It was not a banner week for Alberta’s public inquiry into anti-Alberta energy campaigns.
It was supposed to look into the alleged foreign funding of “anti-Alberta energy campaigns,” but the $2.5 million public inquiry created by Premier Jason Kenney’s United Conservative Party government found itself in a credibility crisis this week after it was revealed that inquiry commissioner Steve Allan awarded the Calgary law firm Dentons a $905,000 sole-source contract for legal advice.
Allan’s son is a partner at Dentons’ Calgary office and Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer was a lawyer at that firm before he was elected to the Legislative Assembly. Schweitzer said he severed his connections to the firm earlier this year, but Allan’s son’s employment status at the firm raises some serious questions about conflict of interest.
New Democratic Party MLA Heather Sweet wrote to the Ethics Commissioner this week asking for an investigation into the sole-source contract. The Ethics Commissioner responded that she has no jurisdiction to investigate the inquiry’s contract with Dentons.
The inquiry’s business is shrouded in secrecy and it was designed by the government to be exempt from Freedom of Information requests that would allow a certain degree of transparency. For example, the inquiry website states that Allan intended to travel to Vancouver and Washington, DC in September 2019, and the North Coast of BC and Toronto in October 2019, but because the inquiry is exempt from FOIP requests, it is unclear who he met with during his travels.
But that has not stopped the media from digging, and the leaks from leaking.
Allen is being paid $291,000 for his one-year contract, according to information gathered by Alberta Today’s Allison Smith, and will be paid up to $800 per day to provide testimony following the completion of the inquiry’s investigation. The Edmonton Journal reported that the inquiry is hiring a part-time executive director for $108,123.
CBC also reported that Allan donated $1,000 Schweitzer’s campaign for the UCP leadership in 2017, which raises questions about the nature of his appointment as the inquiry’s commissioner.
Much of the basis of the inquiry’s investigation, that foreign-funded organizations like the Rockefeller Brothers Fund are responsible for secretly financing anti-pipeline and anti-oil groups in Canada, appears to have been discredited by investigative research done by the National Observer’s Sandy Garossino.
Garossino analyzed data on international charitable granting and found that international foundations, mostly American, have granted around $2 billion to Canadian groups over the last decade, but only 2 per cent of those funds (around $40 million) has gone towards pipeline opposition.
Of that $2 billion total in international funds, about 33 per cent came from the United States government. The second largest funder is the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, contributed $537 million. The Rockefeller Brothers Fund environmental grants, which have been demonized in Alberta’s political and media circles, amounted to “just two dollars per thousand in Canadian foreign grants.”
The Foundation’s submission included a report showing that funding from outside Canada represented 0.85% of total funding received by Canadian charities, and 0.26% of total funding received by charities based in Alberta.
The Foundation harshly criticized the rhetoric, fear-mongering, and false statements used to justify the inquiry and the government orders authorizing its creation.
“To even imply that support of the energy industry or even agreement with government could become a criterion for determining whether an organization receives funding comes, we suggest, dangerously close to government direction of speech and thought. Leaving aside the legality of such an action, one could suggest that such a course of action would be contrary to the very principles of democracy.”
The inquiry is due to submit a final report to the Alberta government no later than July 2, 2020. In terms of the public inquiry’s credibility crisis and the damage it and the secrecy surrounding it could cause for our province’s reputation, Albertans might eventually need a public inquiry into the Public Inquiry into anti-Alberta Energy Campaigns.
International banks continue to divest from fossil fuels
While Steve Allan’s public inquiry is focused on anti-Alberta energy campaigns, the biggest threat to the oil and gas industry in Alberta might be the free market.
Sweden’s central bank announced this week that it no longer hold bonds issued by local authorities in Canada and Australia with high carbon-dioxide emissions. Bloomberg reported that the Riksbank said it had sold its holdings of securities from Alberta, where greenhouse gas emissions per capita are three times higher than in Ontario and Quebec.
The European Investment Bank, the EU’s financing department, also announced it will bar funding for most fossil fuel projects.
Premier Kenney’s principal secretary, David Knight-Legg, faced criticism this week after it was revealed that the senior political staffer stayed in upscale five-star hotels while travelling to London on Alberta government business. According to financial disclosures, Knight-Legg spent more than $45,000 on travel, including four trips to the British capital since the UCP formed government in April 2019.
The nature of Knight-Legg’s trips to London are not entirely clear, with the Premier’s office saying that he was there to fight defamation of Alberta’s oil and gas sector. The NDP is asking the Auditor General to investigate.
Meanwhile, the private corporation created by the Alberta government to fight defamation of the oil and gas sector has been running on silent. Not a peep has been heard from the $30 million War Room, now renamed the Canadian Energy Centre, since former reporter and defeated UCP candidate Tom Olsen was appointed as its managing director last month.
The War Room is also exempt from Freedom of Information requests.