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Alberta Politics

Public Inquiry into anti-Alberta Energy Campaigns, key part of Kenney’s “Fight Back Strategy,” fails to uncover vast conspiracy against our oil

To be very clear, I have not found any suggestions of wrongdoing on the part of any individual or organization. No individual or organization, in my view, has done anything illegal. Indeed, they have exercised their rights of free speech. – Page 596 of the Final Report of the Public Inquiry into Anti-Alberta Energy Campaigns

The final report of the Public Inquiry into Anti-Alberta Energy Campaigns was released this week.

A key part of Premier Jason Kenney’s “Fight Back Strategy” against perceived enemies of Alberta’s oil and gas industry, the public inquiry was launched in July 2019 with a political promise to unearth the vast conspiracy of wealthy international foundations and environmental activists who were working together in the shadows to undermine Alberta’s oil and gas industry.

It was these secretive groups and their dark money, Albertans were lead to believe, who were blocking oil pipelines and were the source of our economic woes. This public inquiry was meant to intimidate those critics. 

Speaking to a crowd of supporters on the night of the United Conservative Party’s victory in the 2019 election, Premier Jason Kenney declared he had a message for the “foreign funded special interests who have been leading a campaign of economic sabotage against this great province.”

“To the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, to the Tides Foundation, to the LeadNow, to the David Suzuki Foundation, and to all of the others, your days of pushing around Albertans with impunity just ended,” Kenney decreed.

More than two years and $3.5 million later, Commissioner Steve Allan’s final report does not detail a vast conspiracy, because a vast conspiracy doesn’t exist. It turns out that most of the information he was looking for is already public and the devious activity he was sent to uncover was totally legal.

In fact, Allan’s final report released by Energy Minister Sonya Savage says that “[w]hile anti-Alberta energy campaigns may have played a role in the cancellation of some oil and gas developments, I am not in a position to find that these campaigns alone caused project delays or cancellations.”

The pretence of the report and the boogeymen created to blame for the cancellation of oil pipeline projects completely leaves off the hook the large oil companies and the Alberta government, with their own near bottomless pockets of money and resources to combat any advertising campaign launched by environmental groups.

In fact, the report does not delve into decades of uncoordinated and ham-fisted attempts to respond to international criticism of the oil sands going back to the week in July 2006 when the Alberta government parked a giant Caterpillar 777F hauler on the Mall in Washington DC.

Premier Jason Kenney (at the podium) announces the appointment of Steve Allan (right) as Commissioner of the Public Inquiry into Anti-Alberta Energy Campaigns.Also pictured are then-Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer and Energy Minister Sonya Savage.
Premier Jason Kenney (at the podium) announces the appointment of Steve Allan (right) as Commissioner of the Public Inquiry into Anti-Alberta Energy Campaigns.Also pictured are then-Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer and Energy Minister Sonya Savage.

Unlike the press conference that launched the inquiry, during which Kenney, Savage, Allan, and then-Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer stood together on stage, Savage stood alone at the podium this week as she was given the unenviable task of releasing the report and trying to justify its results.

Kenney was nowhere to be seen (he currently has a 22 per cent approval rating), Schweitzer is no longer Justice Minister, and Allan has presumably been relieved of his duties.

The over-budget and thrice-extended public inquiry was conducted almost completely in secret, with no actual public hearings, leaving the inquiry to instead hold “hearing by correspondence.”

The confusingly organized 657 page report details how Environmental Non-Profit Groups wrote grants to receive funding for environmental advocacy in Canada, but there is no suggestion of wrong doing or that anything illegal happened.

But that hasn’t stopped Savage and her UCP MLA colleagues from bandying around a $1.2 billion number, which is the amount the report says it found foreign donors provided in grant funding to Canadian environmental organizations between 2003 and 2019.

But the report found that, of the $1.2 billion, around $554 million went to well-known and respected conservation groups like Ducks Unlimited Canada, which does not participate in “anti-Alberta” campaigns (Ducks Unlimited Canada is run by CEO Larry Kaumeyer, who until recently was employed as Kenney’s Chief of Staff and Principal Secretary), and only somewhere between $37.5 to $58.9 million was specifically granted to anti-oil and gas campaigns in Canada.

