Alberta goes to the polls today, and by tonight the Fort McMurray – Wood Buffalo riding will have a new representative in the provincial legislative assembly. Fort Chipewyan and Mikisew Cree First Nation, as well as the Athabasca River Delta, are in this riding, so results of this election will have significant impact on the well-being and future of these communities and ecosystems.
According to the Environmental and Human Health Implications of Athabasca Oil Sands report, issued in 2014, there are direct links between the toxins released by the Oil Sands industry and the higher-than-average rates of cancer diagnoses in communities downstream. Three out of four candidates for the Fort McMurray – Wood Buffalo provincial riding have promised to prioritize improving health care services in the region, though most of the specific details they offer pertain to the construction of a health care facility for the elderly, rather than addressing the life-threatening illnesses that stem from the lifeblood of the local and national economies.
Whoever wins tonight, whether it be Mike Allen (Progressive Conservative Association of Alberta), Robin Le Fevre (Alberta Liberal Party), Stephen Drover (Alberta New Democratic Party), or Tany Yao (Wildrose Party of Alberta), they will find the task of representing the interests of their constituents challenging. Their work will be wrought with contradiction between support of the industry upon which much depends, and the severe implications it has on the health, well-being, livelihoods, futures of their constituents.
In theory, the Fort McMurray – Wood Buffalo MLA should be the strongest advocate for the coexistence of industry, health, well-being, and sustainable livelihoods – both industrial and traditional. Time will tell whether they are up for the challenge.
Jonathan Ventura is the web assistant with One River, Many Relations. His formal education in environmental policy & law, as well as his passion and experience in community based research and mobilization brings a unique perspective to the project.