The Jason Kenney government’s inquiry into supposed foreign-funded interference with the province’s fossil industry has failed to make its case, but is still an affront to democracy, Greenpeace Canada senior energy strategist Keith Stewart argues this week in an opinion piece for the Edmonton Journal.
“What happens when an inquisition can’t find any sinners?” Stewart asks. “That is the conundrum facing the Kenney government’s so-called Public Inquiry into Anti-Alberta Energy Campaigns.”
After four deadline extensions and a weird excursion into the world of junk climate denial and conspiracy theories, the C$3.5-million inquiry led by Calgary accountant Steve Allan finally contacted about 40 organizations in mid-June, asking them to respond to “potential findings of the inquiry that pertain specifically to each of them.” The groups “now have until no later than July 16 to submit their responses, just two weeks before the commissioner’s deadline for the final report,” CBC wrote at the time.
Now, Stewart is revealing that any allegations Allan may be making are far tamer than the overheated, discredited claims that initially drove the commission’s work.
Allan “has 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’,” Stewart writes. “Other environmental groups have received similar letters. Allan has also indicated he won’t be relying on the bizarre climate science-denying, conspiracy-spouting reports he commissioned as part of the inquiry.”
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 writes. “That may please his political masters, but it is an affront to democratic debate.”
From the beginning, Allan’s commission and the faux research that gave rise to it have been built on the premise that foreign funders drove Canadian climate campaigners to oppose development of Alberta’s fossil fuel resources. But “Greenpeace Canada has never hidden the fact that we received funds from U.S. and European foundations for our tarsands campaign,” Stewart writes. “The $2.9 million we received from those foundations in the 2007-2018 period (none since) is dwarfed by the $5.6 million we received from Albertans for this work during that same period.”
He asks: “Are these donors somehow not real Albertans?”
By that same measure, “former Premier [Peter] Lougheed’s long-standing claim that oilsands development was happening too fast made him anti-Albertan. Equally un-Albertan are the mayors who asked for slower development because municipal infrastructure couldn’t keep up.”
Stewart looks back to the campaign arguments Greenpeace carried with it when it opened an office in Alberta in 2007, noting that its calls to end tar sands/oil sands expansion, clean up toxic tailings ponds, and plan a transition off fossil fuels have since been taken up by the likes of the International Energy Agency, the Canadian Parliament, and the Supreme Court. But that didn’t stop Premier Jason Kenney from calling it “instructive” that Russian President Vladimir Putin had jailed Greenpeace activists, or avert the death threats and other “chilling” effects resulting from Kenney’s attacks on climate and energy transition groups.
“Attempting to shoot the messenger, however, has left Alberta unprepared for the coming energy transition,” Stewart warns. But “the assault on democratic debate has not silenced Kenney’s critics. It has only scared away investors who don’t want to be associated with regimes so openly opposing action on climate change.”