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Ecojustice will press ahead with legal action against Alberta government's secretive inquiry

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Premier Jason Kenney, Minister of Energy Sonya Savage and Minister of Justice and Solicitor General Doug Schweitzer announce the launch of a public inquiry into foreign-funded "anti-Alberta energy" campaigns in April, 2019. Image: Alberta Newsroom/Flickr

While a date has not yet been set for a hearing, Ecojustice Canada Society is pressing ahead with the legal action it announced last September against the Kenney government's secretive "public inquiry into anti-Alberta energy campaigns."

The fact the Alberta government has given inquiry commissioner Steve Allan another million dollars and four extra months to try to come up with an elusive foreign-funded campaign targeting Alberta's oil and gas industry makes no difference one way or another to the respected Vancouver-based environmental litigation charity.

Ecojustice staff lawyer Anna McIntosh told AlbertaPolitics.ca that despite repeated requests, commissioner Allan has never produced a list of the individuals the inquiry has interviewed or from whom it has received submissions.

"Ecojustice has said from the start that this inquiry is nothing more than a political attempt to silence organizations and distract from the real crisis at hand, our rapidly changing climate," McIntosh said. "This inquiry is not in Albertans' best interests and it is shameful that the government plans to pour even more time and money into it."

As for the fact the inquiry appears not to have interviewed a single Canadian environmental non-governmental organization, she noted that "from the beginning, inquiry commissioner Steve Allan has run this process with an utter lack of transparency."

In a statement on its website, the inquiry claims to have "conducted more than 100 interviews with academics, researchers, industry officials, environmentalists, not-for-profit organizations and members of Indigenous communities to gather a variety of views."

It also says the inquiry has "researched voluminous records of charitable grants, tax filings and public records of organizations" and promises "the Commissioner will afford parties an opportunity to consider and respond to relevant material collected through the research and investigative work to date."

McIntosh said "Ecojustice has repeatedly requested a public record of submissions to the inquiry and has yet to receive this information. As a result, it is impossible to say who Allan has or has not spoken with."

As for Thursday's statement by Energy Minister Sonya Savage that the inquiry will receive a time extension and an infusion of additional cash, McIntosh noted that the announcement "indicates that the Commissioner may speak with organizations identified by the inquiry’s research in the coming months.

"However, Ecojustice continues to have significant concerns about how that process will play out and whether procedural fairness will be an issue," she said.

"What we can say right now is that the secrecy around this inquiry to date lends support to what Ecojustice has said all along: This is not a legitimate or fair public process and it should not go ahead under its current terms," McIntosh concluded.

The United Conservative Party government has never released commissioner Allan's interim report, which was handed in at the end of January this year.

The CBC reported Friday that the inquiry's terms of reference have been subtly amended in ways that suggest someone has realized the foreign funded "anti-Alberta campaign" it was instructed to unearth may never have happened.

The order-in-council signed Thursday by Savage tweaked the wording of the terms to add qualifiers such as "foreign funding, if any."

Savage also admitted in her news release Thursday that the foreign funding the inquiry was struck to ferret out is so far only an allegation.

So putting another $1 million and four more months into this effort may not be the best use of public money if the wheels are starting to fall off commissioner Allan's anti-Alberta energy inquiry bus.

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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