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Alberta inquiry hasn't found any foreign-funded anti-energy campaigns yet, but promises to keep searching

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Energy Minister Sonya Savage at a press conference in April, 2020. (Image: Alberta Newsroom/Flickr)

I'm sorry to have to report, Alberta, that the inquiry into foreign-funded campaigns targeting Alberta's oil and gas industry apparently hasn't found any foreign-funded campaigns targeting Alberta's oil and gas industry.

Don't worry, though, they're pretty sure that if they keep looking they can find something.

After all, everyone involved acknowledges some money crosses the border from U.S. foundations to Canadian environmental groups, all legal and properly accounted for.

So we taxpayers will give the inquiry another $1 million and four more months so commissioner Steve Allan can continue his snipe hunt for that elusive vast foreign-funded "anti-Alberta energy campaign."

You can count on it that Allan will let us know if he turns something up, probably after Labour Day.

Don't take my word for this. This comes straight from the lips of Energy Minister Sonya Savage to your ears, via the medium of the hard-working news release writers and meme makers in the Kenney government's vast pool of generously compensated press secretaries and issues managers.

"The commissioner's initial findings have shown that additional time and work is required to complete the final report," Savage explained in a news release published at 4:30 yesterday afternoon, the last day the legislature did any business before MLAs headed home for constituency week.

"This extension will allow the commissioner to fairly and justly complete the inquiry process and follow up on the materials discovered to date," Savage said piously. So the commissioner's deadline will be extended from July 2 until October 30, and, what's more, he'll get an additional million free-floating Canadian Loonies to continue his work.

Alas, where there are winners, there must also be losers, so the extra million will come out of the $30-million 2020-2021 budget of the Alberta energy war room. This raises the inquiry's cost to $3.5-million.

This shouldn't be a problem since the war room hasn't been doing much of anything since the COVID-19 pandemic reached Alberta, the idea of working from home seemingly too exotic a notion for Alberta's war roomers.

I'm sure that, like Savage, we are all looking forward to learning what the commissioner recommends to solve a problem that even the minister uncharacteristically admitted in her news release is so far only an allegation.

As Premier Jason Kenney and Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer both said yesterday on a completely different topic, you can't make this stuff up.

Well, actually, come to think of it, you can. Perhaps that's the problem Allan encountered when he set out to look into the supposed conspiracy to benefit the U.S. oil industry at Alberta's expense that Kenney has fulminated about since entering provincial politics. The likely problem: There's so little evidence of it.

Or maybe the commissioner just needs to question some witnesses, something, oddly, the inquiry doesn't seem to have gotten around to yet.

It's not at all clear what commissioner Allan has been up to since the inquiry was called in July last year. At times, indeed, it's been as if he were missing in action.

Probably he's been reading over old Vivian Krause blog posts and begging the minister's office for some direction on what he should do if he can't find anything worth reporting on. Well, at least he's got some direction now: Look harder!

Krause is the controversial B.C. blogger known for attacking the credibility of, as The Narwhal described it, "environmental groups advocating for forest conservation, First Nations rights, climate action and democratic participation in natural resource development, especially the Alberta oilsands and proposed pipelines."

Energy journalist Markham Hislop has put considerable effort into challenging her claims, views that are controversial enough her role with the inquiry rates its own section on its FAQ page:

"The Inquiry is examining and exploring a variety of sources to gather relevant information and evidence, and the prior work of Vivian Krause is one such potential source. Importantly, the Commissioner is approaching the Inquiry Mandate with an indepedent (sic) and open mind and will subject all available information and evidence gathered to objective and impartial scrutiny. The Commissioner's education, training and experience, as well as that of his staff and advisors, equip him and the Inquiry team to conduct a thorough, independent and impartial assessment of the relevance and value of Ms. Krause's work, as well as any other relevant sources."

According to Hislop, the inquiry has never spoken to anyone from Tides Canada, the Canadian environmental non-governmental organization singled out by Premier Kenney for particularly vituperative accusations it was bankrolled by U.S. foundations to finance anti-pipeline campaigns.

Indeed, there's no evidence whatsoever that the inquiry, formally known as the "Public Inquiry Into Anti-Alberta Energy Campaigns," has ever spoken with anyone from any Canadian ENGO -- a group that includes Greenpeace, the Pembina Institute, Ecojustice, Dogwood and Tides Canada, now known as MakeWay.

If the commissioner gets around to actually making such inquiries, which Albertans were led last year to believe was the point of the exercise, that will presumably lend new life to court challenges of the legality of the inquiry by Ecojustice and Progress Alberta.

David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions at The Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. This post also appears on his blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

Image: Alberta Newsroom/Flickr​

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