‘There is a transnational global movement to facilitate a fundamental paradigm shift,” the 133-page report begins. The first target? “The Alberta oil sands.” The end goal? The “replacement of capitalism” with “technocratic socialism” that favours small organic farms and a China-like digital totalitarian state to control the populace.
This imaginative take may sound as if it was scraped from one of umpteen conspiracy websites. The report, however, was commissioned and paid for by the Alberta government. It is part of the province’s meandering public inquiry into “anti-Alberta energy campaigns.”
When the end-of-capitalism screed and two other papers of similarly questionable quality came to light this month, the reception was, as one might guess, not positive. “Textbook climate denialism” led a response to the papers, solicited by the inquiry, from a University of Calgary law professor. The prof found the papers “replete with generalizations, speculation, conjecture, and even conspiracy.”
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. Like Alberta’s other misguided attempt to sway public opinion – the Canadian Energy Centre, a.k.a. the “war room” – the inquiry into anti-Albertan activities is a bad idea turned farce.
Two years ago, when Jason Kenney campaigned to become Premier, he whipped up support for his United Conservative Party by declaring war on nefarious forces. The enemy, he said, were environmentalists concerned about climate change who, purportedly backed by dark money from abroad, had plotted against the province. “Standing up for Alberta” was Mr. Kenney’s slogan. His government would confront “all the lies and the myths.”
Two years later, Mr. Kenney’s planned counterattacks are nothing more than miscalculated and failed sorties.
The public inquiry was flawed from inception, as it sought only to prove its established beliefs. It stumbled over the starting line – forensic accountant Steve Allan, head of the inquiry, handed a $905,000 sole-source contract to the law firm where his son is a partner – and has since lurched from pillar to post. In early 2020, Mr. Allan filed an interim report that was never made public. Last summer, the terms were changed. Mr. Kenney originally wanted an unearthing of “foreign sources of funds into the anti-Alberta energy campaign;” that was amended to look at the role of foreign funding, “if any.” The supposedly public inquiry has been conducted mostly behind closed doors.
After two missed deadlines, a third due date is coming up on Sunday.
While it may seem as if the inquiry and war room are just embarrassing sideshows, their animating force is the same that continues to drive Mr. Kenney: Albertan anger remains front and centre. Last week, after U.S. President Joe Biden predictably blocked the Keystone XL pipeline, Mr. Kenney blamed the “foreign-funded campaign to land lock Alberta energy.”
Reality looks different. It’s true many environmental organizations oppose the oil sands and new pipelines. But their funding is not some cloaked menace. Vancouver-based Ecojustice, for example, has an annual budget of about $5-million, the majority from individual donors. Could $5-million really upend oil exports worth about $90-billion in a typical year? In a word: No.
And contrary to Mr. Kenney’s tale of woe, Alberta’s oil exports are doing fine. Canada is far and away the No. 1 supplier to the United States. In 2020, according to U.S. data, Canada produced 60 per cent of all oil exports to the U.S., a big gain from a 40-per-cent market share of five years earlier. There is more to come: Two big new pipelines, Trans Mountain and Line 3, are in construction.
Mr. Kenney and his UCP rode into office on a wave of anger. The recession was hurting, and pipeline protests and the new carbon tax felt as if they struck at the province’s lifeblood. But Alberta has not been singled out by global plotters. The world is changing, and Mr. Biden’s presidency promises to accelerate that change. Giving credence to baseless conspiracies will not help Canada’s oil industry – it will hurt it.
It is time to recalibrate. A new strategy, one rooted in reality, is overdue.