Canadian Energy Centre CEO Tom Olsen and Alberta Premier Jason Kenney. (Source: Facebook)
Canadian Energy Centre CEO Tom Olsen and Alberta Premier Jason Kenney. (Source: Facebook)

In fact, the most interesting result of Allan’s final report are his criticisms of the other left foot of Kenney’s Fight Back Strategy – the Canadian Energy Centre.

The CEC, known to most Albertans as the “War Room,” was created in 2019 and is run by former UCP candidate Tom Olsen.

Established as a Crown Corporation with a $30-million annual budget, the Canadian Energy Centre essentially operates as a publicly-funded public relations agency for the oil and gas industry.

Buried on the last page of Allan’s report is a list of criticisms of the Canadian Energy Centre, including an observation that “it may well be that the reputation of this entity has been damaged beyond repair.”

Allan wrote that the way the War Room was established, as a Crown Corporation, with three provincial cabinet ministers as its board of directors (Savage, Schweitzer and Environment & Parks Minister Jason Nixon) has “seriously compromised” the organization’s credibility.

“There may be a need for a vehicle such as this, assuming proper governance and accountability is established, to develop a communications/marketing strategy for the industry and/or the province, but it may well be that the reputation of this entity has been damaged beyond repair,” Allan wrote.

While Savage deflected from questions from reporters about what was accomplished by the $3.5 million inquiry by denouncing foreign-funded campaigns and demanding transparency from ENGOs who run campaigns in Alberta, the FOIP-exempt War Room recently purchased billboards in Washington D.C. and New York City’s Times Square.

War Room CEO Olsen issued a statement in response to the Public Inquiry’s criticisms but the statement had to be resent soon afterward because of typos. (I’m not making this up).

So, the great Alberta witch hunt is over and no witches have been found.

Now that this embarrassing public inquiry is over, the other part of Kenney’s failed strategy – the Canadian Energy Centre – should be scrapped.

If the public inquiry taught us anything, it is probably that our leaders should be focused on figuring out how Alberta is going to survive the massive shifts happening in world energy markets and not wasting precious time making empty threats and settling vendettas with critics of the oil and gas industry.


Energy Minister Sonya Savage will be back next month to release the report of the committee investigating open-pit coal mining in Alberta’s Rocky Mountains.

Amplifying the loud public opposition to open-pit coal mining in Alberta’s Rockies, a group of country music artists released a new version of the popular song, This Is My Prairie. The song features Corb Lund, Terri Clark, Brett Kissel,, Sherryl Sewepagaham, Paul Brandt, Armond Duck Chief, Katie Rox and Brandi Sidoryk.

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Alberta Politics

When a Premier is in trouble, the cabinet gets growing

It isn’t really a saying in Alberta politics but maybe it should be: When a Premier is in trouble, the cabinet gets growing.

That’s what we saw today as embattled Premier Jason Kenney made a major expansion of the provincial cabinet.

It is being described as a post-pandemic reset but today’s cabinet shuffle and expansion probably has more to do with internal turmoil in the UCP Caucus than any actual reset in the government’s agenda. Problem-creating ministers like Health Minister Tyler Shandro, Education Minister Adriana LaGrange and Environment & Parks Minister Jason Nixon remain firmly in place.

Kenney, who eagerly declared the COVID-19 pandemic over in Alberta on July 1, has seen his approval ratings and his party’s popularity plummet as it mismanaged its response to the pandemic and pushed forward with an unpopular political agenda that included opening the Rocky Mountains to open-pit coal mining, a backward draft curriculum for kids, and aggressive attacks against doctors and nurses.

Kenney’s unpopularity now appears to be spilling over into the federal scene and dragging down the federal Conservative Party’s support in Alberta, which a string of polls show at a historic low.

Kenney is so unpopular that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was able to openly mock him at a press conference in Calgary yesterday and there was no public backlash in defence of the provincial Conservative leader.

Facing dissent from inside and outside his caucus and party, Kenney has taken the predictable route of previous Alberta premiers who were in political trouble and expanded his cabinet. Appointments to cabinet posts come with the prestige of a ministerial title, office and staff, a hefty pay hike and are seen as a way to reward a premier’s supporters – and punish dissenters.

The past twenty years of turmoil in conservative politics in Alberta has given us a few clear examples of how cabinets grow when premier’s find themselves in political trouble.

Premier Ralph Klein’s cabinet grew from a slim 17 in 1992 to an expanded 24 by the time he resigned in 2006 after his party’s membership gave him a weak 55.4 per cent endorsement in a leadership review.

