective to move towards a better, more just world, and using our individual time and efforts to achieve maximum momentum within the broader collective movement!
Red Deer Chapter’s Conversation Series
In February and March, the Red Deer chapter hosted a four-part conversation series that provided attendees action-oriented discussions on priorities for change for an Alberta for all, a revised economy for Alberta that has a focus on public services, a response to the climate crisis, and the state of democracy in the province. They were well attended and informative. The chapter is working on next steps.
Overall, Alberta chapters are the most active and the coming months are going to be exciting. In Alberta, the major focus for now will be making the tailings disaster and election issue of the upcoming election. We will be focusing on the national office’s pharmacare, just transition, and water campaigns. Our Winnipeg chapter is back and ready to get into some serious work. There is a significant number of people in the Winnipeg area that feel strongly about pushing and winning for universal pharmacare so I am expecting their town hall to bring out a lot of folks who are ready to make a stand. Interest has been expressed by both Alberta and Saskatchewan chapters to pursue local campaigns on pharmacare. Friends of Medicare will be leading the charge in Alberta and has already stated they will host a town hall there. As for the other two campaigns, work is already well underway by local chapters, so we should see a lot of events unfolding in the coming months!
Local chapters across the country have long been a political home to a network of local activists committed to resisting corporate power, strengthening democracy, and working for social, economic, and environmental justice. Chapters are leaders in their communities as they engage with Council of Canadians campaigns on water, just transition, or pharmacare, as well as regional and local issues of importance. As we continue to hold our government accountable, expose the corporate agenda, and push for policies that put people, planet, and democracy first, it has never been more important to get involved in your local community, engage in the critical work of public education and engagement, and build back power together. Join the fight by becoming a member of the Council of Canadians and joining a chapter near you.
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