By Shannon Phillips - MLA West Lethbridge on July 23, 2021.
While I often spend the cold months of the year wishing for warmer and sunnier weather, I fear Mother Nature may have gone a bit overboard in the last few weeks. It’s been a long time since I can remember such a stretch of hot, dry weather. And now, as is increasingly becoming the norm in our province, wildfire smoke has drifted in to make life a little more dreary – especially for those of us with respiratory concerns. What’s most frustrating to me and my family is the tension between wanting to do as much as possible outside while the weather seems to conspire against such notions.Â
Summer often leads me to thinking about our role as stewards of our incredible province. Whether it is time spent in our incredible parks and wild places, drives with wide vistas of our incredible agricultural lands, or the role that we have in taking care of each other when severe weather events hit, I’m often left thinking about the long-term responsibilities that we have to our land, air, and water – and to each other – to leave a province that is better and fairer for our children. As residents of this province we are incredibly blessed to have so many opportunities available to us, but we also have enormous responsibility to steward what we have and ensure that our province’s natural beauty and institutions of human kindness are preserved and made more resilient to the numerous challenges ahead.Â
Unfortunately, Alberta does not currently have a premier or a government that is interested in the hard work of stewardship. Quite the opposite, in fact.Â
As many of us either return from, or prepare for, our yearly time of restoration and recreation in our mountains and parks, the Kenney government has done nothing but remove protections from our incredible natural spaces and jack up the cost of visiting these uniquely Albertan places. For just one example of this, the UCP government has partially or fully closed 20 provincial parks and recreation areas, and delisted another 164 sites. For those who might still be wondering why seemingly every-other lawn in our city has a “Save our Parks” sign, this is why: Jason Kenney and his government have made decisions that deliberately contradict our province’s strong history of conservation and stewardship of public lands.Â
It was this legacy, and our shared values of respect for our natural heritage that led my New Democrat colleagues to introduce Bill 218 in the last sitting of the Legislature earlier this spring, which would force any changes to the boundaries of provincial parks to come before the legislature, rather than being passed behind closed doors. I and our New Democrat team understand how important nature is to our physical, spiritual and mental health – and we will continue to fight the Kenney government’s attacks on our parks system until such time that Alberta has a government that recognizes the vitally important role these places have in the ecological and social life of our province.Â
As the drought conditions worsen for many of our agricultural producers in neighbouring counties and MDs, I am also thinking a great deal about the important role that we all have in stewarding our region’s waters. Whether it is the incredible work of Blackfoot women protecting our rivers from the threat of pollution and misuse, or the amazing advances being made by our region’s irrigation districts to improve the efficiency with which farmers and ranchers are using our limited water resources, everyone who calls this region home knows how vital our water is.
This year may be an exceptional reminder of the existential role that access to water plays in our region’s economic health, and why we must protect it.Â
That’s why I was so incredibly proud of the Southern Albertans from all walks of life that came together earlier this year to fight back against the Kenney government’s short-sighted efforts to allow coal strip-mining in our Eastern Slopes. Not only would this plan have created huge issues in our mountains, it would have presented grave concerns for the quality and quantity of water that would be available to our communities and economies downstream. Again, our NDP caucus sought to protect our vital water resources from the Kenney government by tabling legislation that would end coal exploration in the eastern slopes, protecting our headwaters.Â
Unfortunately, the Kenney government hasn’t just been a poor steward of our natural heritage.
The fact remains that the pillars of social contract as Albertans – strong healthcare systems, excellent education for our kids, and world-class post-secondary institutions – have also been repeatedly placed under attack by a government more interested in giveaways to profitable corporations or bellicose chest-thumping than doing what it takes to preserve our true advantage as Albertans. As your representative, I continue to work with my colleagues from across the province to fight back against these nearly-indescribable acts of negligence.Â
As always, though, our fight depends on all of us working together to send a message to Edmonton: our province isn’t a playground for bad ideas. This is our home, this will be our children’s home, and we need a government that will fight to protect what matters for the long-term.
In the meantime, stay safe this summer, and please, if you haven’t already, get your vaccination. You can find more details by visiting alberta.ca/covid19-vaccine. Also, please feel free to contact my office should you require our assistance. My staff and I can be contacted at 403-329-4644, or by emailing Lethbridge.West@assembly.ab.ca.