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You might be wondering about the mini-bombshell Alberta's inquiry commissioner Steve Allan dropped into his late Friday ruling revealing that I met with commission accountants to discuss my 2019 article detailing research into sources of Tar Sands Campaign grants. This breached a mutual confidentiality agreement that I have honoured for over a year. Like the spelling of my name, perhaps he forgot it.
By way of context, earlier this year University of Calgary law professor Martin Olszynski sought to have my research included in materials issued to inquiry participants for comment. My source material was substantially derived from Candid.org's Foundation Center. With a $29-million budget and staff of 140, Candid gathers and maintains detailed data and statistics on hundreds of billions of dollars in grants by 155,000 U.S. and international charitable foundations, non-profits and all U.S. federal agencies.
I then cross-checked the Candid data against foundation funding disclosures, news reports and Canadian recipient reports. My conclusion amounts and volume of international support for the Tar Sands Campaign were confirmed as materially correct by Tzeporah Berman, who has co-ordinated all of its grants since 2011.
With this data, I was able to determine the world's major environmental and climate funders, assess their overall spending and regional priorities and locate their primary recipient bases. This context would seem relevant to determining the nature and purpose of foundation support for Canadian climate activism focused on Alberta oilsands development.
Allan inquiry sends accountants to Vancouver to meet Garossino
Commissioner Allan apparently thought enough of this research to send two forensic accountants to Vancouver and book a Fairmont Hotel meeting room for half a day, just to meet with me and discuss my findings.
I was happy to demonstrate my data sources and research methodology to the commission free of charge.
Yet on Friday, Commissioner Allan ruled against Olszynski's application, ensuring the inquiry's official reports distributed for comment remain dominated by paid reports not from independent experts but from "junk climate-denial science" and a group sponsored by the Independent Petroleum Association of America.
It's hard to imagine what harm could come to the inquiry by adding my research to the list of materials for participant comment. Indeed, by weighting its materials so heavily in favour of the conspiracy thesis, the inquiry is discrediting its own conclusions before they're written.
Allan inquiry outs quiet communications with @natobserver columnist @garossino #abpoli #ableg #oilsands
In the lead-up to this meeting, Allan and I had an extensive conversation and followup email correspondence. We mutually agreed that to have a frank and good faith conversation, it should all be on background. Without disclosing the content of Allan's side of the conversation, I now feel at liberty to disclose the opinion I formed of Allan and what I said to him.
In those heady days, before the extensions, budget increases and ethical snafus, Steve Allan texted me around 8:30 at night on Nov. 6, 2019, to set up a phone call for the following day. The next morning, we had an expansive and candid conversation, which lasted about an hour, about the prospects and obstacles of his inquiry.
In that conversation, we didn't talk in much depth about my research, but rather about the overall scope of the inquiry itself.
Steve Allan impressed me in that initial exchange as an honest broker who perhaps did not fully grasp the legal complexity of his undertaking, or the pressures and procedural traps that lay ahead. Whether genuine or well-rehearsed, the perception Allan conveyed at the time was that of a peace-in-the-valley guy hoping to build trust in order to reach a solution.
I expressed three main points: First, that it would not be appropriate for me to facilitate communications with climate activists affected by this inquiry. Second, Allan would be wise to consult the senior executives and members of both the Alberta and B.C. resource sectors that I knew to be well-versed in the nuances of environmental and Indigenous activism and their funding sources.
Garossino advises that inquiry terms of reference a serious obstacle
Third, and most importantly, over the course of this conversation, it became apparent that either Mr. Allan did not know the terms of reference when he agreed to take on the inquiry, or that he had not yet fully grasped the very real obstacle they posed to a successful inquiry.
As strongly as possible in a friendly conversation between strangers, I said his terms of reference pose a near insuperable barrier for any witnesses from the environmental and Indigenous communities, or the foundations that support them.
Undoubtedly many others said the same, as the commission's terms of reference indeed were amended the following June.
Late on the evening of this call, Allan connected me via text with his former partner, Bob Taylor, now of Deloitte's, who was contracted as forensic accountant to the commission. Taylor arranged to fly to Vancouver with an associate, Naomi McGregor, and booked a meeting room at the YVR Fairmont Hotel, where we met for the morning of Nov. 25, 2019.
As all my source material is publicly available, I was happy to meet and review my methodology with inquiry representatives.
As Allan had become entangled in an ethical controversy over the awarding of a contract to Dentons and Ecojustice had launched a legal challenge to the inquiry, out of an abundance of caution I took the step of bringing a legal adviser to the meeting. We discussed my research and methods in depth, and I showed Taylor and McGregor the U.S. database, Candid and demonstrated search functions I had used to derive my conclusions.
I declined to show more detailed research or interview notes. My position remains that it should not be difficult to replicate my findings simply via a search of the databank.
Taylor and McGregor indicated they would be in touch again to follow up on this research, but to date I have not been contacted again.
There's been a lot of water under the bridge for Commissioner Allan since November 2019. He has now sought two extensions to his deadline, as well as a budget increase. He came under fire for awarding a sole-source contract to Dentons where his son is a partner.
Allan wrote from a Dentons email address with Dentons bio
Curiously, Allan's relationship with Dentons seems even closer than reported by news outlets and even the Alberta ethics commissioner. When the Alberta ethics commissioner examined Allan's relationship with then-Minister of Justice Doug Schweitzer (formerly of Dentons' insolvency and restructuring division), she found Allan had shared office space with the law firm. Yet months after his appointment, Allan wrote to me from a Dentons email address, over a signature identifying him as a consultant to Dentons with a link to a now-defunct bio on the Dentons website.
To add further confusion about what's going on in the foreign funding inquiry black box, it's now apparent that to this day, Allan has still not reached out to seek significant input from any of the impugned parties. Berman says she has not been contacted, and Allan has actively ignored overtures from Greenpeace.
So what, exactly, has the inquiry been doing, besides perusing warmed-over conspiracy theories?
The curious thing about all this is the sharp departure from the sober reflective inquiry that Steve Allan expressed in our exchanges, and from the strong reputation he has enjoyed in Calgary for many years. At least from our early communications, Allan appeared truly sincere in his wish to conduct a reputable and respected inquiry.
That any hope for that has been dashed raises the question of how things got to their current pass.
While it's impossible to account for this change, the one thing that comes through clearly is that this entire inquiry never really belonged to Steve Allan at all. It's been Jason Kenney's baby from the beginning. He's been announcing the inquiry's foregone conclusions from the day it was launched.
One way or another, Allan will be dragged to the finish line to deliver the goods, while his friends and former partners vacuum up the professional contracts.