The Allan Inquiry’s long-delayed final report has landed with a giant, wet thud. More than two years, $3.5 million dollars and dozens of scandals later, this key plank of Jason Kenney’s fight back strategy lies in shambles.
The so-called ‘public’ inquiry into ‘anti-Alberta’ energy campaigns was doomed by both its premise—a fundamental abuse of power—and the incompetence of the people Kenney hired to see it through.
So what do the inquiry’s biggest boosters have to say about its abysmal failure?
Vivian Krause was back in her comfortable stomping grounds of the Calgary Herald op-ed pages to seethe, snipe and take potshots at the Allan Inquiry.
“Giving environmental groups exactly what they wanted, Allan found no misconduct, nothing to impugn. In fact, his report praises Tzeporah Berman, finding her autobiography “particularly useful.”
Krause wonders why the UCP didn’t go on to use the legal opinion she procured to somehow arrest and try the Rockefellers for crimes against the oilsands.
“When Kenney and the UCP won, I was hoping for a lawsuit. I want to see the Rockefellers in a Calgary courthouse, explaining why they put the boots to Alberta but not Texas.”
Krause even goes after Allan for heavy redactions and for refusing to have public hearings— “there was almost nothing public about this inquiry,” said Krause.
Premier Jason Kenney stayed pretty far away from his joke of an inquiry and was notably absent from the press conference for the release of the inquiry’s final report—leaving the job to minister Sonya Savage. He did have a press conference a few days later where he was asked exactly one question by the press, by Tom Vernon of Global News, about what exactly the province got for $3.5 million, especially when the inquiry exonerated environmental charities. Said Kenney,
“There’s a difference between illegal and wrong. There are a lot of wrong things that may be legal. And I think it’s wrong, it’s wrong for billionaire foreign foundations to gang up on our economy. Their campaign killed pipelines. Their campaign led to the loss of tens of thousands of energy jobs in this province.”
Here's the clip:
Familiar stuff if you’ve heard his stump speeches, but Kenney’s messaging isn’t anywhere in Allan’s final report. In fact Allan makes the point of noting—just in case you haven’t been to Alberta in the last ten years—that there were significant global economic factors that dragged the sector down in those years.
“I am not in a position to find that these campaigns alone caused project delays or cancellations,” said Allan. “There is no doubt that these campaigns have occurred in an environment of reduced investment in oil and gas projects, at least since 2014 when global oil prices fell by almost half and other economic factors were at play.”
But Kenney does not concede that or any point. In response to Allan noting repeatedly that what environmental campaigns there were in Alberta were completely legal, Kenney twists:
“I never alleged that there was criminality here. I do think that there are a lot of questions about compliance with federal tax law for registered charities. Which is one of the reasons the Harper government provided the Canada Revenue Agency with, I believe, $10 million in the 2015 budget, to better investigate violations of the Tax Act with respect to illicit political activities supported by registered charities that are supposed to be limited in their political engagement. But then Prime Minister Trudeau came in and instructed the CRA to downtool on that... I guess retrospectively changing the charities law to bail out his friends from the ‘Green Left’ organizations made that work legal but I don’t think it makes it right.”
Here you can see Jason Kenney concocting spin in real time. In September of 2019 Kenney told the Manhattan Institute audience that, “we think there is probably a fair bit of mischief going on here.” And in his many stump speeches Kenney promised to “pursue all possible legal remedies against the foreign-funded Tar Sands Campaign.”
He’s also got the dates wrong, of course. The Harper government’s infamous attempts to silence environmental charities and non-profits via Canada Revenue Agency audits and harassment kicked off much earlier, in 2012. The CRA never ended up stripping any organization of its charitable status even after years of audits and investigations.
The Trudeau government did end up stopping the witch hunt and getting rid of the nonsensical 10 per cent rule—which stated that charities were only allowed to use 10 per cent of their budgets on so-called political activities. The rule was unenforceable and didn’t make any sense: charities cannot engage in “unlimited political work,” but they can talk about the issues that matter to them (like poverty or climate change) without running askance of the CRA. Partisan political activity—that is, specifically supporting or opposing one political party or another—by charities was and remains against the rules.
“The Allan Inquiry did what we hoped it would do. It looked at the data to provide an objective read on the campaign to landlock Alberta energy. They identified $1.3 billion dollars that came to those organizations over that period of time.”
Big number. But that $1.3 billion figure encompasses all foreign funded environmental activity, most of which has nothing to do with Alberta, pipelines or the oilsands. The Canadian environmental organization that was the single biggest recipient of foreign funding was Ducks Unlimited Canada with $429 million—the new CEO of Ducks Unlimited Canada is Kenney’s former principal secretary and interim chief of staff Larry Kaumeyer.
The Allan Inquiry could only definitively say that there was $54 million of foreign funding that specifically went to “anti-Alberta resource development activity,” between 2003 an 2019. That’s over sixteen years. To put that in perspective, Kenney’s war room launched with an annual budget of $30 million a year.
That didn’t stop Kenney and Savage and reliable UCP mouthpieces from repeating the $1.3 billion number. But it was interesting to see the inquiry report filter desultorily throughout the media ecosystem the extractive right has created. Of course Postmedia went the hardest as this conspiracy theory was essentially popularized by Terence Corcoran from his perch at the Financial Post. But the takes from Corcoran and Staples were process-oriented and focused on charity reform.
But when groups like Canada Action, Canada’s Energy Citizens, and Suits and Boots post literally nothing about the inquiry’s final report you know it was a huge failure.
The group that went the hardest was definitely Alberta Proud: they shared both the Corcoran and Staples articles and even built their own shareable graphic. But even the belligerent right-wing meme-smiths couldn’t make more than a day out of it. They quickly shifted to complaining about the new federal environment minister’s history as an environmentalist.
Corcoran did call Allan’s report a “major vindication of the pioneering research conducted by Vivian Krause.” Vivian Krause did not. Chris Varcoe with the Calgary Herald did manage to get a couple of sentences out of her:
“It’s better than nothing,”said Krause. “I am grateful he told part of the story and let’s just move on.”
As this whole sordid affair wraps up it’s worth going back to the heady days of April 2019, just a few short days after Kenney won a huge majority in the last provincial election. Licia Corbella was clearly giddy at what was to come and wrote a piece with the headline: Kenney vows to use Krause's research to crush Alberta's enemies.
How’d that work out?