Premier backs Shan­non Phillips in parks row

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FORT SASKATCHEWAN Premier Rachel Not­ley is re­sist­ing grow­ing op­po­si­tion de­mands to fire her en­vi­ron­ment min­is­ter over com­ments about RCMP in­volve­ment in a new parks plan.

“I cer­tainly will not (fire Phillips),” Not­ley said when asked Thurs­day.

“We have made tremen­dous progress in the last three years (on the en­vi­ron­men­tal file) and that has hap­pened as a re­sult of the de­ter­mined, in­formed, in­tel­li­gent lead­er­ship of the min­is­ter, who has my com­plete sup­port."

The Op­po­si­tion United Con­ser­va­tives and the Al­berta Party want Phillips to step down over her re­marks about the RCMP’s role in pub­lic in­for­ma­tion ses­sions on a pro­posal to cre­ate a net­work of provin­cial parks in western Al­berta.

The plan calls for eight new parks cov­er­ing 4,000 square kilo­me­tres in what is known as Bighorn Coun­try along the eastern edges of Banff and Jasper na­tional parks.

Res­i­dents and area of­fi­cials have raised con­cerns about how the project might af­fect oil and gas ex­plo­ration, the forestry in­dus­try and off-road ve­hi­cle use.

The gov­ern­ment is get­ting pub­lic feed­back on­line and planned to hold a num­ber of com­mu­nity in­for­ma­tion ses­sions. Two were held in Rocky Moun­tain House in De­cem­ber. But last week­end Phillips an­nounced she was can­celling the re­main­ing four sched­uled for this week after re­ceiv­ing re­ports that pub­lic safety was at risk.

Phillips told me­dia on Sun­day that she made the de­ci­sion after con­sult­ing with her of­fi­cials and the RCMP, but Moun­ties said in a state­ment they did not — and can­not — give ad­vice on such mat­ters.

On Wed­nes­day, ad­dress­ing con­cerns she had over-re­acted on the se­cu­rity threat, Phillips said nine of her of­fi­cials had re­ported be­ing ha­rassed over the Bighorn plan. She also said there were at least two RCMP in­ves­ti­ga­tions into the mat­ter.

Hours later, she clar­i­fied that the RCMP had re­ceived two com­plaints, but there were no in­ves­ti­ga­tions.

Mike El­lis, the United Con­ser­va­tive jus­tice critic, said it’s an in­tol­er­a­ble pat­tern of de­cep­tion and Phillips must go.

“The min­is­ter has shat­tered any trust that re­mained be­tween her­self and those most af­fected by the Bighorn plan,” he said in a state­ment.

“It’s clear that the min­is­ter can no longer ef­fec­tively per­form her du­ties.”

The United Con­ser­va­tives have said they share all safety con­cerns, but have not seen such be­hav­iour at the fo­rums.

Al­berta Party Leader Stephen Man­del said in a state­ment that “mis­lead­ing the pub­lic as to the level of threat and the in­volve­ment of the RCMP af­fects the cred­i­bil­ity of Ms. Phillips as a cab­i­net min­is­ter.

“She no longer has the con­fi­dence of the Al­berta Party to be able to ex­e­cute the du­ties at­tached to her role, and as such she must re­sign im­me­di­ately.”

Matt Dyk­stra, a spokesman for Phillips’s de­part­ment, said the min­is­ter’s state­ments were hon­est mis­takes which she quickly clar­i­fied.

“Her words have since been twisted by the UCP and Al­berta Party in ways that have been in­ac­cu­rate, dis­pro­por­tion­ate and ir­re­spon­si­ble to pub­lic de­bate,” said Dyk­stra.

“The min­is­ter al­ways strives to pro­vide ac­cu­rate state­ments and has cor­rected her­self when mis­s­peak­ing. She ex­tends the same cour­tesy to oth­ers, ask­ing for clar­i­fi­ca­tion and res­o­lu­tion be­fore de­mand­ing ac­tion.”

Phillips has said she will try to resched­ule the in-per­son ses­sions in Dray­ton Val­ley, Red Deer, Sun­dre and Ed­mon­ton if she can be sat­is­fied peo­ple would be safe.

She has been in the en­vi­ron­ment port­fo­lio since Not­ley’s NDP gov­ern­ment came to power in 2015. The min­is­ter has shep­herded files on Al­berta’s cli­mate change plan, the car­bon tax and a cap on oil­sands emis­sions.

CP FILE PHOTO

Al­berta Min­is­ter of En­vi­ron­ment and Parks Shan­non Phillips says there have been nine cases of ver­bal and other ha­rass­ment of gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials sur­round­ing hear­ings into the con­tro­ver­sial Bighorn County park plan. Shan­non Phillips says two of the cases are se­ri­ous, but de­clined to give fur­ther de­tails.

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