Is Tar Sands Development Driving Weaker Parks Legislation?

Albertans have been struggling to understand the reasoning behind Bill 29, the Alberta Parks Act, which is proposing to substantially weaken protection of Alberta’s network of provincial parks and protected areas. Alberta Wilderness Association (AWA) believes that tar sands development is a key driver for the Government of Alberta to pass Bill 29 as swiftly as possible.

The Alberta government has proposed to establish new undefined “Conservation Areas” for the Lower Athabasca land‐use region. A weakening of protected areas legislation through Bill 29 would allow the government to call these areas Provincial Parks, which sounds impressive, but then zone them for the intensive depletion and destruction of forests, wetlands and water from oilsands development, thus making them meaningless for wildlife protection.

“The significant weakening of our parks laws is not being driven by Albertans, who support creation of more areas protected from development, but by industry”, says Nigel Douglas, AWA Conservation Specialist.

“All government strategies now seem fixated on unlimited tar sands development,” adds Carolyn Campbell, AWA Conservation Specialist. “It’s just this sort of decision that is giving Alberta such a poor international reputation now.”

AWA believes that Bill 29 should be withdrawn as it now stands. AWA also calls on Premier Stelmach to pledge that new protected areas in northern Alberta will not allow oilsands development, and to ensure that maintenance or restoration of ecological integrity will be the legal priority in managing Alberta’s protected areas, in keeping with other jurisdictions. AWA calls on Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers and oilsands companies to publicly support "no industrial dispositions" in new tar sands region protected areas.

If passed, Bill 29 would greatly weaken existing parks protection because it:

  • would remove the certainty of protection in the current legislation, and devolve it to allow future ministers to make changes whenever they want, with only a requirement for public ‘notice’ before making changes;
  • would provide the Parks Minister with legal authority to grant new leases, such as to oil and gas or forestry, in a Provincial Park subject to the regulations. This especially weakens existing Wilderness Areas and Ecological Reserves, but creates uncertainty for all protected areas;
  • would set the overall purpose of Alberta’s parks system as balancing environmental conservation with tourism and recreation; ecological integrity is one aspect of environmental conservation, but is not the priority, in contrast to most other Canadian jurisdictions.

For more information:

  • Nigel Douglas, AWA Conservation Specialist (403) 283‐2025
  • Carolyn Campbell, AWA Conservation Specialist (403) 283‐2025