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Alberta announces seven charges against Suncor

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Suncor building in Calgary. Image: Bernard SpraggNZ/Flickr

Interesting timing.

Mid-morning Sunday, the press secretary to Environment Minister Jason Nixon published a 79-word press release -- 111 words if you count the headline and the sub-head required by the format of the Alberta government's website.

It was about as uninformative as a press release can be and still qualify for the title. Just the same, it contained some information that was quite interesting, to wit, that the province "has laid seven charges against Suncor Energy Inc. related to an incident that took place at the company's refinery located in Strathcona County in 2018."

Combined with the release of this tidbit on the Sabbath, one might be tempted to come to the conclusion someone at the Environment Ministry would have been just as happy if media had paid no attention at all.

The remainder of press secretary Jess Sinclair's statement, in its entirety, read as follows:

"The company faces five charges for contravening a term or condition of an approval. The company is also charged with releasing a substance into the environment that may cause an adverse effect and failing to report the release in a timely manner. All of the charges are contraventions under the Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act. The incident is alleged to have occurred in July 2018. Suncor Energy Inc. has a court date scheduled for July 29 in Sherwood Park."

No information was to be found there about why it took the department two years to lay charges.

Sending us a discreet message that there's nothing to see here, just move along please, is a bit of a change for Sinclair, who like a lot of United Conservative Party press secretaries has been spending a certain amount of time and energy calling the government's critics liars and the like on social media.

In the case of the environment portfolio, this is because Opposition MLAs have described Nixon's decision announced in March to close all or part of 20 provincial parks and hand another 164 over to private-sector managers as a plan to sell off or lease parks for purposes that may include industrial development, such as oil and gas development.

The United Conservative Party claim is that it's not a plan to sell or lease parks -- because they won't be parks any more when any decision is made to sell or lease regular old Crown land that just happened to be a park once upon a time.

Readers can decide for themselves who is closer to the truth and who is hiding behind a nice legal distinction.

In Sinclair's defence, at least her sharply worded tweets have been directed at members of the Opposition, who are paid to take it as well as to dish it out. Other UCP press secretaries seem to have no restraint when it comes to insulting citizens who dare to criticize their ministers.

As the Canadian Press reported Friday, Nixon and his communications advisors overruled senior Environment Department staffers when they recommended closing no parks without extensive public consultations. The CP story explained: "a document labelled advice to cabinet states: 'As recommended by (the minister's office) and communications, recommended option is to not do consultation.'"

The CP story pointed out that this is a bit of a change from the days where the UCP screamed bloody murder about an NDP plan to create a park because, you know, there wasn't nearly enough consultation

Getting back to Sunday's statement, whatever the intention was, mainstream media did pick up on the announcement with short rewrites of the release from the CBC and CP. Someone at Global News even bothered to dig into the files.

Two full years ago in July 2018, Global said there was a release of hydrogen sulphide gas at Suncor's Edmonton refinery. Several people were sent to hospital for assessment.

Well, we may know more on Wednesday, if anyone makes it to the courthouse in Sherwood Park.

David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions at The Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. This post also appears on his blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

Image: Bernard SpraggNZ/Flickr​

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