Good morning. It’s James Keller in Calgary.
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney won the 2019 election on a promise to “fight back” against opponents of the province’s oil industry, which had been battered by a prolonged economic downturn that continues today.
The fight would involve several tactics – chief among them a public inquiry to investigate environmental activists, whom the Premier and his allies contended were financed by U.S. philanthropists aiming to destroy the province’s main industry.
Mr. Kenney launched the inquiry that summer, appointing Steve Allan – a forensic accountant – as commissioner. At a news conference announcing the start of the inquiry, Mr. Kenney painted a picture of a highly coordinated international campaign that used vast sums of foreign money to finance and direct the actions of Canadian environmentalists.
The goal, he said, was to landlock Alberta oil. As for what was motivating them, Mr. Kenney said that was for the inquiry to find out. However, he pointed to Russian misinformation campaigns in the United States and wondered aloud why environmentalists were targetting Canadian energy but not also going after OPEC, Russian or U.S. oil, while hinting at something nefarious in the background.
“Almost all of this political pressure has been focused on this liberal democracy with the highest human rights, labour and environmental standards,” he said at the time. “And we want to know why, who, and how much. We want to understand what exactly lies behind this campaign to defame and landlock Canadian energy.”
Mr. Allan released his final report this week, and his findings appeared to fall short of Mr. Kenney’s goals from two years ago.
The final report detailed $925-million flowing to Canadian environmental charities from foreign sources, and another $353-million that U.S. foundations were using to fund campaigns in other countries that the report says were opposing Alberta oil. Those numbers include all environmental work, regardless of whether the recipients have anything to do with anti-oil activism; most do not.
Of all that money, Mr. Allan and a team from Deloitte Forensic Inc. could confirm only $37.5-million to $58.9-million in foreign financing that was used specifically to oppose the Alberta oil industry, including to groups based both in Canada and the United States. Of that smaller total, just $16.8-million went to Canadian groups over a period of 16 years.
Overall, foreign funding represented about 11 per cent of revenue to Canadian environmental charities, according to data contained in the report.
Mr. Allan said he could not precisely track just how much money went to anti-oil campaigns and he suggested the real number is likely higher, though it’s not clear how much.
He also concluded there was nothing improper or illegal about any of that activism and he said environmentalists appear motivated by a genuine concern about climate change. And while he said that activity has clearly affected the industry, he couldn’t attribute any particular cancelled project to environmental activism.
Energy Minister Sonya Savage dismissed criticism of the report and suggested the actual numbers are less important than the fact that foreign money is being used at all.
“I think the numbers described in the report are enormously large,” she said. “I think what it points to is the need for transparency to understand the money coming across. That money is being used to target domestic policy, domestic legislation, regulations, regulatory processes, and even the regulator itself. All Canadians should be concerned about this.”
Mr. Allan, who did not hold public hearings, also made six recommendations in his report, including increased transparency and oversight for non-profits and charities and that Canadian energy should be rebranded.
Neither Mr. Kenney nor Mr. Allan participated in the news conference, even though commissioners typically present their findings in public and take questions from the media.
Mr. Allan, who declined an interview request, issued a statement that said he prefers the report to speak for itself and suggested there were legal reasons why he could not comment further, though he did not elaborate.