Two oil-industry groups and a Calgary businessman with ties to the sector have been granted permission to intervene in a lawsuit challenging Alberta’s public inquiry into the funding of environmental charities.
A consortium that includes the Indian Resource Council (IRC), the Explorers and Producers Association of Canada (EPAC) and Brett Wilson applied to participate in a lawsuit filed by environmental law charity Ecojustice Canada, which is fighting in court to have the public inquiry shut down.
Ecojustice opposed the application, arguing that the IRC, EPAC and Mr. Wilson are not directly affected by the case.
But Justice Karen Horner of Alberta’s Court of Queen’s Bench said the three applicants would bring a “fresh perspective” to the case.
“I found that the Industry Consortium could provide expertise and that its submissions would be useful and different on the issue of whether the Inquiry was brought for an improper purpose,” she said in the written decision. “The perspective of the Alberta oil and gas industry is necessary for a proper consideration of the public interest aspect of this issue.”
The government-ordered public inquiry, a campaign promise for Premier Jason Kenney’s United Conservative Party in last year’s provincial election, is investigating claims that U.S. foundations are funding advocacy against Alberta’s energy industry, including opposition to pipelines and oil infrastructure. Many Canadian environmental groups singled out by the provincial government say American funding accounts for only a small portion of their overall budgets.
The inquiry commissioner, Steve Allan, is a forensic accountant who is the former board chair of Calgary Economic Development. He has the power to compel testimony and evidence.
Ecojustice is asking the court to declare that the inquiry is outside the power of the Albertan government, or to prevent the publication of either the commissioner’s findings or the evidence and submissions provided in the inquiry.
The consortium argued that the IRC, EPAC and Mr. Wilson all have an interest in the case because they depend on the economic success of the oil and gas industry in Alberta, as well as asserting that they are directly affected by misleading or false information that harms that sector.
Stephen Buffalo, chief executive officer of the Indian Resource Council, and Tristan Goodman, president of the Explorers and Producers Association, filed affidavits arguing that they are adversely affected by what they described as misinformation campaigns.
Mr. Wilson, a former judge on CBC’s Dragons’ Den who is an investor in oil and gas, power generation, cannabis, real estate and restaurants, argued that he is directly affected by the case as an Alberta resident and as a significant investor in the Alberta energy industry.
Ecojustice said that members of the consortium didn’t have an interest in the legal challenge and argued that none of them offer anything that would be of value. The group also argued that allowing the interveners would politicize the case.
Justice Horner said it is possible to hear the consortium’s arguments while not disrupting the case.
“The intervention of the Industry Consortium will not prejudice the parties, delay the proceedings,” she wrote. “It is unlikely to transform the court into a political arena.”
Mr. Allan did not take a position on the consortium’s application.
Another group, Progress Alberta, also threatened legal action over the inquiry. The group sent a letter to Mr. Allan in January arguing that the process violates the Charter of Rights and Freedoms that guarantees freedom of expression and freedom of association.
Last July, Premier Jason Kenney’s UCP launched the inquiry with a $2.5-million budget. Mr. Allan has until July 2 of this year to submit his final report, which is set to be released within the following three months.
He has the power to hold public hearings, but so far he has not done so. Mr. Allan submitted an interim report in January, updating the government on his progress, although the document has not been released.
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