Folks in Alberta like BIG things. Big Trucks, big companies, as well as politicians that make big promises and spew big lies.
Alberta’s Premier Jason Kenney certainly spouted a whopper to help get himself elected in 2019.
Kenney claimed Alberta was the victim of a campaign to sabotage its economy, and the money for that campaign came from outside of Canada.
Kenney declared he had “undeniable proof that Alberta’s interests are being challenged and thwarted… blocked in and pinned down by well-funded foreign actors who have been waging a long-term campaign to landlock Alberta oil using partisan political tactics and outright misinformation in their campaign of defamation.”
Kenney was trying to paint Alberta as the innocent victim of a big bad wolf — and the scary beast was a small group of non-profits and their funders.
So after the election, Kenney launched a Public Inquiry to dig into his pet conspiracy. Kenney appointed Steve Allan — a forensic accountant with deep ties to Kenney’s party — to lead the Inquiry.
After two years, four missed extensions, and $3.5 million tax-payer dollars wasted, Commissioner Allan has released his draft report to forty groups Kenney claimed were out to get Alberta.
Allan’s conclusion after examining these groups’ activities between 2000 and 2019: he found nothing “in any way improper or constitutes conduct that should be in any way impugned.”
To translate into Alberta lingo, that means Kenney’s claim was a big lie or “all hat, no cattle.”
Allan figured out that none of the groups did anything wrong, but then the draft report gets weird.
Wildly Inflated Funding Claims
Allan spends almost 200 pages putting together a mishmash of Google searches and newspaper quotes to cook up a story that citizen groups spent somewhere between $151 million and almost $1.3 billion of foreign money on what he deems “anti-Albertan activities.”
The accounting firm Allan hired to help him could only find $16.8 million. And that money was split up between dozens of groups in Canada over almost twenty years.
If the accountants only found $16 million, how did Allan get to over $1 billion?
Claims Protecting the BC Coast is Anti-Albertan
This is where this strange draft report starts to relate to Islanders. And it’s where Allan’s tale gets truly bizarre.
Allan says that any money used to protect the web of life along the BC coast was actually “opposition to development of Alberta’s oil and gas resources ‘in a broad and general sense.'”
Allan decided that all the conservation efforts to protect wild salmon, create the Great Bear Rainforest, protect the BC coast from oil spills, safeguard endangered orcas, set up marine protected areas and create a sustainable economy for the First Nations living on the coast were all really intended to mess up Alberta oil. So, they are all — according to Allan — anti-Albertan.
Allan then claims that the label ‘anti-Alberta’ is not a bad thing.
Tell that to the people getting death threats from pissed-off Albertans who will think these groups are getting over a billion dollars to put them out of their jobs.
Oh, did I mention that Allan somehow figured out the actual aims of all the groups working to protect lives and livelihoods along our coast without even bothering to talk to any of the BC groups involved?
DogwoodBC, West Coast Environmental Law, Raincoast Conservation Society, Wilderness Committee, Sierra Club, CPAWS, David Suzuki Foundation, Greenpeace, MakeWay, Raincoast Conservation Society, Standc350.org and the MakeWay (formerly Tides Canada) Foundation were all included in the list of groups engaged in anti-Albertan activities.
But it’s not only groups defending coastal issues that were called anti-Albertan. Allan says virtually all major conservation or climate projects in Canada were in some way anti-Alberta.
So efforts to save boreal forest in eastern Canada or defend indigenous rights are somehow secret attacks on Alberta. Remember, Allan didn’t bother to interview any of these groups before coming to this conclusion. They never even got a phone call.
But overblown money claims and hunches about what these groups’ motives are not the only problems with Allan’s draft report.
Climate Denial and Factual Errors
- Allan claims DogwoodBC was involved in the campaign to stop the Energy East pipeline in Quebec, but they weren’t.
- West Coast Environmental Law points out Allan’s draft report categorizes projects funded solely by the Law Foundation of BC as anti-Albertan. Some Albertans think BC is a foreign country but come on, the charity representing BC lawyers is hardly a foreign funder.
- University of Calgary associate law professor Martin Olszynski has also pointed out that the reports Allan mentions are “textbook examples of climate-change denialism.”
Full of Innuendo
Keith Stewart from Greenpeace told the Narwhal that Allan “‘grant[s] credibility to a bunch of innuendo,’ describing some of the report’s assertions as ‘jaw-dropping.'”
For example, Allan alludes to environmental groups being a “socialist movement,” and part of a global conspiracy to create “a one-world government.” Allan suggests targeted groups were promoting policies to get rich “from trading in carbon credits, subsidies for renewable energy, the ownership of rail cars, or some other scheme that will be economically beneficial for the participants.”
