Alberta Environmental Monitoring Evaluation and Reporting Agency (CNW Group/AEMERA)
AEMERA,the recently shuttered arm’s-length agencystudying cumulative impacts of the oil sands, wasn’t perfect. One insider shared with me how poorly they were executing the inclusion of First Nations. For example, training and inclusion of indigenous people in the monitoring work was a main pillar of this organization and past iterations. However, after $200 million spent over 5 years, no indigenous monitors had a job. No traditional knowledge had been collected from elders and land users. All they had was a small advisory group of with no real decision making powers. This is a galling, unforgivable sin that should make grown men weep and force the dry to the drink.That the agency was closed down without consultation with indigenous stakeholdersis the cherry atop the cake.
It’s demise comes less than a year after receiving funding to begin to do its damn job.
Yet, arm’s-length programs like AEMEAR are absolutely overdue (the 1970s called, it was needed back then). It was the closest we’ve come to having a competent agency that was poised to understand just what kind of damage we’ve been doing to the lower Athabasca. It’s demise comes less than a year after receiving funding to begin to do its damn job. Alberta Environment minister Shannon Phillips cited an economic study by Paul Boothe as the reason to kill the program. Thestudy claims that it was a terrible waste of money, disorganized and redundant, and operating as a slush fund to make administrators and researchers rich by providing private sector wages.
This is where David Schindler and 7 other prominent scientists have come togetherto call bullshit on Boothe’s report and minister Phillip’s decision. While Boothe called it a ‘failed three year experiment,’ the scientists helpfully point out that it inherited a hoarder’s level of baggage from former versions of the program and it was unfair to hold them responsible for this, as they hadn’t adequate time to clean the mess.
“In May, 2015, other leaders were hired to clean up the mess inherited from AEP, including AEP’s terrible relationship with First Nations in Alberta…Boothe’s review of AEMERA’s performance is dated November 2015,only 4 months after AEMERA actually received the resourcesto do its job!Before then, all of Alberta’s contributions to oil sands monitoring came from AEP, primarily through outsourcing to outside agencies and contractors.” (Emphasis mine).
The letter also openly question how Boothe came to the conclusion that AEMERA staff were rolling in the dough, but rather, the positions were not competitive in today’s climate.
“A simple check with three scientists at AEMERA shows that they are paid the same or less than other civil servants of equivalent rank in AEP and elsewhere. In fact, after years of federal and provincial austerity, the salaries for scientists in AEP now are not competitive with those provided to equivalent individuals in either university or industry, suggesting that the program may actually face problems recruiting new, high quality science staff,especially given AEP’s reputation for instability in its science and monitoring programs. ” (Emphasis of sick burn mine).
In my previous article, I expressed a worry about a government run environmental agency as opposed to an arm’s length one because of the effect meddlesome, toxic politics has on good science. The letter goes on to express the same sentiment.
“Minister Phillips believes that there is public trust in government science. It is our experience in dealing with the public that this is not the case, which is why AEMERA was and still is necessary. Mistrust of government in Alberta is especially high with indigenous people. While we have every reason to believe that the Minister is sincere when she states that monitoring will continue to be transparent,we do not believe that transparency can be assured when the Minister or her party is replaced by those less committed to scientifically-defensible monitoring, like those of the last 20 years or more” (THIS).
You can find me at the bar. Look for the guy weeping.
Michael Tyas is the managing editor of One River News. He graduated the University of Manitoba with an honours degree in environmental studies, and is a professional videographer and video trainer. He produced the feature length documentary "One River, Many Relations" in Fort Chipewyan. He continues to work with indigenous communities to share their stories around resource extraction, industrial development, and impacts on traditional territories.