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Inquiry into 'anti-Alberta' campaigns descends into fiasco

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Inquiry Commissioner Steve Allan. Image credit: Video still/Government of Alberta

Having just been busted for commissioning three reports that an expert critic dismissed as "textbook examples of climate-change denialism," the commissioner of the so-called Public Inquiry into Anti-Alberta Energy Campaigns now appears to be seeking a third extension of time before delivering his final report.

Commissioner Steve Allan's request for the time extension was spotted deep in the FAQ section of the inquiry's website by numerous people.

"Given delays caused by COVID-19 and the time necessary to implement a procedure that is fair, prior to finalizing the final report, the Commissioner has advised the Minister of Energy that the final report will not be completed by January 31, 2021," it stated.

"The Commissioner expects to request an extension of time from the Minister of Energy, as he is entitled to do under the Terms of Reference," the statement also said. "However, the Commissioner wishes to wait until he is reasonably certain as to the time required to complete the process, before formally making a request of the Minister to amend the date for submitting a final report."

Then it disappeared.

By mid-afternoon Saturday, the statement been removed from the inquiry website, although it was still showing up in Google search summaries.

Inquiry spokesperson Alan Boras later told various reporters it was posted in error. However, he also told a CBC Calgary journalist that even though the deadline is still January 31 that doesn't mean the inquiry will be completing its report on time.

The inquiry, which originally had a budget of $2.5 million, was supposed to report at the end of July 2020. However, Allan sought and got an extension until October 30 and a $1-million budget boost last June, and a second extension to January 31, 2021, when he couldn't meet that one.

It's not clear how COVID-19 makes it harder to research, read, summarize and comment upon reports, all of which are obviously available in digital format. Presumably that's how Allan has been doing his work during his recent, and controversial, sojourn in Palm Springs, California.

Perhaps Allan got a call from the minister of energy's office telling him to forget about the extension.

Energy Minister Sonya Savage said in a statement on Thursday that she had not received a request for another extension, and still expected the report by the end of this month. Although, what she could do if the inquiry can't meet its latest deadline is an interesting question.

Or maybe Allan reconsidered and concluded it might be wise to ask the minister for the extension first, before making a public statement, even one buried deep in the middle of the inquiry's FAQ page.

Who knows? Notwithstanding the important role Premier Jason Kenney's promises of a public inquiry to humiliate the alleged foreign funders of "anti-energy" campaigns in Alberta played in electing his United Conservative Party government in 2019, the conduct of the inquiry by Allan has been a fiasco from the get-go, and is now degenerating into a complete gong show.

Since the supposedly public inquiry has been conducted almost entirely behind closed doors, it wasn't until Thursday when University of Calgary law professor revealed the contents of materials he'd been sent by the inquiry to review in a blog that we began to get a real sense of how amateurish the deliberations have been.

It's hard to imagine that things are going to get any better if the inquiry's report is ever released.

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 credit: Video still/Government of Alberta

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