The commissioner leading Alberta’s public inquiry into the funding of environmental charities says he’s considering asking other provinces for jurisdiction that would allow him to compel witness testimony and evidence elsewhere in Canada.
Steve Allan, a forensic accountant, was appointed earlier this month to lead a public inquiry into allegations that large amounts of foreign funding has contributed to a successful campaign to block new pipelines to export Alberta oil and gas. Environmentalists and other critics of the government have dismissed the inquiry as little more than political theatre based on a conspiracy theory.
Mr. Allan’s inquiry has the authority only to conduct hearings, issue subpoenas to witnesses and compel evidence in Alberta, even though many of the groups Premier Jason Kenney has held up as the main architects of the campaign against Alberta oil are located outside the province, primarily in British Columbia and Ontario.
“We could ask another jurisdiction, probably with more success in Canada, to have our procedure recognized – particularly if you have a friendly government,” Mr. Allan told The Globe and Mail in an interview.
“If our trail leads somewhere, we might ask the government to see if they can open the door.”
Nevertheless, he said he hopes environmental groups from elsewhere in Canada and in the United States will voluntarily participate to ensure their perspective is added to the debate.
Mr. Allan said he’s raised the possibility with provincial Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer, who was open to the idea. But he also stressed no decisions have been made and neither he nor the Alberta government have yet to make any formal requests to other provinces.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s press secretary said the government is eager to help Alberta in any way it can.
“Our government supports the objective of the inquiry and is currently looking at how we can support Alberta’s efforts,” Ivana Yelich said in an e-mail.
B.C. Premier John Horgan, whose government is another frequent target of Mr. Kenney, sidestepped a question about whether he would offer any help.
“I have no trouble with Premier Kenney choosing whatever issues he chooses to review,” Mr. Horgan told reporters during last week’s premiers’ meeting in Saskatoon.
Mr. Schweitzer’s and Mr. Kenney’s offices issued statements that said Mr. Allan’s inquiry is independent and he has the authority to run it as he sees fit.
Ed Ratushny, a professor emeritus at the University of Ottawa’s law school, said the law allows governments to work together on public inquiries.
He said there have been a few examples of provinces giving federal commissions special jurisdiction, such as during the tainted blood inquiry in the early 1990s. In the 1960s, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba held a joint public inquiry into the cost of living on the Prairies.
Mr. Ratushny said there are inherent challenges when provinces stage public inquiries into issues that extend beyond their boundaries.
"It can be a problem because they can run into dead ends,” he said.
Tim Gray, the executive director of Environmental Defence, said the terms of reference are narrowly focused on attacking environmentalists rather than simply examining the role of foreign money in the debate. He said that would need to change before his group considered handing over information and documents willingly.
“We’re not interested in participating in any kind of kangaroo court, so we would need to assure ourselves that this is going to be a fair exploration of the issues at hand," he said.
Joanna Kerr, chief executive of Tides Canada, whose group along with U.S.-based Tides have been cast as the main villains in the foreign-funded campaign, said she remains skeptical about the inquiry and hasn’t decided whether to participate voluntarily.
At the same time, Ms. Kerr said her group wants to correct what she described as misinformation that is already out there, such as Mr. Kenney incorrectly labelling her group a subsidiary of Tides.
“We make all of our information publicly available, so we have nothing to hide,” she said. “But is this [the inquiry] just an opportunity for political leaders to prove to their base that they’ve done what they can to beat up on environmental organizations?”
With a report from Justin Giovannetti