By Anna Desmarais
Indigenous leaders in the Northwest Territories and northern Alberta are “angry” about a reported joint decision by the federal government and Alberta to cut the budget for environmental monitoring in the oilsands.
The comments come after the Canadian Press reported that Alberta and the federal government signed a deal to reduce the budget for fieldwork on the main branch of the Athabasca River by roughly 25 per cent, to $44 million, in 2020, down from $58 million in 2019.
Gerry Cheezie, the chief of Smith’s Landing First Nation on the N.W.T.-Alberta border, said he is “dismayed” with how various levels of government are dealing with the environmental impacts of the oilsands.
The Slave River runs downstream from oilsands projects in Fort McMurray, Alta., through Smith’s Landing traditional territory in northern Alberta, all the way to Great Slave Lake in the Northwest Territories.
“I am so angry at this because it’s something we’ve been talking about for a long time with different governments and with industry,” Cheezie said. “I’m losing faith in the ability of governments to protect our people.”
Something’s got to be done.
– Cameron MacDonald, Fort Chipewyan Métis president
The decision allegedly cancels field studies on wetlands, fish, insects and a pilot project to gauge the risks of tailings ponds for nearby water systems.
Water quality assessment for Wood Buffalo National Park is also ending, according to the Canadian Press report.
Suspending water quality monitoring during pandemic a ‘serious oversight,’ says expert
Minister clarifies budget cuts
When asked about the smaller budget for environmental monitoring of the oilsands on Edmonton AM on Wednesday, Jonathan Wilkinson, Canada’s environment and climate change minister, said “there was no decision to cut anything,” and that the budget cuts are a result of a shortened research season due to COVID-19.