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After Aloha-gate, 'anti-Alberta energy campaigns' report is likely to be a dud

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Palm Springs sign. Image: Randy Heinitz/Flickr

Before the Aloha-gate travel scandal upset the United Conservative Party's applecart, Commissioner Steve Allan's big report on "anti-Alberta energy campaigns" was supposed to be Alberta's first major political story of 2021.

But if the report is released as scheduled later this month -- no certainty given its sputtering progress to date -- it's more likely to be an embarrassing dud.

Months late and a million dollars over budget, the results of the now $3.5-million inquiry into the supposed activities of allegedly anti-Alberta environmentalists and American funders so mysterious they can't be found are likely to be unconvincing, trivial and rendered irrelevant by the passage of time.

The release of the report certainly won't be the day of destiny in the defence of Alberta's ethical oilsands that Premier Jason Kenney promised back when he was successfully campaigning to turf the NDP from office and Make Alberta Great Again.

It's more likely to be yet another embarrassment for a government that's put all our eggs in the oilsands basket, only to see it become the Northern Hemisphere's least popular stranded asset.

The fact Commissioner Allan has apparently turned out to be yet another Kenney government official caught up in the ongoing pandemic travel scandal is just one more reason to expect the release of the report to be another UCP humiliation in what's already turning into an epic bad year for the government.

As far as anyone knows, the so-called public inquiry, which has conducted almost all of its business in secret, has never actually talked to any of the groups or people it was supposed to be investigating in the year and a half it's been in business.

Originally promised as an election gimmick to buttress a crackpot theory about how environmental opponents of further oilsands development were conspiring against Alberta, the inquiry has been largely eclipsed by subsequent events.

I'm not talking about the fact Allan turns out to have been doing his work, whatever it involves, from his Palm Springs winter quarters in sunny but COVID-riddled southern California, although that surely won't help.

Rather, it's that the efforts of Canadian environmentalists and mysterious American charitable foundations were hardly needed to set oilsands development on its heels. The market, COVID-19, and an emerging international consensus on global climate change are taking care of that.

Indeed, as biased as Allan's effort is likely to be, the Ecojustice Canada Society could almost have saved its money and let the inquiry into "anti-energy" activities discredit itself. (No point being anti-energy anyway, as any first-year physics student can tell you. The stuff can neither be created nor destroyed.)

Unless President Donald Trump somehow manages to steal the U.S. presidential election in the U.S. Congress today, the White House will soon be occupied by a chief executive unlikely to be sympathetic to oilsands development or the Kenney government's ambitions.

I suppose Kenney could squeeze out a few headlines by accusing the U.S. of perpetrating a globalist conspiracy to landlock Alberta on the basis of whatever Allen comes up with.

That might be tempting if the premier concludes it could distract from additional Aloha-gate fallout and the dawning realization by voters about how long it's going to take to get vaccinated against COVID-19. He might even be able to worm his way back into the good graces of Rick Bell and Don Braid, the Postmedia political columnists who have been saying uncharacteristically unkindly things about the premier these past few days.

But acting like a QAnon cultist is unlikely to lend much credibility to Kenney's forlorn quest to Make Oil Great Again.

If the UCP's strategic brain trust has any sense -- and that's an open question right now -- they'll release this thing late on Jan. 22, the Friday after President Joe Biden is inaugurated, when all the world is focused on his administration's first moves and Trump's final theatrics.

Tany Yao resurfaces

Tany Yao has resurfaced, thank goodness.

The Mexican federales can call off any plans they might have had to declare an alerta ambar, and even good souls like David Eggen, the Opposition's advanced education critic, can stop fussing about Yao's well-being.

Having finally turned on his smartphone, the Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo MLA who's been missing in Mexico since the travel scandal broke will soon be back in Alberta, presumably in quarantine for 14 days before he can join the rest of the Aloha-gate chastisees in reciting the UCP talking point that they made a terrible mistake, are really sorry, and can now be trusted to behave.

Yao claimed he went off the grid in Mexico because he has experienced "abuse and slander" after his private member's bill allowing sales of blood and blood products was rebuked in media.

"I just wanted to disconnect and clear my head after the last year," he said, demonstrating that if you can't stand the heat, there's good air-conditioning and fine kitchen help in Mexico.

Slave Lake Council asks their well-travelled MLA to quit

Meanwhile, down in the Lone Star State, Lesser Slave Lake MLA Pat Rehn doesn't even have a house to call his own. But the well-travelled UCP backbencher from northern Alberta wants you to know he does have a residence in his riding!

In a remarkable statement published yesterday on the Town of Slave Lake's website, the mayor and six municipal councillors accused Rehn of moving out of town as soon as he was elected, never being around to meet with local officials, and generally being "an MLA that does not represent the people of this region."

"You have spent more physical time managing your business in Texas than being physically present in our region," they complained. "On behalf of the Town of Slave Lake and those we represent, we are asking for your resignation as MLA for the Lesser Slave Lake constituency."

Well, good luck with that. Having gotten in hot water for travelling to Mexico for a Feliz Navidad during the pandemic, Rehn's job at the legislature just got easier with the removal of all his committee responsibilities with no loss in pay.

In a response on his Facebook page, Rehn denied owning a residence in Texas, but said he does have one in Slave Lake.

"I have needed to travel to Texas within the past year to address essential business matters," he added. "I, of course, complied with all health requirements when doing so."

He accused the councillors of "seizing on this to try to sow political division at this difficult time."

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.

Image: Randy Heinitz/Flickr

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