Klein’s successor, Premier Ed Stelmach, started with a cabinet of 19 ministers in 2006 only to expand it to 23 by the time he resigned in the face of a caucus revolt in 2011.

But perhaps most famously, Premier Alison Redford’s cabinet grew from 21 in 2011 to 29, including 10 associate ministers, in 2013, representing almost half of the Progressive Conservative Caucus. There was a running joke at the time that if a PC MLA wasn’t in cabinet they must have done something really wrong.

Yesterday Kenney’s cabinet had 22 cabinet ministers and associate ministers. Today, Kenney’s cabinet has 26.

I bet it grows again in a few months.


Premier Jason Kenney, Lieutenant Governor Salma Lakhani and the new cohort of cabinet ministers.
Premier Jason Kenney, Lieutenant Governor Salma Lakhani and the new cohort of cabinet ministers.

Shuffled around …

Jason Luan, MLA Calgary-Foothills, is moved from Associate Minister of Additions and Mental Health to become Minister of Community and Social Services. Luan served as MLA for Calgary-Hawkwood from 2012 until his defeat in the 2015 election to NDP candidate Michael Connolly. Luan returned to the Legislature in 2019.

Ric McIver, MLA Calgary-Hays, keeps his role as Minister of Municipal Affairs but loses his dual role of Minister of Transportation. McIver took over Municipal Affairs when former minister Tracy Allard was removed from cabinet following her COVID rule breaking hot holiday to Hawaii in December 2020. McIver was first elected as a PC MLA in 2012 and previously served as an alderman on Calgary City Council from 2001 to 2010.

Rajan Sawhney, MLA Calgary-North East, leaves her current role as Minister of Community and Social Services to become Minister of Transportation. Sawhney is seen by many political insiders as an up and comer in the UCP cabinet.

Muhammad Yaseen, MLA Calgary-North, leaves his role as Parliamentary Secretary for Immigration to become the Associate Minister of Immigration and Multiculturalism reporting to Minister of Labour and Immigration Jason Copping. Yasseen is a former president of the Pakistan Canada Association of Calgary and was first elected as an MLA in 2019.

New in cabinet…

Mike Ellis, MLA Calgary-West, leaves his role as UCP Caucus Whip to become Associate Minister of Mental Health and Addictions. Ellis was first elected in a 2014 by-election and was only one of a handful of PC MLAs re-elected in 2015.

Nate Horner, MLA Drumheller-Stettler, becomes Associate Minister of Rural Economic Development reporting to Minister of Jobs, Economy and Innovation Doug Schweitzer. Horner is the grandson of former Member of Parliament Jack Horner and the cousin of former deputy premier Doug Horner.

Whitney Issik, MLA for Calgary-Glenmore, becomes the Associate Minister of Status of Women reporting to newly appointed Minister of Culture and Status of Women Ron Orr. Issik will also serve as UCP Whip. She was first elected in 2019 and was a longtime PC Party volunteer, serving as campaign manager for Jim Prentice during his brief run for the federal PC Party nomination in Calgary-Southwest in 2002, as a constituency assistant to former Calgary-Mountain View MLA Mark Hlady, and as policy co-chair of the federal PC Party during the 2000 federal election.

Ron Orr, MLA Lacombe-Ponoka, becomes Minister of Culture. Orr once declared that legalizing cannabis would spark a communist revolution and he wrote on Facebook in May 2021 that Kenney was raised by God to be leader of Alberta and public health restrictions are just as bad as getting COVID. Before his election as a Wildrose MLA in 2015 he worked as a Baptist Minister in Alberta and British Columbia.

Back in cabinet is Tanya Fir, MLA Calgary-Peigan, as Associate Minister of Red Tape Reduction. Fir was surprisingly dropped from her role as Minister of Economic Development, Trade and Tourism in August 2020. Fir was one of the UCP MLAs caught travelling on a hot holiday in December 2020, breaking the government’s public health restrictions.

Out of cabinet…

Leela Aheer, MLA Chestermere-Strathmore and UCP Deputy Leader, has lost her cabinet role as Minister of Culture and Status of Women. Her departure from cabinet is probably retribution for her publicly calling on Kenney to apologize after he and other senior cabinet ministers were caught breaking the government’s COVID-19 restrictions by holding a boozy dinner party on the balcony of the Sky Palace. Aheer also criticized Kenney for his tone-deaf defence of Sir John A Macdonald following the discovery of unmarked graves of children at former Indian Residential School sites.

