Premier Redford Sticks to Her Campaign Promise, and Cancels Notorious “Potatogate” Land Sale

Alberta Wilderness Association (AWA) is delighted to congratulate Premier Alison Redford on honouring her campaign commitment to scrap the notorious “Potatogate” public land sale.

A short Government of Alberta news release, October 19, 2011, announced: “Government cancelled the RFP after people expressed concerns that there was no public input into using a Request for Proposals and that there might be an impact on water and on the ranching community.”

“This is excellent news,” says Nigel Douglas, AWA Conservation Specialist. “It is so encouraging to see the new premier sticking to her campaign promises, and listening to Albertans. What the huge opposition to this shady deal showed is that Albertans believe Public Land should remain public, and not be sold off behind our backs in closed-door deals.”

Information about the proposed public land sale, which came to be known as “Potatogate” first leaked out in September 2010. In a secretive process, the Alberta government had deemed 16,000 acres of native prairie near Bow Island to be “surplus to requirements.” Despite the fact that the land was known to be habitat for a number of species listed under the federal Species at Risk Act (including burrowing owl, ferruginous hawk, and Sprague's pipit), and that the land  was already leased for grazing, it would be ploughed up, irrigated and used to grow potatoes.

Subsequently, correspondence obtained by AWA in a Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy (FOIP) application revealed that the government’s own staff in the Fish and Wildlife and Lands divisions had recommended against the deal, but their advice had been ignored.

“The determination to push ahead with the deal, when nobody wanted to see it go ahead, was simply baffling,” says Douglas.

Premier Redford’s opposition to the public land sale was made clear during her campaign for the leadership of the Progressive Conservative party. In a September 29 email, Redford’s campaign advisor wrote:

“As Premier, Alison will... Suspend the sale of 16,000 acres of ecologically sensitive crown land near Bow Island and wait for the South Saskatchewan Basin Regional Advisory Council to present its final report on the best use of that parcel.”

“Premier Redford made a renewed commitment to ‘transparency and accountability’ so this is a great start,” says Douglas.

For more information contact:
        Nigel Douglas, AWA Conservation Specialist: (403) 283-2025. [email protected]