As Albertans begin what could be a bitter and divisive provincial election campaign, one of the province’s most popular musicians wants to remind them of an issue that brought everyone together a couple years ago.
“All candidates should be unanimous in saying they’ll enact strong legislation to protect anywhere in the Rockies from any coal mines, period,” said Corb Lund.
“That’s what Albertans want.”
Lund was one of the most prominent opponents of coal mining after the United Conservative Party government revoked the policy that protected the eastern slopes.
Within a year after that policy was revoked in spring 2020, thousands of hectares were staked for coal exploration up and down the province’s western boundary — a playground for thousands and the water source for millions. But opening those summits and foothills to development provoked a severe and widespread backlash that ran from urban environmentalists to small-town mayors to country music stars.
Lund, a sixth-generation Albertan who lives downstream from one of the proposed mine sites, was one of them.
He and fellow Alberta country singers Paul Brandt, Brett Kissel and Terry Clark released a re-recorded version of one of his songs. Lund also put out a series of social media posts opposing the developments.
Now, he’s doing it again in hopes that guarantees of protection for the eastern slopes becomes an election issue before Albertans head to the polls May 29.
“There should be full bipartisan agreement on this,” said Lund, who describes himself as determinedly non-partisan.
The government, which eventually convened a committee to hear from Albertans, ultimately backed off after that group reported wide and near-universal opposition. The protections that had been retracted were restored by ministerial order.
Since then, Lund said the most high profile of the coal projects have faded away.
But he said coal companies are still looking to develop in Alberta and warns provincial protections exist in a ministerial order, which can be pulled at any time.
“The thing that kept the mining at bay is only policy, not legislation. Legislation is much more robust — people can’t just change it at the stroke of a pen,” he said.
“We need legislation.”
The United Conservatives have said there are no plans to retract the ministerial order, although they haven’t promised protective legislation. The Opposition New Democrats tabled such legislation during the last sitting, which was twice blocked from going ahead by the government.
Although it has been a couple years since “Mountains Not Mines” lawn signs sprouted like mushrooms across the province, Lund thinks people haven’t forgotten their passion on the issue.
“I think people still feel strongly,” he said. “But they’ve got hockey practice and kids and jobs and they’re not thinking about it 24-7.
“But the coal companies are thinking about it 24-7. It’s still very much a threat.”
Election times are times to air out difficult issues, said Lund.
“This is a great time to be reminded of (coal),” he said. “It’s election time.”