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Foundering Alberta inquiry gets another two months to find evidence

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Alberta Premier Jason Kenney at yesterday's news conference on his government's "historic" jobs program. Image credit: Winston Pon/Office of the Premier via Alberta Newsroom/Flickr

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has announced his government's foundering "public inquiry" into the supposed conspiracy by American interests to bankroll environmental charities to help landlock Alberta's fossil-fuel resources will get another two months to come up with some evidence.

After that, the government will give itself an additional three months to figure out what to do with the report.

The lengthy delay is the fourth deadline extension since the inquiry was launched in July 2019.

So far, apparently, Commissioner Steve Allen hasn't found anything except excuses for his inability to uncover any evidence, and embarrassingly bad research papers on which to spend exorbitant amounts of public money.

You'd think this would be enough to test the faith of even the UCP's most credulous partisans.

That the government's excuse that the unsuccessful Ecojustice court challenge of the inquiry's legality delayed Commissioner Allan's work further strains Allan's already diminished credibility.

Kenney, who announced the delay on social media Wednesday night, and Energy Minister Sonya Savage didn't exactly help the government's case by claiming the Ecojustice appeal was at once "frivolous" and yet such a serious threat the commissioner could focus on nothing else. So which is it?

Indeed, one has to wonder if the forensic accountant from Calgary is capable of walking and chewing gum at the same time, since the inquiry's side was represented by numerous fine lawyers during the court hearing. In addition to the Alberta government, the Kenney cabinet, the minister of justice, additional lawyers representing such intervenors as industry advocacy groups and fossil-fuel billionaire W. Brett Wilson squared off against Ecojustice. So how was it Commissioner Allan didn't have time to complete his work again?

"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 short statement yesterday. "Our government promised Albertans that we would fully investigate the widely reported foreign-funded campaign to landlock our resources and we are committed to fulfilling that promise."

Ecojustice's "frivolous lawsuit perfectly confirmed why we need that transparency, why we need to shine a spotlight on the foreign source of funds behind the campaign to landlock Canadian energy," Kenney told a Globe and Mail reporter during a news conference about another topic yesterday.

The transparency of which he spoke must be a reference to the inquiry's eventual conclusions, not the way it reaches them, since the inquiry's business has been conducted almost entirely in secrecy.

With reasoning like this, you'd almost think the government was desperate to find any old excuse to put off having to accept whatever Allan has managed to cobble together while the UCP faces many bigger challenges.

Especially since, as University of Calgary law professor Martin Olszynski tweeted yesterday, the Ecojustice lawsuit was for all intents and purposes over by mid-February -- two weeks after Allen's third extension.

Well, there's only so much negative news a government on the ropes can stand at one time. But who says things will be any better by the end of October, when the government now plans to make the report's conclusions public? By then Alberta may be in the midst of a fourth wave of COVID-19.

To top it all off, the Vancouver blogger whose ideas Kenney latched on to in the lead-up to the 2019 election campaign seems to have quietly revised a key part of her conspiracy theory that the inquiry was struck to uncover.

"I've seen no evidence that the deeper motivation is to benefit (American) competitors," Vivian Krause tweeted Tuesday, prompting Olszynski to tweet several examples of past statements suggesting she thought the goal of the alleged campaign was to allow the U.S. to dominate the oil market.

For her part, Krause insists she has recanted nothing.

To say the least, the justification for the Kenney government's 2019 election promise of an inquiry is starting to look a little threadbare, even if we do manage to learn its conclusions before the start of 2022.

Historic investment in jobs or Band-Aid fix?

Also yesterday, perhaps partly as a diversion from the embarrassing news about the Allan inquiry, Premier Kenney called a news conference to announce a "historic investment to create thousands of jobs."

The $370 million committed to the program to subsidize employers who hire new employees, which the premier called "the largest jobs training program in Alberta's history," will get "more than 22,000 Albertans back to work faster," Labour Minister Jason Copping promised.

Kenney probably didn't help himself much outside his base by answering a reporter's question about paid sick leave with a dismissive declaration "we are not going to adopt job-killing policies."

NDP Labour Critic Christina Gray, the former labour minister, was quick to point out that 50,000 Albertans lost their jobs on the Kenney government's watch even before the pandemic hit.

The 22,000 new jobs promised by the government "is one-tenth the amount of unemployed Albertans we have right now," she said. Kenney's government has promised plenty of jobs since it was elected, with a singular lack of success.

Gray dismissed the announcement as nothing more than a Band-Aid fix at a time Albertans need an economic strategy.

K-12 students to be hurried back to in-person classes

Meanwhile, also yesterday, Education Minister Adriana LaGrange announced most Kindergarten to Grade 12 students in Alberta will be returning to in-person classes after the long weekend. Chief Medical Officer of Health Deena Hinshaw was on hand for that news conference to lend LaGrange some badly needed credibility.

As has been the pattern since the start of the pandemic, as soon as there is a dip in new cases of COVID-19, the Kenney government is in a big hurry give the appearance things are returning to normal. "I am confident all students will finish the remainder of the school year in the classroom," LaGrange said in the government's press release.

Students in the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, where COVID rates have been particularly high, will have to stay home, but only for an additional week.

In the government's favour, any return to higher infection rates as a result is unlikely to be characterized as a fourth wave of COVID-19, merely a continuation of the third wave Alberta is now enduring.

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: Winston Pon/Office of the Premier via Alberta Newsroom/Flickr

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