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Fiddling while Alberta Burns by Don Meredith © 2002
(first published in the July/August 2002 Alberta Outdoorsmen)

OWCThird Place
Magazine Column

Outdoor Writers of Canada
2003 National Communications Awards

Vision

We live in peculiar times. Despite the fact we are in a so-called "information age" and have access to more knowledge than any other generation in history, many of us refuse to acknowledge, let alone investigate, information that is freely available to help us make crucial decisions. Indeed, there appears to be a movement afoot to discredit the value of science and scientists whose job it is to provide us with reliable information on which to base decisions.

A good example is our own provincial government refusing to accept the reality of global warming, despite the overwhelming evidence of its occurrence. Just look around you at all the massive changes to our climate and weather that have occurred over the last few years and try to convince yourself otherwise. The unprecedented number of destructive forest fires and storms, and record-breaking droughts are just some of the local phenomena we observe, let alone what's going on around the world. The scientific evidence that our ever increasing use of fossil fuels is at least playing a significant role in these changes is very persuasive.

Yet, our government chooses to "cherry pick" its information, only believing those who hold to its own archaic ideology about the relationship of the economy to the environment. They choose to ignore the significant evidence presented by mainstream scientists, who have actually studied the phenomenon and had their results and conclusions reviewed by their peers from around the world.

But I digress. The decisions of the Alberta government with regard to world climate change will have the effect of a small drop in a very large bucket. Most governments around the globe realize the importance of the Kyoto Protocol on climate change and are seeking to ratify it. By not striving for an agreement with our federal government on how the accord might be accomplished, Alberta will once again be marginalized as part of the problem and not the solution, and many opportunities for economic diversification will be lost.

What's more important is that this reaction to the information on climate change is but one example of this government's dislike and distrust of science, especially science that doesn't fit its view of the world. Another example is the Minister of Sustainable Resource Development ignoring scientific studies regarding the use of barbless hooks and the collapsed state of the walleye fishery in Calling Lake. His decisions to ban barbed hooks by 2004 and allow the harvesting of walleye from a collapsed population were political and based on no science whatsoever. Indeed, ample scientific studies in both cases clearly indicated that opposite decisions should have been made. In the case of the Calling Lake walleye, the political interference may set a precedent that threatens the very existence of many fisheries across the province.

Ultimately, all policy decisions are political, and in a democracy it is indeed the right of an elected Minister and his government to make them. But shouldn't they do so with the best information available? Our government doesn't think so. It appears to believe decisions should only be made with whatever information supports what they believe will get them elected, however suspect that information might be. That's unfortunate because it indicates a real lack of political leadership in this province.

Not since Lougheed have we seen any real leadership that includes an actual vision of where this province should be going in the real world. Our current premier's biggest claim to fame is the balancing of the budget and the reduction of the debt. Those were laudable goals, especially when Klein first took office, and he and his government have accomplished a lot in meeting them. But aren't they the bare minimum any government should accomplish?

All Klein and his government can say about a "vision" is that a balanced budget and reduced debt will keep taxes low, entice industry to the province and provide jobs for a growing population. Agreed, but what kind of Alberta does that population want for itself and its children and grandchildren? Is it one with clean air, water and food, and ample opportunity to escape our ever increasing urban sprawl and enjoy some wild places with wild plants and animals? Apparently not! This government seems willing to sacrifice those long-term values for its more expedient short-term goals.

Don't believe me? Look at what has happened to the Fish and Wildlife Division over the years since Klein took office as Premier. Under Lougheed and Getty, the division played a key role in ensuring that new development was done with reference to fish and wildlife conservation so that the long term values of Alberta's heritage would be conserved while the economy was developed. With each new budget under Klein, the division's funding was systematically reduced, which included the reduction of staff in the field to do the necessary work. As well, the government privatized the trust fund set aside to conserve fish and wildlife, and reduced its impact by requiring the fund's administration be paid out of fishing and hunting licence fees. In other words, the Klein government effectively emasculated the work of the division and its supporters, getting it out of the way of a fast rising economy. Now, the Fish and Wildlife Division is a mere shell of what it once was. Ministers can easily ignore what little work is being done, and dismiss the overworked and too-few-and-far-between experts in the field. Now, Albertans must lean more and more on the federal government through its Fisheries and Endangered Species acts to do what the provincial government fails to do to protect our Alberta heritage. Now that's irony.

I guess we really can't blame Ralph Klein for this leadership vacuum. He was elected by us to do just what he's doing. But what I can't understand is how Klein and his gang see how history will treat their administration. Will he be known as the premier that oversaw the development of his province while protecting the health of the population and its environment and natural heritage? Hardly. If he steps down tomorrow, he will be just another "also ran" in the history books — hardly a footnote, except to chronicle the opportunities lost. Anyone can balance a budget and reduce debt in a booming economy. There's no rocket science there. A real leader would have taken the opportunity provided to develop the province with regard to its future — a future that includes clean air, water and food, and ample wild spaces in which people can re-create themselves and come to understand that life doesn't just revolve around balanced budgets. Life revolves around our necessary relationships with the natural world. If we ignore the science that explains those relationships and how they might be preserved, we risk the long-term prosperity this province is so capable of providing.


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Check-out Don's adventure novels:

Grizzly One
The Search
for Grizzly One
Dog Runner
Dog Runner