POLITICS

Alberta green groups expecting much from Rachel Notley's NDP government

05/06/2015 01:01 EDT | Updated 05/06/2016 05:59 EDT
EDMONTON - Green groups expect much from the New Democrats who painted Alberta orange in the provincial election Tuesday.

"There's been a commitment for Alberta to be a leader in protecting our environment and we're very much looking forward to follow-through," said Carolyn Campbell of the Alberta Wilderness Association.

Premier-designate Rachel Notley spoke often on environmental issues when she was in opposition and environmentalists say they'll hold her to those positions.

In her first news conference Wednesday, Notley said climate change will be among the first issues to come up.

"I'm going to be meeting with public servants and getting briefed on the critical issues the government has before it. I suspect that will be one of them," she said.

That's good news, said Ed Whittingham of the Pembina Institute, a clean energy think-tank.

"I think their first move is a credible plan to tackle climate change. The current approach that Alberta's been taking has been far too weak."

The previous Tory government had promised a plan this June. Whittingham said Notley should at least keep to that timetable.

That strategy should also include a new, higher price on carbon and a plan to phase out coal-fired power generation, said Whittingham.

The new government also needs to live up to its promises to promote renewable power, said Mike Hudema of Greenpeace.

"We expect that they will move to support the growth of renewable energy in the province and that they will also look at ways to tackle the rampant emissions from the tar sands as well."

Campbell said Notley must keep her promise to strike a better balance between habitat protection and industrial development.

"We look forward to caribou ranges that meet federal requirements ... and much stronger and smarter energy footprint management."

Some are looking forward to a better overall relationship with the provincial government.

"Under the PC leadership, the oil industry had an open door with government," said Hudema. "When it came to civil society groups, when it came to environmental groups, often times that door was closed. We expect that access will be much more diverse."

Allan Adam, chief of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, said he welcomed Notley's remarks Tuesday night in her victory speech about revisiting oilsands regulation.

"We will assist in regard to some of our concerns and some of our recommendations," said Adam, whose band in the middle of the oilsands area has long had environmental concerns about the extent of development.

"Hopefully, we will find a path forward."

Chief Steve Courtoreille of the Treaty 8 First Nations said he hopes talks begun with former premier Jim Prentice on the environment, health and education will continue. He also hopes Notley will follow up on her promises to take seriously aboriginal demands for greater consultation on energy megaprojects.

"They need to consult with First Nations in all areas, anything that may have an impact on our treaties or our lands."

Whittingham said environmentalists are willing to be patient — to a point.

"Every new government has a honeymoon phase and this will be especially the case with this government because it's so new. I expect the government will recognize where it's got a lot of experience and where it could use some advice."

Follow Bob Weber on Twitter at @row1960