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Alberta Premier Jason Kenney speaks after the United Conservative Party annual meeting in Calgary on Nov. 21.Larry MacDougal/The Canadian Press

The Alberta government has hired a private law firm to defend Premier Jason Kenney after environmental groups threatened him with a defamation lawsuit.

Paul Champ, lawyer for the environmentalists, says he’s been notified that the province has retained counsel.

“[Mr. Kenney’s] counsel advises that they will review the matter and respond ‘substantively’ in the near future,” Mr. Champ said in an e-mail. “We fully expect Premier Kenney will get solid advice on this matter.”

The lawsuit threat was made in a letter to Mr. Kenney last month by eight groups who allege the Premier deliberately twisted the findings of a public inquiry into their activities and funding sources.

That inquiry, headed by Calgary forensic accountant Steve Allan, looked into whether environmental groups were conspiring to landlock Alberta oil by spreading misinformation about its environmental impact. The inquiry found the groups had done nothing wrong and were within their freedom-of-speech rights.

But the groups say that even after Mr. Allan’s report was released, Mr. Kenney continued to falsely accuse them of spreading misinformation about Alberta’s energy industry in public statements, social-media posts and government websites. Specific documents are referenced in the letter Mr. Kenney received.

The groups allege those statements were intended to damage their reputations and credibility in the eyes of the public.

They are asking for an apology, the posts to be taken down and the websites rewritten.

A spokesman for Mr. Kenney’s office has previously said they would “vigorously respond in court if and when necessary.”

The letter had given Mr. Kenney until Nov. 30 to accede to those demands before filing a statement of claim against him. Mr. Champ said the government’s move to retain lawyers from outside government will delay that filing as Mr. Kenney’s lawyers review the facts and advise their client.

“Assuming the premier follows this advice, we expect to see those posts taken down with an apology,” Mr. Champ wrote.

The Allan inquiry cost taxpayers $3.5-million.

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