[Note: The following was first published in the January 2012 Alberta Outdoorsmen.]
This is a very interesting period in Alberta’s history. For the first time in nearly 20 years there is a serious provincial election in the offing (probably this spring) where the outcome is not predetermined. Although the current Progressive Conservative government still has the inside track (because of its incumbency, new leader, finances and divided opposition), it is also more vulnerable to defeat than it has been in a long time (as a result of its track record, voter fatigue, untested leader and new opposition leaders).
Indeed, if you want to affect future government policy, now is the time to let all parties know what you think is important. As I have related in this column and elsewhere, fish and wildlife conservation has been taking a seat further and further back from mainstream government policy for 30 or more years. If enough people should let the parties know that fish and wildlife conservation is an important part of Alberta’s heritage and health, then we might see it raised to a level of importance that actually ensures its viability. A long shot I know, but still worth the effort.
Each party has developed a set of policies for voters to read and assess. I know, a party’s policy is a long way from actual government action on the ground, but in an election, it is the best we have and does provide a basis for starting a conversation with a politician looking for your vote. Let’s look at the policies of each party with respect to the environment and fish and wildlife conservation in particular.
Being the governing party, the Progressive Conservative’s policies stand the best chance of implementation. The following is quoted from the party’s “Statement of Principles”:
STEWARDSHIP OF OUR ENVIRONMENT
Sustaining the quality of our air, water, soil, wildlife, and natural environment is important to Albertans. We must ensure that our activities, growth and development take place in an environmentally sensitive manner for the benefit of current and future generations.
That is pretty much a “motherhood and apple pie” statement this day and time when parties are expected to at least pay lip service to the environment. Indeed, without specifics, such a statement leaves a lot of margin for interpretation, which is pretty much par-for-the-course for a government in power that doesn’t like to limit its options. For example, just what do they mean by “sustaining”, and what is “an environmentally sensitive manner”? And of course, if they are truly concerned about “current and future generations” have their past activities indicated such?
Wildrose Alliance Party
As the party polls suggest is the next most likely to seat a government, the Wildrose Alliance Party’s policies will be the basis for much discussion during the election. Its Environment policy is fairly extensive if somewhat contradictory. Because of space limitations, I will focus on its Conservation, and Wildlife and Hunting policies. The following quotations are taken from the party’s “2011 Member Approved Principles and Policies” (which peculiarly can no longer be found on the Wildrose web site. In fact, fish and wildlife and wildlife and hunting is no longer mentioned. Could it be they don’t want to become too committed to these ideas with an election looming…?):
Wildrose members believe the Government of Alberta should:
4. recognize the value of parks to society and protect them from intrusive activities.
5. require governments to meet responsible environmental standards in their procurement, recycling and construction operations.
6. conserve Alberta’s environment and monitor environmental impacts with enforcement provisions while balancing economic development opportunities.
G. Wildlife and Hunting
Wildrose members believe the Government of Alberta should:
13. protect the rights of hunters and anglers and should ensure that Alberta’s wildlife populations are sustained and competently managed.
Although I disagree with how these issues were organized (i.e., conserving fish and wildlife should have been included in Conservation), at least they specifically included fish and wildlife, unlike the policy statements of other parties. Otherwise, these are mostly “motherhood” statements that require more clarity and specifics. For example, where do aquatic ecosystems, endangered species, etc. fit in? They do deserve points for recognizing the rights of hunters and anglers. No other party has done so in their policies (and it looks like the Wildrose has had second thoughts since I wrote this piece…?).
The poor NDP. The best they have ever done in this province is seat an official opposition. However, they seem to survive on being Alberta’s conscience, pointing out where governments go wrong, especially with social programs, health, education and the environment. They are a political force that should be respected. The following quote is from the New Democrat Party’s “Where We Stand” document on their web site:
Alberta’s NDP would implement:
Put wildlife, water, air and natural areas back on the priority list. This includes implementing recovery plans for our threatened and endangered species while protecting the natural spaces where they live.
Full marks to the NDP for realizing the need to put the environment back in high priority. Unfortunately, the remainder of the policy statement concentrates on specific issues and is not really policy. Don’t take my word for it, read the statement yourself.
Alberta Liberal Party
What can you say about the Liberals, a party that once-upon-a-time seated a government in this province? Like their federal counterparts, this bewildered party has lost its way as others take the political centre away. Unfortunately, it’s environmental/conservation policies reflect this. The following quote is taken from the Liberal’s “What We Stand For” document on their web site:
Flourishing Natural Areas
To Alberta Liberals, protecting the environment is mostly about people. But there’s another very good reason to look after the natural world around us: it’s the right thing to do. Enabling natural areas to flourish is a profound ethical responsibility, one we should all take very seriously.
This statement reflects all that is wrong with politics in this province with regard to the environment. Protecting natural areas, the environment and fish and wildlife is not just “the right thing to do”, it is the fundamental thing to do to ensure true prosperity and quality of life. It is statements like the above that allow governments to push the environment and conservation aside for the benefit of short-term economic gain. Go back to the drawing board, Liberals!
One of the reasons the Liberals and NDP will be blocked from forming the official opposition is the formation of the Alberta Party, which has taken members from both parties. It also appears to have stolen many of the policy wonks, as this party’s policy document is the most comprehensive of all the parties. It is well worth a read, no matter what your political persuasion. However, the conservation of fish and wildlife is not specifically mentioned, although implied. This party has a long way to go before it will become a political force, but its policies are on the right track.
Of course, party policies are just one of the many reasons people vote the way they do. However, if you are concerned about specific polices, such as fish and wildlife conservation, then they do provide a basis to question the various candidates and hopefully raise the profile of your concerns in the election and hopefully in the minds of the government that is eventually elected. Don’t let this opportunity pass. The 2012 election may just be the best chance we will have to affect future government policy.
So, what’s wrong with that?