Edmonton·Exclusive

Inquiry Commissioner Steve Allan donated to justice minister's leadership campaign

The commissioner for Alberta’s public inquiry into alleged foreign-funded attacks on the oil industry made a $1,000 donation to the United Conservative Party leadership campaign of Alberta Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer.

Environmental group targeted by inquiry questions commissioner’s impartiality

Steve Allan, who is heading Alberta’s public inquiry into allegations of foreign-funded reputational attacks on the province’s oil and gas industry, made a $1,000 donation to the United Conservative Party leadership campaign of Alberta Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer. (Evelyne Asselin/CBC)

The commissioner for Alberta's public inquiry into alleged foreign-funded attacks on the oil industry made a $1,000 donation to the United Conservative Party leadership campaign of Alberta Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer.

The $1,000 cash donation in 2017 by Steve Allan, using his legal first name, Jackson Allan, serves as further evidence to an environmental charity targeted by the UCP that the inquiry is a political witch hunt.

Ecojustice, Canada's largest environmental law charity, says it also found the Schweitzer donation and two more donations, totalling $750, made by Allan to the UCP in 2018.

Ecojustice lawyer Barry Robinson said he raised the propriety of Allan's political donations directly with him a month ago but received no response. 

"Any reasonable person would question how [Allan] can be seen to impartially judge allegations the UCP, Premier Kenney and Minister Schweitzer have made against the environmental organizations the inquiry targets," Robinson said in an emailed statement to CBC News.

"This is in addition to the fact that the inquiry's terms of reference also raise fundamental questions of fairness and rights to freedom of speech and freedom of association."

Allan's political donations, Robinson said, "lends further credence to what we already know: This public inquiry is nothing more than a political exercise aimed at targeting, silencing, and intimidating environmental charities and distracting Albertans from the climate crisis at hand."

Schweitzer defends donation

Alberta Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer is one of three ministers who serves on the board of directors of the Canadian Energy Centre, more commonly known as the War Room.

The UCP government is spending $30-million a year on the energy centre to counter what it claims are attacks on the province's oil and gas industry. 

Ecojustice lawyer Barry Robinson said he raised the propriety of Allan's political donations directly with him a month ago but received no response.  (CBC)

The centre was established as a private, rather than a public corporation, which means much of its operations will remain secret and will not be subject to freedom of information legislation. 

In an emailed statement, Schweitzer, who is a former partner at Dentons, said "Albertans have the right to donate to political parties. That does not preclude them from serving their province at a later time. 

"It's frankly ridiculous to suggest that donating one-fourth of the maximum annual allowable amount over two years ago somehow secures an appointment. Again, Mr. Allan was chosen solely based on his professional experience." 

Schweitzer said he is "not at all surprised that groups such as Ecojustice, which has reportedly accepted at least US$815,000 from the San Francisco-based Tides Foundation for the 'Tar Sands Campaign,' opposed the public inquiry into foreign funding of attacks on Alberta's energy sector."

In September, Robinson and another Ecojustice lawyer wrote Allan to express concerns about bias and lack of fairness in the $2.5-million Public Inquiry Into Funding of Anti-Alberta Energy Campaigns. They also threatened to take legal action. 

In response, Premier Jason Kenney called the response "entirely predictable" and a "regurgitation" of the "laughable" letter sent the previous week by Amnesty International, which also criticized the inquiry for allegedly attempting to stifle legitimate public criticism of the oil and gas industry in relation to climate change.

Robinson, in an interview Thursday, said the revelations about the donations provide yet more evidence for a legal challenge of the inquiry.

"If bias is found, and we believe there is lots of evidence of bias based on these donations and other factors, then the inquiry is really void from the beginning."

Allan gave $905,000 contract to son's firm

On Thursday, CBC News revealed Steve Allan had personally handed a $905,000 sole-source contract to Dentons, where his son Toby is a partner.

Allan has not responded to repeated interview requests over the past several days. In a text, he said his son will not benefit in any way from the contract, though he did not address the specific issue of whether his son, as a partner, would share in Dentons' profits, a common arrangement at law firms.

Allan did not respond to an interview request from CBC News on Thursday.

A spokesperson for Schweitzer has previously said Alberta Justice officials are "not aware of any conflict that would prohibit the Inquiry from contracting with Dentons for services."
 
On Thursday, the Opposition NDP wrote to Ethics Commissioner Marguerite Trussler to request an investigation into whether Allan broke any rules by awarding the contract to his son's law firm.

Duff Conacher, co-founder of Ottawa-based Democracy Watch said the $1,000 donation to Schweitzer's campaign creates yet another potential conflict of interest, this time between Schweitzer and Allan. 

And if Schweitzer participated in choosing Allan to head the inquiry, that also could be a conflict "because he took part in a decision that furthered the interest of a person directly associated with him." 

Schweitzer's press secretary did not immediately respond to a query from CBC News Thursday night about whether the minister was involved in selecting Allan to chair the inquiry.

Doug Schweitzer, minister of justice and solicitor general, speaks at a news conference earlier this month. Schweitzer says Albertans can donate to political parties if they choose to and that does not preclude them from serving their province at a later time.  (Peter Evans/CBC)

Allan's contract for the inquiry, obtained by CBC News on Thursday, shows he is to be paid about $290,000. It also reveals that Allan was required to "review and comply with the Code of Conduct and Ethics for the Public Service of Alberta," and effectively conduct himself "as if he were an employee in the public service."

Conacher said if Allan is considered to be like an employee, he couldn't have even a perception of a conflict of interest while conducting his duties as head of the inquiry.

"The commissioner," Allan's contract states, "will act with independence and impartiality in the conduct of the inquiry and preparation of the report."

If you have any information for this story, or information for another story, please contact us in confidence at cbcinvestigates@cbc.ca

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About the Author

Charles Rusnell, Jennie Russell

Investigative reporters

Jennie Russell and Charles Rusnell are reporters with CBC Investigates, the award-winning investigative unit of CBC Edmonton. Their journalism in the public interest is widely credited with forcing accountability, transparency and democratic change in Alberta. Send tips in confidence to cbcinvestigates@cbc.ca. @charlesrusnell @jennierussell_

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