EDMONTON—A former Alberta Tory environment minister has been named to lead an agency intended to help monitor the impacts of rapid oilsands and other industrial development.
Lorne Taylor will be the first chairman of the Alberta Environmental Monitoring Evaluation and Reporting Agency, which was set up in response to criticisms that provincial monitoring conducted when Taylor was minister was scientifically indefensible.
“Only in Alberta would the government not get the irony of that,” New Democrat critic Rachel Notley said.
Some expressed cautious optimism about Taylor’s appointment.
“His heart’s in the right place,” said Bill Donahue, a water scientist and adviser to the government’s oilsands monitoring program.
“He’s certainly very familiar and knowledgeable about water issues, and especially those of greatest importance in Alberta, and he’s continued to demonstrate his commitment to them since getting out of politics.”
Taylor, who points out he’s been out of government for a decade, is promising the independent, credible science Alberta industry needs to improve its international reputation.
“I think I’ve got a record of doing things and a record of achievement where people didn’t think I could do it,” he said. “Look at us in one year and see if we’ve been effective.”
Taylor’s political career during the premiership of Ralph Klein included stints as minister of science and technology and, from 2001 to 2004, environment minister.
He helped lead Alberta’s charge against the Kyoto Protocol, an international agreement on measures to fight climate change that Klein’s government considered toxic to the oil and gas industry.
In 2002, Taylor made a phone call to the head of the health region in his riding and asked why the area’s medical officer was speaking out against climate change.
That doctor—David Swann, now a Liberal member of legislature—was fired a week later.
Donahue points out that Alberta Environment failed to track the impacts of the oilsands under Taylor’s watch.
“The environmental science programs needed to actually provide the data and understanding that are required for informed decision-making and environmental management continued to be unfocused, grossly understaffed and underfunded during his tenure,” Donahue said.
Provincial officials have acknowledged that attempts to write environmental policy continue to be hampered by a lack of research that goes back many years.
Taylor said that even when he was minister, he advocated for independent monitoring.
“It was pretty clear in those days that we didn’t as a government have the credibility to talk because of our commitment and investment in the industry,” he said.
The province adopted its Water for Life policy during Taylor’s tenure, a policy still in effect.
He fought against the oilfield practice of injecting fresh water into oilwells and introduced measures such as electronic recycling.
The agency, set up in response to a series of expert panels, is intended to be an arm’s-length body that will monitor environmental impacts across the entire province, not just the oilsands.
Notley questioned how arm’s-length an agency led by a Tory insider can be.
“Mr. Taylor is the poster child for exactly the opposite,” she said.
“Yes, he’s knowledgeable. But I think he’s someone the government understands is safe. What we need is someone who is genuinely independent.”
Swann, who said he’s “moved on” from being fired, said Taylor’s appointment isn’t going to help an industry badly in need of some environmental credibility.
“This sends the wrong message to Albertans, to Canadians, to the international community about our commitment to the environment,” he said. “This is a Tory insider.”
Since leaving politics, Taylor has worked as a consultant for Alberta WaterSMART, a Calgary-based firm that advises industry and government on water use.
“He’s a refreshing example of a senior politician who’s continued to pursue public interest work, post politics,” Donahue said.