Former premier Ralph Klein used to have a saying about governing that a political leader should see which way the parade is headed and jump in front of it if they want to be successful.
This pro-bandwagon philosophy might be exactly the advice that our current premier, Jason Kenney, and his UCP government need right now when it comes to the future of coal mining in the eastern slopes and Rocky Mountains of Alberta.
The parade is big at this point and has an ever growing lineup of big name supporters like country music stars Paul Brandt and Corb Lund.
Over the past week, NDP opposition leader Rachel Notley introduced a private member's bill – The Eastern Slopes Protection Act – that would cancel coal exploration activities in the eastern slopes, cancel existing leases on some lands and prohibit coal mining on others.
It is the only opposition member bill to make it past the UCP dominated Private Bills and Private Member's Public Bills Committee. While this is a positive development, it still has to make it through debate in the legislature and three readings before it can become law.
This legislation would also prevent the Alberta Energy Regulator from making any more approvals in some areas and cancel some of the leases already approved by the UCP since the 1976 Coal Development Policy was rescinded last year.
The campaign against this decision by the UCP has been gaining momentum. That is because Albertans value these pristine wilderness spaces as they are, not as ways to increase the gross domestic product of the entire province.
The ways these coal leases and agreements were done by this government even calls that intention into question. From the leasehold terms to the drastically reduced royalty rate offered to these coal companies – the economic benefit of this endeavour is weak at best.
We know our government and its opposition have not during this term in office worked well together – there has been very little compromise that has occurred to improve legislation. But this right here is a chance for the UCP to turn the tides on its ever sinking poll numbers and popularity.
We all know the direction of the parade on this issue – it is headed towards upholding conservation values and protecting large undisturbed areas of one of our biggest exports – nature.
Prior to COVID, we had a $10 billion tourism industry humming along in Alberta. The biggest draw, and source of these revenues, are the provincial and national park systems that are protected and conserved (for the most part) to sustain the ecological integrity of these important natural resources and provide outdoor recreation opportunities.
The coal mining in the eastern slopes puts the reputation of Alberta as a tourism destination at risk. It puts clean drinking water for millions of Canadians at risk. It puts the future of this planet at risk because the last thing we need to be doing is burning more coal and contributing to the ever increasing amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and anthropogenic climate change.
If Kenney, his cabinet and the UCP get on board with this private member's bill, and having listened to Albertans who are speaking up loud and clear about what direction they are headed, this government would gain some credibility as responsive legislators.
They would demonstrate they can work with their contemporaries in the opposition to make life better in this province, and they would demonstrate they can listen to Albertans and what they want for their future.
They would also demonstrate one of the most important skills of a sitting government – the ability to admit when they got it wrong and to take corrective action to fix their mistake. The truth builds trust and when our elected officials do away with all the spin and politics, and become flawed human beings going through life to the best of their ability just like the rest of us – they may even gain back some of the support they have lost.