With the launch of public engagement on a new Alberta coal policy just days away, a new poll commissioned by the Canadian Parks and Wilderness (CPAW) and the Livingstone Landowners Group indicates the majority of Albertans want more protection for the Eastern Slopes of the Rocky Mountains.

Of those who were aware of the coal issue, the poll shows more than half do not trust that the government’s public consultation will provide a fair representation of what the public wants regarding coal development.

The poll, conducted by the market and social research firm Leger from Mar. 19 to 22, found that 76 per cent of Albertans are in favour of more protections for nature and recreation in the Eastern Slopes. Support for more protection was consistent across Alberta, in urban, suburban, and rural areas, and across age groups and income levels.  

Sixty-six per cent were opposed to new coal mining in the region, and among those aware of the issue, 64 per cent opposed ongoing exploration activity in the Eastern Slopes.

In May, the Alberta Government rescinded the 1976 Coal Policy of the Lougheed administration. Following public outcry, it was since been reinstated.

On Feb. 23, Energy minister Sonya Savage announced public consultation will take place prior to a new policy being finalized.

“With the input of Albertans, a modern coal policy will protect the areas Albertans cherish while allowing responsible resource development in the appropriate places," states Minister Savage.

The Livingstone Landowners Group believes these consultations should extend beyond the coal mining issue.

"As the government moves ahead with consultation, we hope they consider the fact that not everyone wants to talk about coal development. In fact, many in the province would rather discuss the protection of this important landscape,” says Norma Dougall, vice-president of the Livingstone Landowners Group.

CPAWS says when that Coal Policy was rescinded in May, extensive exploration activities were approved in the Eastern Slopes, including road building and exploratory drilling.

It says after the policy was reinstated in February and consultations on a new policy were announced, the government has permitted these coal exploration activities to continue.  

Katie Morrison, conservation director CPAW Southern Alberta, believes attention to the issue has made Albertans more aware, and concerned, about how many coal developments could proceed, even under the 1976 policy.

"I think the decision on the coal policy has not just opened a bunch of new land to coal mining, but really opened people's eyes to how much coal development and how many coal issues are out there even under the Coal Policy."

"Those projects could still have massive impacts on our water, wildlife, fish, and our recreational experiences in those landscapes. I think what we're hearing from people is that we need something stronger than the Coal Policy."

"The Coal Policy did its job, served its purpose when it was created in 1976, but we know more now about how ecologically important, how socially important those landscapes are, and we need more protection, not less."

The push follows closely on the steps of a CPAWS campaign to protect Alberta parks. It, too, drew a strong response from Albertans.

"I think both of those issues have engaged Albertans almost like I have never seen before," says Morrison. "It's not just urban folks or rural folks, it's people across the province, it's across all political spectrums, ages, and income levels. We saw in our poll that regardless of where people live or what their background is, people support more protection of this landscape."

Almost all of Canada's active coal mines are in Western Canada. Fifty per cent is mined in British Columbia and 32 per cent in Alberta. In 2018, the Alberta Government received $10 million in coal royalties.

There are nine active coal mines in Alberta. While four are in the Eastern Slopes, none are in southern Alberta. The Grassy Mountain coal project is among the first of several mountain-top removal coal mines proposed for the southern Rockies.

The Leger poll includes a sample size of 1,000 randomly selected respondents from across the province. Quotas and weighting were employed to ensure that the sample’s composition reflects that of the Alberta population according to census parameters.

A probability sample of 1,000 Albertans is said to be accurate within ± 3.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.