The campaign team travelled to the Whaleback (Friday). For those who haven’t been there, it is an extraordinarily beautiful place, a gem on the map of Alberta. It comprises a full two percent of the province’s land and attracts outdoor enthusiasts and nature-lovers alike. But back in the early 1990s, the future of this special place was in jeopardy.
At the time, one of Canada’s largest petroleum producers, Amoco Corporation, had applied for gas licences to open up the Whaleback. Thirteen ranching families of the Maycroft area were determined to fight Amoco to protect it from development. It was the biggest environmental battle of the 1990s and a classic David and Goliath story.
I took on the case as the lawyer for the thirteen families in 1993 at a hearing which would become one of Alberta’s best known environmental cases.
The hearing by the Energy Utilities Board was held in the 100-year old Maycroft Community Hall and months were spent cross-examining witnesses and representatives from the oil company. It was a tough battle that raged through 1993 and 1994 and eventually led to the EUB ruling in favour of the families. It was a dramatic and surprising environmental win in Alberta and it impacted how oil companies did business in Alberta and the way in which they had to consult. It changed the way that I, and many others, thought about protecting the rights of farmers and ranchers.
As Albertans, we care deeply about our natural world and we feel a connection to the land and our environment. I’ve never met a farmer or a rancher who isn’t a conservationist. Yet, we are also an oil and gas producing province. I’ve often said, you can’t be in the energy business without being in the environment business. The roots of this understanding for me came from the Whaleback.
The other major reflection from my time on this case was on the property rights of farmers and ranchers. Witnessing these families’ passion for the Whaleback and their determination to maintain the natural beauty of the landscape drove me to take on their cause and to continue to fight for more stringent public policy to protect the rights of landowners. I remain committed—just as I have my entire life—to protect the property rights of Albertans.
It’s what I pledged during my leadership bid, and that’s why the first piece of legislation I introduced when I became Premier was an Act to protect property rights.