If you’ve ever pulled an all-nighter, the latest attempt by the public inquiry into anti-Alberta energy campaigns to get its long-overdue report in by July 30 surely looks familiar. You probably didn’t get four extensions and an extra million dollars for your work back in the day. But it’s hard to miss the stink of desperation coming from commissioner Steve Allan’s inquiry as it tries to spin the conspiracy straw it was handed into political gold — and get a passing grade from Premier Jason Kenney.
Even with such a generous marker, it’s clear this isn’t going to be the A-plus work some were hoping. The Allan Inquiry won’t reveal any grand conspiracy to land-lock Alberta’s oil, much less one that’s being funded by American commercial interests. Instead, it will show something far less controversial: that international environmental organizations and interests invested some of their funds in Alberta, a province with huge reserves of oil and huge problems getting them to market.
Those funds pale in comparison to the money raised right here in Canada, and barring that U.S. cash from crossing the border wouldn’t have changed a thing when it comes to pipeline projects and the resistance mounted against them. These organizations were simply trying to maximize the return on their environmental investment, just as the oil companies routinely do when they drill in different parts of the world.
As with most last-minute efforts, the Allan Inquiry’s report seems much more about reverse-engineering a conclusion than actually digging into the evidence. Those who have seen it already say the supporting “research” apparently consists of Google searches, social media screenshots and a few half-hearted attempts to actually talk to the people it was tasked with investigating — or, in some cases, no effort at all.
“At no point did Allan interview our staff or any other witnesses that we know of,” Dogwood, a B.C.-based organization, wrote in its formal response to the Allan Inquiry and its draft report. “There are no sworn affidavits related to Dogwood’s work or anything else that would be considered reliable evidence of the legal standard normally expected of a public inquiry.” Greenpeace’s Keith Stewart was even more withering in his criticism of Allan’s work. "If I got this as an undergrad paper,” he told the CBC, “I would ask them to resubmit or take a failure.”
Worse, the report apparently flirts with the sorts of conspiracy theories about climate change that were discredited many years ago and have now been rejected by everyone from the International Energy Agency to large oil and gas companies. The inclusion of those theories, and their validation by the commissioner of a public inquiry, suggests the current government of Alberta isn’t ready to embrace this reality.
But getting to the truth was never really the object of the exercise here. It was always about creating an effective scapegoat for the Kenney government, and on that front the Allan Inquiry may yet deliver. The lawsuits that will almost certainly greet his report will only help in that respect. Those who want someone specific to blame for changes in the energy sector, which in truth have been driven almost entirely by global markets, will get it complete with a government seal of approval. For her troubles, apparently Vivian Krause — whose work inspired the inquiry — is expecting to get a tidy $30,000.
For all of its obvious uselessness, though, the Allan Inquiry may still end up serving one important role. By framing its mandate around the notion of “anti-Alberta energy campaigns,” the Kenney government inadvertently defined the multitudes of people opposed to pipelines as anti-Albertan.
This is yet another layer of nonsense. The growing numbers of people who resist pipelines because of their potential environmental impacts, whether they live in Indigenous communities in northern British Columbia or downtown Vancouver, aren’t actually opposing Alberta. They’re opposing one aspect of its economy and one way that it chooses to do business — not the province itself. And as Dogwood said in its official response, “calling people in other provinces ‘anti-Alberta’ won’t rewind the clock or unlock another boom in the oilpatch.”
If Alberta is going to thrive in the low-carbon future, it will have to escape the shadow its oil and gas industry still casts over everything. If nothing else, the Allan Inquiry is an expensive reminder of just how long that shadow still is — and why Alberta has to get out from under it.