Public inquiry deadline extended again

By Catherine Griwkowsky May 20, 2021

The public inquiry into alleged foreign-funded anti-Alberta energy campaigns has been extended for a fourth time — with the government blaming delays on a 2019 lawsuit against the probe that was quashed this week.

The inquiry’s new deadline is July 30.

Premier Jason Kenney said inquiry commissioner Steve Allan spent a “fair bit of resources” defending the inquiry against the unsuccessful legal challenge by Ecojustice.

“He’s asked for a bit more time as he pivots back to the completion of the actual report, and we’ve granted him that time,” Kenney said during a live broadcast on Facebook Tuesday night.

Energy Minister Sonya Savage said cabinet approved the extension and that no additional funding was requested (the inquiry has received $3.5 million from the province so far).

“Due to the time wasted by the obstructive legal efforts of Ecojustice which were ultimately unsuccessful, cabinet has approved a short extension until July 30th for the Commissioner to complete his important work,” Savage said in a statement to AB Today.

Ecojustice launched its lawsuit in November 2019, arguing the inquiry is a politically motivated attempt to silence critics.

Allan didn’t mention the lawsuit when he explained the rationale for a previous extension granted in January.

“The Inquiry has required and undertaken a thorough and detailed review of voluminous material covering a time frame of about 20 years, which has been made all the more complex by the COVID-19 pandemic and related public health advisories,” the commissioner said on January 29.

Court ruling could be appealed
Ecojustice executive director Devon Page told AB Today the inquiry has an obligation to produce a non-biased report, something he still doubts will be done.

“This was a witch hunt, and the evidence doesn’t bear out the premier’s allegation of a conspiracy to landlock Alberta oil,” Page said.

Page said Ecojustice received an invitation to provide commentary last fall but refused on the grounds that the inquiry hadn’t responded to other requests to ensure procedural fairness.

Last week, the courts dismissed Ecojustice’s bid to stop the inquiry on the basis it was convened for an improper purpose, was not constitutional and that its conduct was subject to a reasonable apprehension of bias. Page said he is considering an appeal of the ruling.

Environmental groups slam inquiry
Keith Stewart, senior energy strategist for Greenpeace Canada, said his organization’s lawyers have written to the inquiry three times — most recently last month — but have heard nothing back other than an acknowledgement of receipt.

“If my teenager came to me and said, ‘I didn’t do my homework because I kind of was hoping school would be cancelled,’ I’d tell him, that’s not a good enough reason,” Stewart said in an interview with AB Today.

Stewart said Greenpeace accepted more than $2.9 million in foreign donations for work critical of the oilsands from 2007 to 2018 — representing roughly two per cent of the non-profit’s total revenues. During that same period, Stewart said, Greenpeace Canada received around $5.3 million from Albertans, adding about 95 per cent of the organization’s total funding comes from Canadians.

“I almost feel sorry for Steve Allan — except for the fact that he took this job — because he was basically given an impossible task to prove a conspiracy theory,” Stewart said.

Ian Bruce, acting executive director of the David Suzuki Foundation, also slammed the inquiry, saying it’s easy to see why it “has been mired in scandal and questions of its legitimacy.”

It’s likely the only government-driven inquiry in this day and age that has spent millions of taxpayer dollars to deny the scientific reality that we are facing a climate emergency,” Bruce told AB Today.

NDP Justice critic Kathleen Ganley said the UCP’s strategy of “inquiries, war rooms and yelling” has not created jobs.

“The premier’s bumbling inquiry has done nothing but drive investment out of the province,” Ganley said. “His so-called fight back strategy is clearly a farce.”