Albertans will shell out C$2.5 million in hard-earned tax dollars over the next year for Jason Kenney’s provincial inquiry into the supposed “foreign-funded special interests” undermining the province’s tar sands/oil sands industry.
“The inquiry, which will be headed by accountant Steve Allan, will have no legal authority beyond the province and cannot compel testimony for a possible public hearing from those outside Alberta,” CBC reports, citing Kenney’s media announcement last Thursday. “The premier spoke at the news conference about ill-defined allegations of Russian involvement in landlocking Alberta oil, the suggestion OPEC supports shutting in the province’s energy resources, and the funding of environmental groups by the Rockefeller and Tides foundations, among others.”
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“They often say that sunlight is the best disinfectant. This public inquiry will be sunlight on the activities of this campaign,” Kenney said . “It will investigate all of the national and international connections, follow the money trail, and expose all of the interests involved.”
He added that, “most importantly, it will serve notice that Alberta will no longer allow hostile interest groups to dictate our economic destiny” as what he called “one of the most ethical major producers of energy in the world.”
Asked why the province was funding an inquiry to gather information that is already in the public domain, Kenney replied that “there’s never been a formal investigation into all aspects of the anti-Alberta campaign,” adding that “the mandate for commissioner Allen will be to bring together all of the available information.”
At least one veteran oilpatch journalist was distinctly unimpressed with Kenney’s performance.
“During this speech Kenney railed against the ‘misinformation’ supposedly spread by pipeline and oil sands opponents, completely missing the irony that his own speech was filled with lies, half-truths, and errors of fact,” writes  EnergiMedia publisher Markham Hislop, who recently published an exhaustive critical review  of the supposed facts underlying Kenney’s crusade. “As the Canadian journalist who has reported most extensively about foreign-funded anti-pipeline and oil sands activism, I can assure readers there is very little ‘paper’ for Allan to read. Sure, he can review Vancouver blogger Vivian Krause’s ‘research’, but as an accomplished and ethical professional, he will quickly recognize the limitations of her work: she has only done half the job.”
Hislop’s post fills in the other half…and it doesn’t lend much credibility to Kenney’s announcement.
The environmental groups Kenney is trying to target consistently maintain that foreign donors account for no more than 10 to 15% of their income, often pointing out that pro-fossil lobbyists—and the industry itself—are much more dependent on financial support from outside the country. While there are no rules preventing groups from advocating for environmental action or accepting funds from outside Canada, CBC says, the Alberta premier insisted he isn’t trying to impede anyone’s free speech—even though he didn’t rule out compelling testimony from groups based in the province, or launching legal action against organizations elsewhere.
“Kenney said those environmental groups have only damaged Canada’s industry and have not managed to limit consumption or production of fossil fuels around the world,” CBC writes. “He suggested environmental groups have not put the same amount of effort into fighting the rise of oil and gas production in the United States.” [Have Kenney’s handlers not noticed the flood of recent analysis pointing to the dire risks the fossil industry faces as demand begins to plummet? Or the wave of front-line action targeting virtually every new pipeline project in the United States? Would someone please get them a free subscription to The Energy Mix?—Ed.]
Silencing environmental groups is precisely what Kenney’s inquiry is about, said Keith Stewart, Toronto-based senior energy strategist at Greenpeace Canada. “They admit they’re not going to be able to do much with it,” he said. “It’s basically kind of a show trial to try and intimidate critics and people concerned about climate change into silence.”
Tzeporah Berman, international program director at Stand.earth, called the inquiry a “witch hunt” meant to silent dissent. “It weakens our democracy and attempts to scare citizens from engaging in the debate on issues critical to our economy and a safe climate,” she tweeted.
“The mistake Vivian Krause and Premier Kenney make is thinking that it’s one campaign. It’s not,” Berman added last month. “It’s dozens of campaigns. If it’s anything, it’s a movement of movements.”
Pembina Institute Executive Director Simon Dyer denied Kenney’s accusation that his organization, headquartered in Calgary, had received $8 million to oppose and challenge the province’s fossil industry.
“Over the past about 15 years, 85% of Pembina’s revenue comes from Canadian sources, and those would be provincial, territorial, and the federal government,” he told CBC, adding that details of Pembina’s funding are available on its website. “About 15% of our revenue comes from international sources, which is typical for many not-for-profits, and even for for-profit industries.”
Moreover, Dyer noted that Pembina has never worked against a pipeline project.
“We’ve never appeared in a regulatory or legal hearing or any direct action to oppose pipelines,” he said. “That’s not what Pembina does. We’re the Pembina Institute for Appropriate Development. Sure, we’ve been a critic of the industry where we’ve seen environmental issues that need to be addressed. And at the same time, we’ve given credit to the industry where progress has been made on things like advances in conservation and land use, [or] in terms of climate policies that were introduced to reduce oilsands emissions.”
Opposition NDP House leader and economic development critic Deron Bilous called the inquiry a glorified Google search. “This is a fool’s errand,” he said. “I don’t believe this will help Alberta further its interests in accessing pipelines and expanding our market access.”
CBC columnist Graham Thomson predicts  the inquiry will be a waste of both time and money.
“The inquiry is ostensibly about collecting evidence on ‘foreign-funded’ groups that have managed to landlock Alberta’s oil—and then using that evidence to, in the words of Premier Jason Kenney, ‘hold them to account’,” he writes. But “it’s not clear what he expects the public inquiry to achieve, other than to act as a public relations tool for the government to show how it’s ‘standing up’ for Alberta.” Allan won’t be able to compel testimony from the foreign funders it claims to target, “it’s not as if international groups such as Greenpeace are hiding their opposition to the oilsands,” and “even though Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer hopes the public inquiry will stop the groups’ future opposition to Alberta’s energy industry, nobody can explain how that would work.”
Particularly when the right to free speech extends to opposing pipeline and tar sands/oil sands projects.
“Then there’s the awkward fact that it’s not ‘foreign-funded’ groups that have stymied pipeline construction, it’s the courts,” Thomson notes. “The Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, for example, was stopped in its tracks by the Federal Court of Appeal last August, when it said more had to be done to protect the environment and consult with Indigenous peoples.”
To the extent that the province’s oilpatch is being targeted, Thomson adds, the responsibility lies with “a succession of Alberta Progressive Conservative governments [that] dragged their feet on environmental protection”, allowing the tar sands/oil sands to become “a symbol of greenhouse gases run amok”.
Against that history of “alternating between blustering outrage and foot-stomping frustration,” he concludes, “Kenney’s public inquiry might be more aggressive but seems to be merely a new take on an old, ineffective strategy.”