Skip to main content
Open this photo in gallery:

An inquiry into anti-oil activisim in Alberta, which was a key campaign promise from Premier Jason Kenney’s United Conservative Party, is a year behind schedule after repeated extensions that its commissioner has blamed on the COVID-19 pandemic.AMBER BRACKEN/The Canadian Press

A draft report from Alberta’s inquiry targeting anti-oil activists criticizes environmentalists for taking “extreme” positions opposing the province’s resource sector, but also says there is nothing improper about such activism. And while the draft concludes that environmentalists funded in part by American foundations have played a role in reduced investment in the sector, it also says there is no evidence those groups were solely responsible for the cancellation of pipelines or other projects.

The draft, portions of which were obtained by The Globe and Mail, was written by commissioner Steve Allan as he prepares his final report to the provincial government ahead of a deadline at the end of the month. The inquiry, which was a key campaign promise from Premier Jason Kenney’s United Conservative Party, is a year behind schedule after repeated extensions that Mr. Allan blamed on the COVID-19 pandemic. His original $2.5-million budget was increased by $1-million.

Mr. Kenney has contended that a network of Canadian environmental groups used funding from American foundations to mount a successful campaign against pipelines and other oil and gas infrastructure.

The portions of the report obtained by The Globe and Mail do not include a section detailing the funding of environmental groups, nor do they include Mr. Allan’s recommendations. The draft refers to the “magnitude” of foreign money used by Canadian environmentalists to obstruct oil and gas development, though groups that have been singled out by the government maintain that only a small portion of their overall revenue comes from non-Canadian sources.

Mr. Allan’s draft report points to a presentation prepared in 2008 by a collection of environmental groups that referred to the “Tar Sands Campaign” and outlined a strategy to use public activism and legal challenges to oppose pipelines and other oil and gas projects. The draft concludes Canadian environmental groups co-ordinated between themselves and with their American funders and that they have played a role in reduced investment in the sector.

Ottawa has a self-made mess to clean up before resentment toward carbon pricing festers

Liberals look to regain ground in Alberta with high-profile candidates. Will it be enough?

However, the draft does not make any findings of wrongdoing and repeatedly makes it clear that there is nothing inherently wrong with participating in such a campaign. The draft acknowledges that the environmentalists and their funders appear to be motivated by a genuine concern about climate change.

“I wish to be clear that I do not find that participation in an anti-Alberta energy campaign is in any way improper or constitutes conduct that should be in any way impugned,” Mr. Allan writes.

“I am also prepared to accept that many of the [environmental groups] are driven by an honest concern about the threats of climate change,” he writes later.

In the draft, Mr. Allan complains that environmental groups “tend to advance an extreme ‘all-or-nothing’ position” on Alberta’s oil industry by advocating an end to expansion. He describes the environmental movement as an “industry” whose leaders are also concerned about their own jobs and the success of their organizations.

He says campaigns targeting the oil sector “may have played a role” in the cancellation of some oil and gas projects, though the draft says the inquiry found no evidence that activists alone have been responsible. He also points to broader problems facing the industry, including a collapse in oil prices in 2014 that sent Alberta’s economy into a recession.

“I also note that oil and gas developers and marketers have suffered from a growing negative image due, in no small part, to off-fossil fuel campaigns,” the draft says.

“These campaigners are particularly vocal in their efforts and engagement on economic and energy policy issues and debates that are important, on at least some level, to all Albertans and Canadians.”

A spokesman for Mr. Allan, Alan Boras, declined to comment on the draft report or whether the commissioner will meet his current deadline of next Friday. Once Mr. Allan submits his final report, the government has 90 days to release it.

Mr. Kenney’s office also declined to comment on the contents of the draft report but the Premier’s spokesman, Harrison Fleming, said in an e-mail that the government looks forward to reading Mr. Allan’s findings.

The inquiry has been criticized since its inception. Environmental groups complained that Mr. Allan’s original terms of reference, which have since been revised, prejudged the inquiry’s work and presumed that environmental groups had done something wrong.

They have also said they were given limited opportunity to respond. Mr. Allan did not seek formal input from environmental groups until last month and they were given just a few weeks to submit their responses.

Very little of Mr. Allan’s work has been made public. He submitted an interim report last year that hasn’t been released, and he declined to hold public hearings.

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.

Follow related authors and topics

Authors and topics you follow will be added to your personal news feed in Following.

Interact with The Globe