Redford government won’t appeal court ruling that oilsands review process was biased

Mixed message in Alberta Environment Minister’s mea culpa by Graham Thompson, November 14, 2013, Edmonton Journal
Is it good news or bad news? On Wednesday, Alberta Environment Minister Diana McQueen issued a terse news release saying the government is not appealing a recent ruling from Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Richard Marceau. In case you’ve forgotten, Marceau issued a scathing decision last month against the government for barring two environmental groups from a hearing into an oilsands expansion project.

If that doesn’t ring a bell, Marceau described the government’s environmental review process as “tainted,” “fatally flawed” and suffering from a “direct apprehension of bias.”

At the heart of Marceau’s ruling was a scheming internal government briefing note that only came to light during the court proceedings. Put bluntly, the note written by an unnamed senior environment official said the government only wanted to hear from organizations friendly to the oilsands and wanted to bar organizations deemed to be unfriendly. The evidence indicated the government had blatantly displayed a bias and had breached its own rules. The decision was so damning that the government initially didn’t know how to respond except by trying to avoid talking about the ruling altogether or by saying the news media had misrepresented the judge’s conclusions.

For six weeks the government refused to say whether it would appeal. On Wednesday, in a three-paragraph news release, McQueen said she would not fight and offered up a bland assessment that the ruling “has provided us with an opportunity to assess the work my staff does” and added “Albertans can have confidence that directly affected decisions made by my staff are unbiased and meet all the legal requirements set out by the Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act and the Water Act.” It’s difficult to see how anyone could have confidence in the government’s environmental review process after reading Marceau’s ruling, especially since the government refuses to acknowledge the judge’s strong language. In fact, by not launching an appeal, the government is accepting Marceau’s damning conclusions. That could be good news for Albertans. Rather than going down with the ship fighting, the government seems to be quietly accepting the judgment. Perhaps it even hopes to do better. [Emphasis added]

Redford government won’t appeal court ruling that oilsands review process was biased by James Wood, November 13, 2013, Calgary Herald
The Redford government won’t appeal a court decision that blasted the province for barring environmental groups from a regulatory review of oilsands projects in 2012. Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Richard Marceau ruled in October that Alberta Environment officials “breached the rules of fundamental justice” and displayed bias as they enacted a policy that stopped the Oil Sands Environmental Coalition from having standing in such reviews. The Progressive Conservative government had suggested it might appeal the decision but on Wednesday Environment Minister Diana McQueen released a statement that said the province would pursue no further legal action. “It is important that all directly affected Albertans share their environmental concerns with us on industry projects. Moving forward, we will continue to ensure that each and every potential Statement of Concern is reviewed on its own merits and decisions are made in accordance with the policies and legislation,” she said. McQueen said that Marceau’s ruling had provided the government an opportunity to assess the work staff does related to the review process. “Albertans can have confidence that directly affected decisions made by my staff are unbiased and meet all the legal requirements set out by the Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act and the Water Act,” she said. [Emphasis added]

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