Alberta is launching a public inquiry into the foreign funding of environmentalists, tackling a long-standing grievance among Canada’s conservative politicians that money from abroad has paid for a campaign to effectively block resource development.
Premier Jason Kenney, who announced the $2.5-million inquiry on Thursday, argued foreign groups and billionaires have been funding Canadian organizations for years to spread misleading information as part of a widespread and co-ordinated campaign against pipelines and Alberta’s energy sector. A number of the groups named by the Premier dismissed his claim as a fabrication.
"For more than a decade, Alberta has been the target of a well-funded, political propaganda campaign to defame our energy industry and to landlock our resources,” Mr. Kenney told reporters in Calgary, flanked by his justice and energy ministers.
The creation of the inquiry comes after the Premier’s announcement last month that he is creating a campaign-style energy “war room” to combat what he deems to be misinformation on social media and in the news.
Mr. Kenney was a senior minister under former prime minister Stephen Harper as the Conservative government launched audits of environmental charities and warned of “foreign-funded radicals.”
The Premier said the inquiry, led by forensic accountant Steve Allan, has been given one year to report on "the problem of foreign meddling to hurt Alberta by interfering in our economy and politics.” Mr. Allan will have the power to compel witnesses or documents, but only in Alberta.
The inquiry follows a number of setbacks and cancellations for major Canadian pipeline projects over the past decade as the country’s courts have ordered companies to engage in more consultation with the public and Indigenous groups.
Energy Minister Sonya Savage, who previously worked for the Canadian Energy Pipeline Association, said foreign money has been involved in obstructing nearly all of Canada’s pipeline projects. "I had a front-row seat to witness the devastation and the destruction of this foreign-funded campaign, I witnessed it playing out on virtually every single pipeline project that tried to proceed in this country,” she said.
Tim Gray, the executive director of Environmental Defence, called the inquiry “bizarre” and disputed Mr. Kenney’s claim that environmental groups have focused solely on Canada and have done little to oppose U.S. resource development.
“He’s trying to mislead and twist things into something it’s not. His characterization of the resistance to the expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure and projects as being something that environmental groups are only doing in Canada is blatantly false. I can list 20 anti-pipeline campaigns in the U.S. alone,” Mr. Gray said.
There have been a number of large-scale protests in the United States over the past decade against pipelines, most notably at the Standing Rock Indian Reservation against the Dakota Access Pipeline. In response to the opposition, a number of U.S. states have passed laws criminalizing pipeline protests.
Mr. Gray said that along with funding environmental groups, billions of dollars from abroad have also gone into resource development, as well as groups that argue for weaker climate action and less regulations. About 10 per cent of Environmental Defence’s funding is foreign, most of it earmarked for cleanup work on the Great Lakes.
Jay Ritchlin, the Western Canadian director for the David Suzuki Foundation, said he was concerned the inquiry will distract from needed work on climate change. The foundation, as well as a number of other charities, were already subject to audits that found no wrongdoing under the last federal government, he said.
About 6 per cent of the David Suzuki Foundation’s funding comes from foreign groups and individuals.
“It feels a little bit déjà vu that we might get investigated again and it isn’t clear this inquiry will have the authority to investigate us,” he said.
Mr. Kenney cited the work of Vivian Krause, a Vancouver-based researcher who has spent years documenting donations from U.S.-based foundations to Canadian environmental groups. Her work largely relies on U.S. tax disclosures and other documents that show payments to Canadian groups that have publicly opposed pipelines and other resource projects, although she acknowledges that for many of those environmental groups, American donations represent a small fraction of their overall budgets.
With a report from James Keller
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