The report of a two-year, $3.5-million report on supposed “anti-Alberta energy campaigns” shows the whole process up as a “farcical attack” on Canadians’ rights with a strong overtone of climate denial, say two campaign organizations that have seen a draft of the still-confidential document.
The commission, led by forensic accountant and United Conservative Party stalwart Steve Allan, dates back to Premier Jason Kenney’s “2019 election campaign promise to ‘fight back’ against what he deemed ‘anti-Alberta’ activities, blamed for a slump in the oilpatch as major expansion projects were cancelled and thousands of workers lost their jobs,” The Narwhal recalls. The commission has since had its reporting deadline extended four times and its toll on provincial taxpayers increased from an initial $2.5-million budget, while Allan and has team ventured out on a weird excursion into the world of junk climate denial and conspiracy theories.
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Greenpeace Canada cited a section of the report that favourably quotes now-deceased Swedish academic Hans Rosling, who called for more research on the climate emergency before deciding how to address it. “In 2021, anyone who says we need to wait for more data on climate change before we take any action is engaging in climate denial,” Senior Energy Strategist Keith Stewart told The Narwhal.
“These sort of references and comments serve no purpose and are especially unfair and unbalanced when the commissioner declines to refer to the many highly credible reports in his possession which speak to the seriousness of climate change,” Greenpeace added in its response to Allan.
350.org agreed that the report “doesn’t include references to any peer-reviewed climate science, or expert analysis of the impacts of acting in line with that science on Alberta, Canada, and the world,” The Narwhal writes.
With its final deadline looming at the end of this month, “the commission said in June it would send out notices to about 40 groups to ask for their response to potential findings of the inquiry,” the B.C.-based publication adds. “It also instructed groups to respond no later than July 16 and to ensure that their responses did not exceed 15 pages, without prior approval.”
That was after Alberta Energy Minister and former pipeline exec Sonya Savage declared that one of the commission’s deadline extensions would “ensure that potential participants have a fair opportunity to provide input.”
Earlier this month, Stewart said Allan had “informed Greenpeace Canada that ‘I do not intend to make findings of misconduct’ because—as he promises to state in his final report—our organization has done nothing ‘dishonest’, ‘unlawful’, or that ‘should in any way be impugned’”
But even if Allan has no plan to “impugn” Greenpeace or others, “he will likely name us as engaging in an anti-Alberta energy campaign,” Stewart added. “That may please his political masters, but it is an affront to democratic debate.”
There’s nothing in Allan’s report to shift that prediction, groups say.
“We’ve read the draft—and our review of it shows that it promises to be a continuation of the gong show that has been under way for two years,” writes Environmental Defence Canada Executive Director Tim Gray. “It will rightfully be seen by almost everyone as a political stunt, and should normally be ignored as such, if only its content and intended purpose were not such a threat to public debate in Canada.”
“When did protecting the planet become anti-Albertan?” asks Greenpeace Canada Executive Director Christy Ferguson.
Gray says Allan’s notice to the 40 groups “redefines the mandate given to the inquiry by the Alberta government to no longer focus on whether any of the publications, government submissions, or statements of our organization or others were inaccurate or misleading. Instead, the Commissioner has created his own mandate to investigate only whether anyone said anything negative about oil sands development, regardless of the scientific, economic, or social merit of these statements.”
After two years and $3.5 million, Environmental Defence, Greenpeace, and other targeted groups report that Allan’s “evidence” generally consists of screen shots from their websites, Google searches, and their public filings with the Canada Revenue Agency. Dogwood says the PDF it received is “as slapdash and bizarre as the inquiry itself”, consisting of “screenshots and quotes from social media, news articles, and archived webpages, including random blog posts containing significant errors.”
“It takes this selectively-chosen information and spins a narrative about our organization being ‘anti-Alberta energy’ that is devoid of context, balance, or analysis, and in many cases misleads the reader to reach conclusions not supported by the material presented,” Gray writes.
“In other words, the commission is saying that all of Environmental Defence’s activities to protect the climate and question oil sands impacts in Alberta are legal and honest. But that did not stop him from writing a draft report that tries to lead a reader to conclude the opposite.”
Ferguson casts the inquiry as part of a broader effort to intimidate and silence the fossil industry’s critics. But since Greenpeace opened its Alberta office in 2007, she notes, its once-“radical” call to end tar sands/oil sands expansion has since been taken up by the decidedly staid International Energy Agency, while its focus on cleaning up oil and gas pollution and ensuring a just transition for fossil industry workers and communities has similarly gone mainstream.
“Greenpeace Canada is proud of that work,” she declares. “We make no apology for demanding science-based solutions that match the scale of the climate and biodiversity crises, even when it makes powerful interests uncomfortable. And we will press on, alongside Indigenous leaders and front-line communities, and with the backing of our supporters—no matter what intimidation tactics are thrown our way.”
Gray says the Allan inquiry should matter to Canadians as an “alarming use” of government powers: it “attempts to marginalize and demonize” groups working to protect citizens from climate and ecological harms, and “equates ‘anti-Alberta energy campaigns’ with any efforts to question fossil fuels”. It “declares any effort to protect lands, forests, or wetlands from B.C. to Ontario as inherently anti-Alberta energy because such protected lands might get in the way of pipeline that oil and gas companies want to build”, ignores environmental groups’ collaborative work with the oil and gas industry, and wrongly implies that community opposition to fossil fuel development is somehow unique to Canada.
“Politically-motivated inquiries such as this one are the hallmark of repressive regimes and have no place in a democracy like Alberta and Canada,” Gray writes. “It is an embarrassment, and so it is not surprising that the draft final report of the inquiry is, as well.”