It was snowing in Edmonton last week, but it wasn’t precipitation falling from the sky. Reams and reams of shredded government documents from over the course of the former PC government’s 44 year reign piled up outside the legislature in the wake of the NDP win.
And now some of those shredded documents have come under the closer scrutiny of the Privacy and Public Interest Commissioners. The commissioners announced a joint investigation into the Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Resource Development last Wednesday after a receiving a whistleblower tip from a ministry insider claiming improper document shredding, skullduggery and cover up.
None of these accusations have been proven, and the investigation will likely take several months to complete, but it would be surprising if there wasn’t some truth to the claims. A government which has been in power as long as the former one must have had more than its fair share of skeletons in the closet: Records of backroom deals, of favours done and received, and formerly suppressed information which would make the government look bad if it were to see the light of day.
It’s also not surprising the Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Resource Development would be caught up in such tawdry allegations. Accused by environmental activists of being little more than a rubber stamp institution for Alberta’s energy sector for decades, the Ministry has frequently been subjected to harsh questions about oil sands development, environmental health and public safety in Alberta which it has had difficulty answering.
One lawsuit, for example, currently before the court alleges the Ministry failed to make a proper investigation when fracking released hazardous amounts of methane, ethane and other chemicals into a well on a property near Rosebud, north of Calgary. The claimant Jessica Ernst won the right to sue the Ministry, Alberta’s Energy Regulator and Encana for $33 million last November.
While the Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Resource Development is the first to receive closer scrutiny under the new NDP government, it will likely not be the last. There is always a certain amount of cronyism in any government, but the longer said government stays in power the larger the web of favours asked and received which binds insider interests together, sometimes to the detriment of the larger public good.
However, Premier-designate Notley is too good a politician to push too hard and too fast until she has managed her transition into power, received all the keys that go with her office and consolidated her own base of support within the government. She also has to put out a new budget for the province as her first priority before other matters can be considered.
After that expect more stones in Edmonton to be overturned to see what crawls out.