Allan doesn’t dismiss these conspiracy theories. Instead, he concludes, “it may very well be a combination of more than one of these theories. It is a question that this inquiry did not have the resources to ultimately determine.”
Keith Stewart summed up Allan’s approach in a comment to the Narwhal, “It’s kind of a stunning statement for a public inquiry: ‘I’m going to repeat hearsay, uncredited, which defames people; I think parts of it are true, but I didn’t have time to check.'”
Kenney’s Inquiry also went against virtually every legal safeguard in place to protect targets of public inquiries from government overreach.
Inquiries are supposed to share the evidence they’re using. So, for example, the Inquiry into Money Laundering in British Columbia has posted over a thousand pieces of evidence that anyone can look at.
And with the final report due at the end of July, Allan has still not shared one piece of evidence. There is no record of the evidence Allan considered. Instead, he quotes a shocking collection of social media posts, media interviews, and archived web pages.
Allan claims he interviewed 100 witnesses, but won’t tell anyone who these witnesses were or what they said. It also appears that none of these interviews were conducted under oath— meaning witnesses didn’t swear to the truth of their testimony and put themselves at risk if they lied. The BC Inquiry has interviewed 210 witnesses and has posted transcripts of their sworn testimony on their website.
Oh, did I say that Allan didn’t even bother to interview anyone from any of the forty targeted groups?
Targeted groups are also supposed to have lots of time to review materials. They are supposed to be able to call witnesses and cross-examine the evidence being used against them. But Allan gave some groups between 5 and 10 days to review dozens — sometimes hundreds — of documents. There was also no opportunity to bring witnesses or cross-examine wild claims.
If Nobody Did Anything Wrong, What’s the Point?
Kenney’s inquiry was never supposed to be a fair, unbiased search for the truth. When he announced the Inquiry, Kenney showed he had already determined that Alberta was the victim of a big bad wolf — or according to the Premier, a small group of not-for-profit citizen groups and funders in wolves clothing. Allan knew what his orders were; he was on stage with Kenney when he made his original claims.
Kenney wanted the Inquiry to be a witch hunt.
Kenney wanted to check a box on an election promise.
It’s an old political tactic with a long history in Alberta. When things are going bad, find an outsider to blame, like Ottawa, Trudeau-the-dad, Trudeau-the-son, Americans, and now environmental groups and funders.
Kenney was looking for someone to blame for the collapse of an industry that’s failing because it won’t adapt. But, rather than confront the challenges as real leaders do, Kenney decided to shoot the messenger.
And he chose Allan to pull the trigger.
But Canadians don’t like bullies or governments that try to use their powers to attack folks that disagree with it.
Kenney overplayed his victim hand. He cried wolf too often.
The facts about the Inquiry’s questionable conclusions, inflated numbers, and unfair process are being exposed. Neither Kenney, nor Allan will get a free pass.
People may notice the irony that the draft report, which sounds very close to climate denial, was released to groups the same week as the unprecedented heatwave. It’s not an exaggeration to say the town of Lytton, BC, was literally burning to the ground as groups were trying to download Allan’s report. Or that hundreds in BC and Alberta were dying from heat as named groups were reading the draft and finding out that they were being called anti-Albertan for trying to protect their communities from climate change.
The groups targeted by the Inquiry have said they’ll fight back. They have submitted affidavits — a document where the witness swears that their statements are true — stating many of the facts and figures in the report are wrong. They have asked Allan to remove these errors from the report.
So now the ball is in Allan’s court. He can leave his draft report the way it is. If so, Allan will probably have to spend the next couple of years in court as the groups challenge his work.
Or Allan can fix the concerns raised in the group’s responses and clean up his final report. For example, Allan can cut out references to conspiracy theories. He can remove any mention of efforts to protect the BC coast (and other areas) as anti-Albertan. He can take out references to funding that has nothing to do with Alberta.
Kenney’s undemocratic cry of “wolf” is backfiring. It has not kept his critics quiet. Instead, it grouped his government with other climate-denying oil giants using their governments to shut down opponents.
The tragedy is not that this Public Inquiry attacks British Columbians for being anti-Alberta. We can stick up for ourselves.
The tragedy is that this Inquiry will hurt our Alberta friends. It will scare away investors who do not want to be associated with governments that oppose action on climate change. It will keep workers in the oil and gas industry from getting new training for the jobs of the future. It will make the Alberta government an anti-democratic laughingstock everywhere.
That will not help Albertans. And they are our neighbours.