Alberta’s Environment Minister Jason Nixon confirmed Tuesday that the new United Conservative Party government will scrap the controversial conservation plan in Bighorn Country.
Lethbridge-West MLA, and Nixon’s predecessor, Shannon Phillips was at the forefront of the now derailed effort to create eight new parks covering 4,000 square kilometers in what is known as Bighorn Country along the eastern edges of Banff and Jasper national parks.
During a fractious period of consultation on the proposed project, Phillips had to cancel a number of local consultations alleging “bullying, abuse and concerns over personal safety.”
She later admitted to misspeaking, but continued to avoid consultation talks with Sunchild, Stoney, Alexis Sioux First Nations.
The proposal under then Minister Phillips called for $40 million to be dispersed over five years for essential infrastructure and campsites.
“It was the worst consultation process that I’ve seen,” Nixon stated.
“All of the First Nations communities in the area and all of the municipalities in the area have outright rejected the NDP’s plan.”
Residents and municipal officials have raised concerns about how the proposal might affect oil and gas exploration, the forestry industry, and off-road vehicle use.
“Second, there was a tremendous amount of economic concerns and questions that were not answered. There was also some environmental questions and concerns that were not answered.”
Nixon says the province will return to the North Saskatchewan regional planning process to better understand economic and environmental implications for the area.
Phillips feels this goes against protecting conversation, noting that most Albertans were in support for the Bighorn Proposal.
“Clearly this new minister is not interested in conservation, which is not surprising considering his record,” she said in a statement.
During the election campaign, UCP Candidate Kara Barker voiced her concern that the government had not properly considered the importance of consulting local residents, many of whom would be impacted by the Bighorn proposal.
It’s “our duty to consult,” she states. “Minister Phillips’ lack of consultation on the grounds of a phony RCMP investigation was concerning.” Noting a ‘lack of safety’ ultimately earned the Environment Minister a new title: “Minister of Hyperbole.”
The Post Millennial had the opportunity to follow up with Barker on the recent developments on Bighorn.
Scrapping the proposal “was necessary,” she states. “I would agree with Minister Nixon that the consultation process did not actively involve Indigenous people, nor other key stakeholder groups.”
Barker found the lack of consultations “appalling,” citing “it wasn’t done in a fair way.”
Upon reviewing the North Saskatchewan regional planning process, she thought it was “a really a good strategy” because it incorporated a more fair and balanced approach.
“A lot of the key stakeholder groups, with interests in ranching to extracting minerals from the area, including people concerned about conservation would be consulted. If one really takes a robust read about it, surely, it addresses a lot of those issues that constituents would be concerned about.”