The commissioner overseeing an Alberta inquiry into the funding of environmental groups has received a fourth extension to complete his final report, which is now due more than a year after his initial deadline and may not become public until late October.
Steve Allan, a forensic accountant, is looking into a theory that foreign money is fuelling environmental campaigns against the Alberta oil sector. He now has an extra two months to finish his report, which is now due on July 30, after which the United Conservative Party government would have 90 days to make his findings public.
Mr. Allan has missed repeated deadlines, including the original due date of July, 2020, and saw his initial $2.5-million budget increased by $1-million. He has previously blamed the COVID-19 pandemic for the delays.
The government said the latest extension was needed because of a lawsuit launched by environmental charity EcoJustice seeking to have the inquiry shut down, a case that was dismissed last week.
Premier Jason Kenney defended the latest delay, explaining that Mr. Allan had to spend time and resources dealing with the legal challenge.
“I think their frivolous lawsuit perfectly confirmed why we need that transparency, why we need to shine a spotlight on the foreign source of funds behind the campaign to landlock Canadian energy,” Mr. Kenney said Wednesday, after announcing the latest extension during a Facebook Live session the night before.
“The important thing is that they come up with a useful report that can help to govern future actions by Alberta’s government in defending the women and men who work in our energy industry.”
The inquiry was born out of a promise from the 2019 election campaign, when Mr. Kenney alleged that the province’s oil sector had been the target of a foreign-funded campaign to malign the industry and oppose expansion. Many of the environmental groups targeted by Mr. Kenney’s government say U.S. funding accounts for just a small portion of their overall budgets.
The inquiry has been conducted almost entirely in private. Mr. Allan had the option to hold public hearings but ultimately did not, and has said very little publicly about his work.
Mr. Allan has also been criticized for commissioning reports that have been labelled “climate-change denialism.”
Mr. Allan’s spokesman, Alan Boras, declined to elaborate on how the EcoJustice case affected the inquiry’s work. He said Mr. Allan is currently working to seek comment from people or groups that will be mentioned in the report.
Mr. Allan’s initial salary was set at $290,000. Mr. Boras declined to say how much Mr. Allan expects to be paid in total, given the extensions, but said the inquiry will be completed within the $3.5-million budget.
EcoJustice argued in its legal challenge that the inquiry was designed to intimidate opponents of the oil sector. The group argued that the Premier’s public statements about environmentalists, the inquiry’s terms of reference and Mr. Allan’s conduct raised the prospect of bias.
Justice Karen Horner of Alberta’s Court of Queen’s Bench dismissed the challenge, saying in her decision that the group failed to prove the process is biased.
Martin Olszynski, an administrative law professor at the University of Calgary who has been critical of the inquiry, said the delays will hurt the credibility of the final report and could open it up to additional legal challenges about procedural fairness.
He said the delays and the secrecy around Mr. Allan’s work has made the inquiry unlike any other he has seen.
”The amount of money that this inquiry has received compared to the work that is generated makes no sense whatsoever,” he said in an interview.
Prof. Olszynski said it makes no sense to blame the EcoJustice lawsuit for the latest delay. The hearing for that case happened in February, a little more than a week after Mr. Allan’s last extension, and Prof. Olszynski said there would have been no work related to that case while awaiting the judge’s decision.
We have a weekly Western Canada newsletter written by our B.C. and Alberta bureau chiefs, providing a comprehensive package of the news you need to know about the region and its place in the issues facing Canada. Sign up today.