Back in 2019, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney promised that an inquiry would reveal – and somehow apprehend – a nefarious network of global actors including environmental interest groups, foreign governments and Hollywood celebrities who have been actively conspiring to landlock the province’s oil. “Alberta will no longer allow hostile interest groups to dictate our economic destiny,” he said at the time. The promise became a long-heralded, serially extended, scandal-plagued $3.5-million inquiry into the alleged foreign efforts.
But when the 657-page report was finally released publicly, Mr. Kenney was not available to speak to its findings. Maybe he was doing his hair, or washing his car. Or maybe the fable that this inquiry would reveal information upon which the province could meaningfully act to resuscitate global interest in Alberta oil was too ridiculous for even Mr. Kenney to stand behind.
So instead, he sent out Energy Minister Sonya Savage to deliver remarks on what was once among his most enthusiastically touted campaign pledges. And Ms. Savage, for her part, stood before reporters and suggested that there was some finding of wrongdoing, despite the actual content of the report.
Inquiry commissioner Steve Allan found that only a fraction ($54.1-million) of the $1.28-billion worth of foreign funding allocated for “Canadian-based environmental initiatives” between 2003 and 2019 was dedicated to “anti-Alberta resource development activity.” He noted that he was not in a position to conclude whether these initiatives alone caused project delays or cancellations, but he did specify that he found nothing illegal and found no evidence of wrongdoing on the part of any of the individuals or organizations mentioned in the inquiry. “Indeed, they have exercised their rights of free speech,” he wrote.
The big revelation from this inquiry, therefore, was that environmentalists spend money to oppose oil sands projects, which makes this an exercise akin to spending $3.5-million to discover that cows eat grass and fairy godmothers grant wishes. The six recommendations rounding out the Allan report – including to develop standards for transparency for charitable organizations and develop a new branding strategy for Canadian energy – were so generic as to be entirely unhelpful.
And yet, the release of the Allan report was not the only exercise in UCP theatre this past week. On Tuesday, the results of a referendum on equalization – another Kenney 2019 campaign promise – came in, with roughly 62 per cent of voters supporting the removal of a clause in the Constitution that ensures that federal taxes are equitably redistributed to provinces. Mr. Kenney, who did show up to speak before reporters this time, called the results a “powerful” message on equalization from Alberta voters, and said that he is “expecting the government of Canada to take this referendum result very seriously.”
The government of Canada, of course, can tell Alberta’s government to pound sand, which won’t be particularly hard to do. The modest majority of Albertans who voted to remove Section 36(2) from the Constitution actually represent a minority of Albertans writ-large when voter turnout is taken into account, and Mr. Kenney is suffering with approval numbers that have been circling the toilet bowl for some time.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau doesn’t appear to be particularly concerned about Western alienation at the moment (if he was, he probably wouldn’t have appointed a former Greenpeace activist as his new Environment Minister), and he may simply shrug off this referendum result for what it is: an impotent expression of angst, strategically channelled by the UCP for the party’s own political advantage.
The grievances of regular Albertans are real. There is genuine discontent at the way the Ottawa kowtows to Quebec’s every whim, while greedily absorbing tax revenues from Alberta’s oil industry high earners and redistributing them across Canada. And people in the province, particularly those who have lost their jobs and are watching their identities disparaged on the world stage, are clamouring for someone to blame: the Rockefellers, Russia, the Tides Foundation, Mr. Trudeau, Greta Thunberg.
Alberta’s government, for its part, is all too happy to indulge these impulses, even though the UCP’s remedies – inquiries, war rooms, referendums – deliver no tangible results, and only inflame existing frustrations with limp promises of action. Albertans deserve a government that will realistically confront the challenges facing the province. Instead, they get theatre, and no one likes this show.
Keep your Opinions sharp and informed. Get the Opinion newsletter. Sign up today.