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OPINION: MLAs Ron Orr and Jason Nixon comment on Bighorn Country consultations

UCP MLA Jason Nixon penned a letter to Minister Shannon Phillips

The Bighorn process is not being handled well by the NDP government and this should be of concern to all Albertans. It lies in the riding of my colleague MLA Jason Nixon. Please see his public letter below: I would continue to encourage you to write to the Minister of Environment, Shannon Phillips as well as the Premier to voice your concerns. Minister Phillips:

Your NDP government’s decision to abandon in-person consultations on the future of the Bighorn Country is disappointing to many concerned Albertans.

I sincerely hope that you reverse this decision. I invite you to come and speak to affected Albertans in the region so that they have an opportunity to have their voices heard on an issue that affects them greatly.

I think we both agree that all Albertans – both those supportive and opposed – should be able to provide their feedback to the Government’s Bighorn plan. As a proponent of ‘social license’ theory, I’m sure you agree that this is especially true for those that live in the region.

While I disagree with how the Government is handling the Bighorn Country issue, I am more than willing to help organize these events and join you on stage to implore all to engage in constructive, respectful consultation.

Let me be clear in no uncertain terms: we condemn any intimidation. Regardless of where it might be coming from, any intimidation, threats, or harassment is unacceptable. We would of course condemn any documented incidents in the strongest possible terms.

That said, having actually attended in-person meetings with the community at large, I have not personally seen any evidence of such conduct. The meetings my caucus colleagues and I attended were completely civil, attended by Albertans deeply concerned about the future of their home.

I recognize that a certain fringe element are willing to say terrible things on social media. This is true of both the left and right, on issues not limited to the Bighorn issue.

Cowardly ‘trolls’ are willing to say things online that they would never say in person. Of course, if the trolls cross a line, they should be held accountable. But in many respects, the reality of social media only makes a stronger case for in-person community consultation. We need to humanize those involved, regardless of which side of the debate they are on.

I have also repeatedly spoken to the RCMP detachments in my area and – as of today – they have indicated that they are unaware of any criminal harassment or threats. There is no indication that they recommended cancelling these events.

As such, your decision to cite such threats as a reason to cancel in-person consultations was a surprise to many of us.

All Albertans, especially those that live in the area, appreciate and want to see our majestic wilderness protected for future generations. For so many of us, the Bighorn country is an important part of daily life, widely used from recreation to industry.

This is why the NDP government’s lack of transparency about this plan has been so troubling. This area is our home and we care deeply about its environmental future.

Following months of rumors about the future of the area, the NDP government finally announced their plan at an indoor facility in the middle of Edmonton at the end of this past November, in front of a photo backdrop that gave the appearance of the NDP Premier and Environment Minister actually being in Bighorn Country – not a distant location within the University of Alberta campus in the province’s capital city.

It’s a process that affected Albertans have been largely left out of from the start.

A significant part of your consultation process was scheduled over the holidays, when many Albertans are spending time with their families and often travelling.

Many consultations were done on an invitation-only basis, leaving many concerned Albertans out of the process.

It is apparent that there is still no intent by the NDP to seek meaningful input from Albertans. This issue is too important to rush, too important to get wrong.

While a small group of cowards on both the left and right are willing to say terrible things online, we cannot allow their cowardly and inexcusable behavior to result in Albertans being shut out of discussions about the future of their home.

Respectfully,

Jason Nixon, MLA

Official Opposition House Leader

Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre

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