|MLA Pat Stier|
Last weeks’ sudden announcement by the NDP government of the creation of a new provincial park in the Castle region, has spiked a great deal of interest and controversy to local industry, the local communities and the public at large.
As a life-long resident of the Foothills area and as the Member of the Legislative Assembly representing the Crowsnest region, I know and fully agree that it is paramount that clean air, water and good land stewardship are being addressed and respected. Furthermore, I also know very well that an important decision such as this should have been made only after a series of robust public consultations involving all stakeholders that clearly described what was being considered, including potential impacts to the local economy, was conducted. Previous polls have indicated that there appears to be broad-based support for protecting the Castle region and I am sure any new public consultation would result in the same consensus. However, that being said, a poll of less than 1,000 residents like the most recent one of 2011, should never trump due process and it is critical that a full and proper public consultation still takes place.
One of my responsibilities as an MLA, includes regularly participating in the Highway 3 Committee with Mayors and Reeves from across Southern Alberta, where we continue to discuss the benefits of twinning this important transportation corridor and promoting tourism plus, industry, growth, local businesses, and to encourage new industries to consider the SW Highway 3 corridor as a place to locate. However, “Smart Growth and Development”, a planning industry standard, can only occur when full public consultation takes place, to ensure that major changes are given exhaustive review to ensure we unlock the full potential of our communities. For example, industries that may be already involved in significant investments in development such as Coal or Oil & Gas projects that already do or would have supplied hundreds of local jobs, should always be involved in these discussions as they are key stakeholders. Additionally, full consultation with the public and the logging industry would aid in ensuring the Fire Smart Program, which is a vital tool in addressing the threat of an increase in the number and intensity of wildfires in the Crowsnest Region, would not be severely weakened. Those are just two examples of key issues that should be discussed during a robust public consultation process.
In the past, major land use proposals such as the installation of major power transmission lines and the creation of the South Saskatchewan Regional Plan, involved significant public consultation on a step-by-step basis, after every stage of the decision making process. There were opportunities for all stakeholders, including business owners, local elected officials, and the general public, to ensure they were properly informed at each stage of development. Contrast that with this government’s announcement last week, that cancelled a logging contract and disallowed new natural resource extraction; - it was extremely clear that not only a normal public consultation process had not been followed, it was in fact instead, purposefully avoided altogether.
Does a 30 day window for comment after a decision is made suffice? Obviously not! My office has received numerous concerns about this lack of process, the impact on current and future jobs in the region, and the worry that the proponents of new development proposals having concerns with future abilities to receive approvals for new projects or enhance their current operations, will look instead to other areas for a more welcoming business climate. It is my hope that this government takes a step back for a more thorough review, prior to putting this new legislation in place.