The Alberta Environmental Stewardship Coalition held its launch event at the University of Calgary, Wed., March 14. The coalition assembled a panel of five prominent Albertans from differing political backgrounds to discuss ideas with the public on what Alberta could do to help improve the environment.
The event--attended by several hundred people--is part of the Coalition's plan to bridge the gap between public interest and political discourse on the issue of environmental stewardship.
The panel included the chief executive officer of the Manning Center for Building Democracy, Preston Manning, Alberta's minister of environment Rob Renner, Liberal environment critic Dr. David Swann, Barry Worbets of the Canada West Foundation and Shelley Willson from the Natural Capital Association.
By assembling a panel from diverse political backgrounds the coalition hoped to gather ideas to build a non-partisan stewardship agenda for Alberta. Once the agenda is finished the coalition hopes to collect 300,000 signatures--nearly 10 per cent of the province's population--and present it to the Alberta government.
"Fundamentally we need to look at the primary issue of the day, climate change, and take some real leadership on that," said Dr. Swann.
The forum began by gathering suggestions from the public and started to determine of how far Albertans are ready to go for their environment.
"This is an attempt to bridge differences and talk about what we can work on together," said Dr. Swann. "We want to look tonight at what [we can] work on together without fighting over issues. We all want to do the right thing for the environment, but some of us want to use different strategies to go faster than others."
"Suggestions should be at the right level of abstraction, not too broad, not too narrow," said Manning. "Suggestions should unify rather than divide."
Renner admitted he hasn't always been passionate about the environment. After meeting with the employees of Alberta Environment, who impressed him with their commitment, Renner noted he is now committed to finding an acceptable cumulative impact for humans to have on the environment.
The ideas brought forward by the public and the panelists mainly focused on what the government can do and not what individuals and industry can. However, panelists felt they made progress.
"I thought it was very worthwhile, particularly the contributions from the audience," said Manning. "This is only the first of their meetings. By the time they have their convention to flesh out this agenda hopefully there's a better balance between the three."
Fellow panel-member Willson echoed Manning's sentiments.
"I think it's really worthwhile to get a lot of people who care about this issue together into a room to talk about what we can do and to talk about a way forward," said Willson.
Both sides of the political spectrum agree that the public is starting to receive the message.
"People understand that at the end of the day they are going to [pay] some kind of price," said Manning. "There is nothing for free, including environmental protection. I think people recognize that."
"People have to understand that it effects them," Willson added. "The environment isn't some sort of esthetic luxury--it's not a hobby for those who take an interest in it. It's the foundation of our human survival, so it's important for all of our futures that we do take an interest in environmental issues and that we develop a better relationship with the environment."