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Opinion Jason Kenney fights for Alberta – even if the enemy isn’t real

If the war Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has declared on environmentalists sounds familiar – taking aim against those allegedly intent on destroying his province’s energy sector – it should.

It was seven years ago that then federal Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver penned an open letter that took aim at organizations protesting Alberta’s oil sands and, at the time, the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline project.

“Unfortunately, there are environmental and other radical groups that would seek to block this opportunity to diversify our trade,” Mr. Oliver wrote in January, 2012. “Their goal is to stop any major project no matter what the cost to Canadian families in lost jobs and economic growth.”

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Mr. Oliver’s claim that Canadian environmental groups, funded by wealthy American foundations, were trying to stifle Canadian oil exports offshore through an untruthful propaganda campaign was based entirely on research done by controversial Vancouver writer Vivian Krause. Over the past decade, Ms. Krause has made a name for herself working on this file, exposing the extent to which American philanthropic organizations such as the Rockefeller Brothers Fund and others have been a source of funding of Canadian environmental groups opposed to the Alberta oil sands.

But despite Mr. Oliver’s vow to root out the foreign-funded eco-radicals he was targeting, not a whole lot more became of it. His crusade kind of fizzled before it began. The Northern Gateway pipeline was stopped primarily because of the objections of Indigenous groups, not because of some covert, made-in-the-U.S. operation designed to benefit American industrial interests. And the same could be said of delays in construction of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.

One of Mr. Oliver’s cabinet colleagues at the time was Jason Kenney, now Alberta’s new Premier. Mr. Kenney has seemingly come under the thrall anew of Ms. Krause’s work. During the recent Alberta election, he mimicked many of her assertions, particularly her charge that Canada has been played for fools when it comes to foreign meddling in our energy sector.

Many of those same talking points were front and centre when Mr. Kenney, in one of his first acts as Premier, announced the creation of a $30-million “war room” to counter “misinformation” being spread by environmental organizations. And they were on display again last week when the Premier announced a public inquiry into what he claimed was a “premeditated, internationally planned and financed operation to put Alberta energy out of business.”

The inquiry, which will be headed up by Steve Allan, who will step down from his post as Calgary Economic Development chair and has training as a forensic accountant, will report back in a year. It will have two phases: The first will be a fact-finding mission, the second, public hearings – if deemed necessary.

The fact-finding mission will be the easy part, and will no doubt lean heavily on Ms. Krause’s voluminous research. In other words, we already know what’s out there, and what the inquiry is likely to uncover and conclude. It will be exceedingly difficult, however, to prove Ms. Krause’s central thesis, debunked by many, that the U.S. funding of oil-sands detractors in Canada is part of a conspiracy among powerful American billionaires and their proxies to land-lock our oil for their economic advantage.

I can’t see the public-hearings phase going ahead. Firstly, the inquiry can’t compel witnesses from outside the province to testify. Secondly, the spectacle of inquiry lawyers cross-examining Canadians who happen to oppose the oil sands because of their concerns about climate change has the potential to backfire spectacularly.

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It might play well in Alberta, but outside the province it would look dreadful.

The fact that a reputable organization such as the Pembina Institute, a non-profit think tank focused on energy sustainability, could be lumped in with groups said to be working against Alberta’s interests with the support of “shadowy funding” – Mr. Kenney’s words – is patently absurd, and underscores just how ridiculous this entire public-relations exercise is.

This inquiry is designed to serve one purpose only: to show Albertans Mr. Kenney is prepared to fight on their behalf, even if it’s against imaginary enemies. The fact is, Mr. Kenney, more than anyone, has helped ensure that environmental activists begin their attacks on the oil sands all over again.

They had gone largely quiet during Rachel Notley’s tenure as premier, mostly as a result of the unprecedented pro-environment policies and climate-change plan she brought forward – measures Mr. Kenney is now in the process of dismantling.

Perhaps the inquiry’s ultimate aim is to intimidate environmentalists into silence and acquiescence. It won’t work. Far more likely is the possibility that after the report comes out, Mr. Kenney loses interest in the entire matter. It wouldn’t be the first time. Ask Joe Oliver.

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