Working People of Alberta and Their Allies Confront Australian Coal Billionaires

Calgary, March 28, 2021

A powerful mass movement has built in Alberta against the recently revealed plans of the ruling United Conservative Party (UCP) government to sell out Alberta's coal reserves on the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains to Australian coal monopolies for a song. The mined coal was to be ripped and then shipped to Asia. The protesters rightly view open-pit coal mining in the province's critical watersheds as a big threat to their communities, the environment, and their livelihoods.

Hundreds of thousands of Albertans from all walks of life have been protesting the attempted coal sellout through organized groups, alliances, public forums, lawn signs, and a number of petitions that have gathered in total over 100,000 signatures. Early results from a May 2021 provincial survey of over 25,000 people show Albertans have major concerns about expanding the industry. "More than 90 per cent of respondents felt there are areas of the province that are not appropriate for coal exploration and development," say the survey results released May 21.

The UCP revealed their plan to sell out to the Australian monopolies in May 2020 when the government rescinded Alberta's Coal Policy, which for 44 years has kept 1.5 million hectares of lands on the eastern slopes of the Rockies off limits from open-pit mining. The UCP axed the 1976 Coal Policy with no public consultation, although they did consult the Alberta-based Coal Association of Canada which represents the coal mine owners. The UCP denies that its aim was to open up the eastern slopes to the mining monopolies but Australia-based Capital Investment Partners, which owns four coal companies with leases in the central Rockies, reported to investors in 2019 that "the Alberta government is in the process of changing the coal policy to allow more open pit mining."

The intensity of the ongoing protests to date has forced the UCP to backtrack or at least to pretend to backtrack. Alberta's Minister of Energy Sonya Savage, a former pipeline executive, announced in a news release on January 18 that due to public opposition the prior sale of eleven coal leases to the Australian monopolies would be cancelled and that no more would be sold on land where open-pit mines were forbidden under the old policy. Protestors pointed out that the cancelled leases were only a tiny fraction of the leases sold since the Coal Policy was quashed.

On February 8, Savage reversed the decision to rescind the 1976 Coal Policy, claiming that the UCP now plans wide-ranging consultations on a new coal policy. She announced that a five-person committee has been appointed headed by a private consultant who has worked for the World Bank and is a member of the neo-liberal, corporate-funded Canadian Global Affairs Institute. Of course, Albertans are well aware that all such UCP-initiated consultations are phony and will only lead to conclusions predetermined by the monopolies and their sellout government.

Between 2003 and 2013, the Australian monopolies mined at home, supplying growing Asian markets with iron ore, steel-making coal, and coal for generating electricity and making huge profits. But declining resource quality as well as people's increased opposition to open-pit mining in Australia has forced the Australian monopolies to look elsewhere for coal to ship to Asia. Australian coal monopolies are now hoping that Alberta's sellout UCP government will offer the same formula underlying their past success in Australia: low royalties, low corporate taxes, minimal regulations, and cooperative politicians. In other words, the same formula the UCP uses with the fossil fuel monopolies operating in Alberta.

The UCP's shady moves in the interests of the Australian coal billionaires illustrate once again how the global monopolies privately own and control the contemporary economy and dominate official politics. Their private ownership exists in contradiction with the modern economy's socialized nature, its interlocking reality and the billions of actual producers who create the social product necessary for the existence of the people and society but have no say over the economy's direction.

The aim of private ownership is to make maximum profit from the parts of the economy the owners control -- such as coal mining -- and force the state to do their bidding and pay the rich. This leads to dysfunction in the economy and recurring crises as the competing parts conflict with each other and with the interests of the actual producers who have no say. The narrow aim of the coal oligarchs for their private gain, for example, clashes with the need of the various sectors and enterprises of the economy to function in harmony for the common good.

The objective conditions pose the issue of how to deal with environmental problems and the despoiling of nature, such as is the case with open pit coal mining, where the tops of mountains are literally cut off and the "waste" thrown into nearby river valleys to block flow and pollute the waterways with dangerous chemicals such as selenium. The key problem is that people lack control over their economies and official politics. Without taking into account the domination of the global monopolies over everything, most efforts to deal with environmental problems get manipulated by the very forces causing the problems and turned into programs to pay the rich.

Of course, issues such as industrial and other pollution, land degradation, soil dispersal, dust, incessant noise, poisonous gases, and water contamination, all effects of open-pit mining, can each be raised on their own. Suggestions, campaigns and remedies can be fought out to a temporary resolution such as the UCP's cancellation of some coal leases, reversal of the rescinded coal legislation, and the "promise" to hold consultations to develop a new coal policy. 

However, to turn any success into lasting victory, the problem of the oligarchs' overall domination of all aspects of life must be raised and confronted in a serious way and major efforts put into overcoming this domination and building the New.

(Photos: A. Woo, Nipissing Water Protectors)

This article was published in

Volume 51 Number 6 - June 6, 2021

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