The final report from Alberta’s inquiry targeting foreign funding of environmental activists doesn’t find wrongdoing by any groups or individuals, and its author was unable to identify the precise amount of outside money flowing into Canada for anti-oil-sands campaigns.
In his report, formally released by the provincial government on Thursday, Commissioner Steve Allan outlines how environmental groups have worked nimbly, and together, to oppose Canadian pipeline and other oil projects, and boasted about their wins against the Alberta-based industry. Campaigns against the oil sands and related infrastructure have been funded in part by foreign sources.
But the $3.5-million inquiry, a key plank of the governing United Conservative Party’s “fight back” strategy, has long been criticized for being ill-conceived, and the government is facing questions about how useful the exercise has been. The original budget for the inquiry was increased by $1-million, and Mr. Allan received several deadline extensions.
Mr. Allan also refers to a Deloitte Forensic Inc. report, commissioned by the inquiry, that examined hundreds of millions of dollars flowing from American foundations to Canada-focused environmental initiatives between 2003 and 2019.
It found $925-million in foreign funding went specifically to Canadian charities, and another $353-million went to groups in other countries working on Canadian environmental issues.
Of those two amounts combined, Deloitte was able to confirm $37.5-$58.9 million was used specifically for opposition to Alberta resource development, including to groups based both in Canada and in the United States.
Mr. Allan said in his report that he couldn’t “determine the exact purpose for which grants with a generic description were deployed” in some cases, and this measure of foreign funding is likely understated. Still, he said establishing the total amount of foreign funding of anti-Alberta energy campaigns was outside of his terms of reference.
“I was ultimately not able to trace with precision the quantum of foreign funding applied to anti-Alberta energy campaigns,” he wrote.
Overall, the amount of foreign funding identified in Mr. Allan’s report as being received by Canadian environmental charities is about 11 per cent of those groups’ total revenues.
Mr. Allan, who did not hold public hearings, also made six recommendations in his report, including that Canadian energy should be rebranded.
“The industry and government have to stop ‘talking to themselves,’ " he said, and take a page from marketing by companies such as ExxonMobil, McDonald’s or Apple, and tell consumers “what energy means to their everyday lives.”
The Alberta government says information from the 657-page report will be used to address future campaigns against the energy sector, and to push for greater transparency in monitoring the foreign money flowing to Canadian charitable organizations and non-profits.
Alberta Energy Minister Sonya Savage said the document outlines “an important piece of history, and a sad piece of history.”
Environmental groups say the use of “anti-Alberta” terminology for the inquiry has a chilling effect on free speech and open dissent. Critics have noted that the inquiry wasn’t asked to scrutinize the foreign dollars flowing to Canadian non-profits that take positions in alignment with the Alberta government, or oil industry.
Environmental groups also accused the government of twisting the report’s findings.
“Although the report shows no evidence of wrongdoing by environmental groups, the Alberta government publicly refuses to accept the report’s findings,” Tim Gray, executive director of Environmental Defence, said in a statement.
Alberta NDP Leader Rachel Notley said “our provincial government must be focused on finding jobs, not looking for enemies.”
The expectations for the report were high but over the past two years, the scope of the inquiry got progressively smaller. When announcing the inquiry in July, 2019, Premier Jason Kenney referred to “shadowy funding,” spoke about how OPEC oil producers have benefited from Canadian oil being landlocked, and noted U.S. government reports on hidden Russian social-media activity to oppose the construction of pipelines in North America.
Mr. Kenney and the inquiry also relied heavily on the work of Vancouver researcher Vivian Krause, who had previously suggested that the Tar Sands Campaign is intertwined with “economic protectionism” for U.S. interests.
But in the report, Mr. Allan wrote that he accepts that many of the environmental organizations are driven by honest concern about the threat of climate change. He did not make any findings about whether any financial backers have gained economically from the campaign. In September, 2020, Mr. Allan also dropped the mandate to look at whether groups are spreading misinformation about Alberta’s oil and gas industry.
Neither Mr. Kenney nor Mr. Allan were in attendance to present the report on Thursday, with Mr. Allan saying in a statement that he was given legal advice to let the report speak for itself.
In an interview, Ms. Savage said the Allan report is not taking a “punitive” approach with anyone but will inform her government to make sure environmental groups aren’t “able to employ the same sorts of tactics to target the energy resources of the future.”
She listed Alberta initiatives such as development of a hydrogen sector, carbon-capture utilization and storage (CCUS), small modular nuclear reactors, liquefied natural gas projects, or critical and rare-earth minerals extraction. “We have to make sure that they aren’t targeted in the same way.”
She also said that based on Mr. Allan’s recommendations, the Alberta government will push Ottawa to enact laws promoting greater transparency in the country’s charitable and non-profit sectors. The government argues that what Mr. Allan has found is likely only part of the picture. For example, funds given to charities from foreign entities can be “regranted” to other organizations, and they are not accounted for by the recipient entity as foreign funds received.
Mr. Allan wrote that the “end result is that it may appear that a registered charity has been funded entirely through Canadian sources when in fact the ultimate source of funds may be all or partly from outside of Canada.”
Similar to an earlier draft of the report obtained by The Globe and Mail, Mr. Allan wrote in his final report that environmental campaigns may have played a role in the cancellation of some oil and gas developments and pipeline projects but “I am not in a position to find that these campaigns alone caused project delays and cancellations.
“Natural market forces of price, supply, demand, global geopolitics, weather and technology, plus countless other factors, impact the outcome of all capital project proposals,” he said.
Still, Ms. Savage said Albertans “have a right to be outraged that they used foreign funding to do all of this because people lost their jobs, businesses were hurt, pipelines were blocked and these groups celebrated.”
The report is made up in bulk of a catalogue of environmental campaigns and their successes against the oil-sands sector and pipeline development. “The Alberta energy industry has been materially impacted by what was an excellent strategy that was well implemented and continues to this day to be brilliantly executed.”
Although the inquiry was a part of the government’s strategy in defending the oil-and-natural-gas sector, Mr. Allan also takes on another UCP creation, the Canadian Energy Centre – better known as the war room – writing that it “has come under almost universal criticism,” and it may be irredeemable.
“There may be a need for a vehicle such as this, assuming proper governance and accountability is established,” Mr. Allan wrote. “But it may well be that the reputation of this entity has been damaged beyond repair.”
However, Ms. Savage said this week that the Canadian Energy Centre “has overcome its growing pains.”
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