Interview: Meet Iris Evans

The new finance minister of Alberta lays out the big picture.

Valedictorian of her nursing class, Iris Evans made a good choice as minister of health and wellness under the Ralph Klein administration. But with her ascension to minister of finance under new premier Ed Stelmach, Evans finds herself speaking out on a new range of issues. It’s a role she has handled with ease, flair and classic Albertan straight-talkin’. When 40 American mayors recently passed a resolution urging major U.S. cities to ban the use of fuel from the oilsands in municipal vehicles, Evans hit back with a threat to someday cut crude oil production and send gas prices in the U.S. into the stratosphere. Take that America. You don’t mess with Evans. Ever.

What do Americans need to think about when they threaten to block heavy crude from the Albertan oilsands?

I don’t see a healthy argument for taking product from other areas of the world that may be even less stringent in terms of their environmental regulations than Alberta is. We’re very concerned about our footprint here, and we are doing all kinds of things to manage that. Reducing greenhouse gas is an important issue. But it requires a realistic approach, and turning the tap off here does not lead to a good global solution. If we turn it off here, the biggest problem becomes where you get it from then. Who will fill that void? Venezuela? I’d encourage the critics to extend their thinking to the logical conclusion of all of this. The world needs this crude. Some refineries in Illinois use 70% Alberta product. Overall Canada provides the U.S. with 13% of its crude, and 17% of its natural gas. There is no closer ally than us. And this resolution suggests a lack of understanding of that. We hope we can set the record straight.

What doesn’t the rest of Canada understand about Alberta?

That we’re as committed as anyone to a sustainable economy. We are all about a better balance between environment and energy. We’re sensitive to the carbon footprint. That’s where our thinking is. We’re the only jurisdiction in Canada to put forward a land-use framework, and also our water-for-life strategy [a new provincial water management plan] is ahead of many other places in North America. If you look at some of the new processes being used in the oilsands, we see a lot of promise for reducing the size of the footprint. We’ve just established a $2-billion-fund for carbon capture and storage projects that holds the promise of a future filled with fossil fuels minus the greenhouse gases. We’re doing a lot more than people think we are. Not a lot of people comprehend the good things that have been done in Alberta. There is a lack of knowledge. It offends me to hear people say ‘dirty oil.’ We’re doing it as cleanly as possible. The environmentalists, or people who attack us, would have you believe that we are doing something dreadful to the environment in Alberta, but we’re doing it the best that it can be done. And we’re putting money toward the environment and tech. We’re putting our money where our mouth is.

What else does the rest of Canada get wrong about Alberta?

That the oilsands are only going to benefit this province. When you look at the larger picture, 50% of taxes on this go out of province, which means Canada has benefited from this. Sandra Pupatello, Ontario’s trade minister and a good friend of mine, travels around Ontario with a list of $90 billion worth of work that has to be done in the Alberta oilsands. This is where we think the wealth of the oilsands can benefit the whole country. We’re Canadian first, but we’re trying to build a great strong society out here. To secure this prosperity and ensure that both Alberta and Canada remain globally competitive, we must continue to develop our resources.