Good morning. It’s James Keller in Calgary.
Jason Kenney’s United Conservative Party won Alberta’s 2019 election on a platform that promised a full-on assault against perceived enemies of the province’s oil industry. A central campaign promise was a public inquiry into Mr. Kenney’s claims that the oil patch has been the target of a foreign-funded campaign by environmental groups.
The process has been the subject of criticism since its inception, with opponents arguing that it is an attempt to intimidate critics and discredit them by spinning conspiracy theories. The Premier has pushed back, arguing that the inquiry is critical to understanding who is opposing the oil industry and why. He has suggested the province could take action against environmental charities though it’s not clear what that would involve
The inquiry and its commissioner, Steve Allan, have also been panned for missed deadlines and cost overruns. Mr. Allan’s $2.5-million budget was increased to $3.5-million, and he blew past two deadlines last year. His final report was due on Jan. 31, but the province revealed late last Friday night that Mr. Allan would receive yet another extension, with his report now due on May 31.
Mr. Allan, who has released few details about his work since he was appointed in July, 2019, released a statement that blamed the COVID-19 pandemic for the delays and said he needed more time to give environmental groups time to respond to potential allegations of misconduct. His spokesman, Alan Boras, who repeatedly deflected questions in recent weeks about whether Mr. Allan would meet his looming deadline, says the delays include needing to finalize his terms of reference as the government was focused on responding to the pandemic.
The Opposition New Democrats used the latest extension to repeat their calls for Mr. Allan to be fired and for the inquiry to be shut down. The party’s energy critic, Kathleen Ganley, says the inquiry is not doing anything to help the province’s struggling oil sector, and even if there are things that environmentalists get wrong, this isn’t the right way to handle that.
The NDP has also argued that the inquiry is damaging Alberta’s reputation by peddling climate-change denial and conspiracy theories, making it even more difficult for the province to attract investments.
The party and others have also pointed to documents released by the inquiry recently, including reports Mr. Allan commissioned that attempt to bolster claims about the foreign-funded plot against the oil sands. The materials have been derided as “textbook” climate-change denialism.
One of those reports suggests climate change is primarily a natural phenomenon and rejected the notion that carbon dioxide is a form of pollution. Instead, the report argues that the concept of climate change is being used by a well-funded global movement as a “pretext” to overthrow capitalism and replace it with socialism.
Mr. Allan responded to the criticism by stressing that the reports do not represent his own findings and that he does not intend to make any conclusions about the science of climate change. The reports were distributed to participants to solicit feedback.
The inquiry is also the subject of a legal challenge filed by the Vancouver-based environmental group Ecojustice, which argues the inquiry is unconstitutional. The group lost a bid to have the inquiry shut down while the legal case proceeds, but it is continuing with its challenge.
The Globe and Mail Editorial Board was also unimpressed, writing last week that the inquiry verges on farce: “To see an official government inquiry even glance at, never mind seem to embrace, such junk research is disturbing. Yet these commissioned papers are only the latest pratfall in a series of self-inflicted wounds that have marked the inquiry since its launch in mid-2019.”
The government appears unfazed by the controversies. Mr. Kenney has repeatedly defended Mr. Allan and the inquiry, and said its findings will be critical for the province to fight back against its critics. Mr. Kenney has blamed U.S.-funded environmental groups for delaying the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion with legal delays, hampering other projects like Enbridge’s Line 5 replacement project, and helping to convince newly elected U.S. President Joe Biden to rip up the approval of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline.
Once the government receives the inquiry’s final report, it has 90 days to release it. If Mr. Allan meets the new deadline of May 31, that could mean the report won’t be released until late August.
This is the weekly Western Canada newsletter written by B.C. Editor Wendy Cox and Alberta Bureau Chief James Keller. If you’re reading this on the web, or it was forwarded to you from someone else, you can sign up for it and all Globe newsletters here.