Grant Hunter, MLA Taber-Warner, loses his position as Associate Minister of Red Tape Reduction. Hunter is currently on a province-wide ministerial tour of northeast Alberta with Justice Minister Kaycee Madu and Infrastructure Minister Prasad Panda. Hunter was the only cabinet minister from south of Calgary.

Other non-cabinet changes today included:

Joseph Schow, MLA Cardston-Siksika, the current the deputy government whip becomes deputy government house leader. Brad Rutherford, MLA Leduc-Beaumont, becomes deputy government whip.

After 6 months without a permanent Chief of Staff, Premier Kenney has named his Deputy Chief of Staff Pam Livingston to the role. Livingston started working in the Premier’s Office in January 2021 after the resignation of Jamie Huckabay, who was caught in the international holiday scandal.

Interim Chief of Staff Larry Kaumeyer returns to his previous role as Principal Secretary in the Premier’s Office.

Categories
Alberta Politics

Ministerial staff changes follow UCP mini-cabinet shuffle

The recent mini-cabinet shuffle is being followed by a series of staffing changes among the senior ministerial ranks of the United Conservative Party government.

Announced during last week’s shuffle that saw Kaycee Madu appointed Justice Minister, Doug Schweitzer put in charge of a newly rebranded economic ministry and Tracy Allard promoted to Municipal Affairs, was the departure of Premier Jason Kenney’s Principal Secretary Howard Anglin, who is being replaced by Larry Kaumeyer.

Other changes announced today include the departure of the Premier’s Director of Community Relations Ariella Kimmel, who will now take the role of Chief of Staff to Schweitzer. Kimmel replaces current Chief of Staff Kris Barker, who will now become a Senior Policy Advisor in the office of Infrastructure Minister Prasad Panda.

More changes in Room 307 include, Julia Bareman leaving Finance Minister Travis Toews office to join the Premier’s office as a Policy Advisor and Manager of Stakeholder Relations Siobain Quinton and Executive Assistant Clancy Bouwman moving to part-time roles as they pursue post-secondary studies.

Staffing changes in ministerial offices include:

  • Brock Harrison has been appointed as Executive Director of the UCP Caucus, moving on from his role as Chief of Staff to the Minster of Children’s Services. Harrison is a long-time political staffer, having served as Communication Director of the Wildrose Caucus and in the Office of the Leader of the Official Opposition in Ottawa.
  • Current press secretary to the Minister of Children’s Services Lauren Armstrong will become the new Chief of Staff. Alberta Proud spokesperson Becca Polak will take over as Press Secretary in this office. Polak was a candidate for the UCP nomination in Calgary-Mountain View ahead of the 2019 election.
  • At the UCP Caucus, Harrison replaces Robyn Henwood, who will take over as Chief of Staff to Community and Social Services Miniser Rajan Sawhney. Current Chief of Staff Ryan Hastman will move into a new role which has yet to be announced.
  • Current Indigenous Relations Press Secretary Ted Bauer has been promoted to Chief of Staff in Minster Rick Wilson’s office and UCP Caucus Director of Communications Joseph Dow will take over as Press Secretary in this office.
  • Riley Braun, the current Chief of Staff in Indigenous Affairs, will become a senior advisor in the office of the Minister of Justice and Solicitor General.
  • Jonah Mozeson has been promoted from Press Secretary to Chief of Staff in the office of the Minister of Justice and Solicitor General. Mozeson is married to Jamie Mozeson, who is currently the Chief of Staff to Minister of Service Alberta Nate Glubish.
  • Long-time Kenney ally, Blaise Boehmer has been appointed as Senior Press Secretary in the Office of the Minister of Justice and Solicitor General, moving over from his role as Special Advisor to Agriculture & Forestry Minister Devin Dreeshen. Bohemer was director of communications for Kenney’s UCP leadership campaign and the manager of communications and engagement for the UCP caucus from 2017 to 2018. He previously worked as director of research and operations for the Saskatchewan Party Caucus in Regina.
  • Kalee Kent has been appointed a Legislative Assistant in the office of Minster of Environment & Parks Jason Nixon, moving from her current role as Ministerial Assistant in the Office of the Municipal Affairs Minister. Kent was Constituency Development Director for the UCP from 2016 to 2019 and previously worked for the Saskatchewan Party and Regina-Coronation Park MLA Mark Docherty.