Foreign funding played role in anti-resource campaigns, but Allan inquiry can't say how much

A long-delayed and controversial report into alleged anti-Alberta energy campaigns could not determine how much of a role foreign money played in cancelling resource projects, nor could it find how much of that money was spent advocating against the oil and gas industry.

Long-delayed report, a key UCP election promise, finally released to the public

A close up of a woman talking with a Canadian flag visible behind her.
Energy Minister Sonya Savage spoke at a news conference Thursday after releasing the report of the public inquiry into anti-Alberta energy campaigns. (Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)

A long-delayed and controversial report into alleged anti-Alberta energy campaigns could not determine how much of a role foreign money played in cancelling resource projects, nor could it find how much of that money was spent advocating against the oil and gas industry.

Those evaluations were made by inquiry commissioner Steve Allan in the final report of the Public Inquiry into Anti-Alberta Energy Campaigns, released Thursday by Energy Minister Sonya Savage. 

While claiming foreign funding for "Canadian-based environmental initiatives" totalled $1.28 billion from 2003 to 2019, the report says only $54.1 million in grants were designated for what it calls "anti-Alberta resource development activity."

Allan said he was unable to trace "with precision" the actual amounts that went to these campaigns as he didn't have the funds or the mandate to interview people under oath. 

"While 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," Allan wrote in the report.

Inquiry commissioner Steve Allan's final report was released Thursday. (CBC)

"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. 

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"Much of the reduced investment is therefore due to natural market forces, but anti-Alberta energy campaigns have played a role."

No evidence of wrongdoing

The inquiry cost taxpayers $3.5 million. In his report, Allan said no one did anything wrong.

"To be very clear, I have not found any suggestions of wrongdoing on the part of any individual or organization," he wrote. "No individual or organization, in my view, has done anything illegal. Indeed, they have exercised their rights of free speech."

Savage insisted Thursday that the inquiry was never intended to determine whether the funding was illegal.

She said the $54 million that Allan flagged was just the tip of the iceberg when it came to foreign sources of money against the oil and gas industry.

What matters, Savage said, is that Albertans were hurt by these campaigns. She said everyone should read the report, which has been posted online. 

"If you ask people in Alberta who lost their jobs if they think anything wrong happened, I'm pretty sure they would say yes," Savage said. "People were hurt. They lost their jobs."

WATCH | Steve Allan finds no wrongdoing in foreign funding of anti-energy campaigns:

Inquiry finds no wrongdoing in foreign funding of anti-energy campaigns

2 years ago
Duration 1:51
Results from an Alberta government inquiry into the foreign funding of environment groups that have been critical of the energy industry found no evidence of wrongdoing and limited financial support.

The report makes six recommendations, including that non-profits should be made to follow new standards for transparency, accountability and governance to put them on a "more level playing field" with corporations. 

Allan had pointed criticism for the Canadian Energy Centre, commonly known as the war room, which was another part of the Kenney government's "fight-back strategy." 

Making the energy centre a Crown corporation was one of several missteps that hurt its reputation at the start, Allan said, because "its governance, and accordingly its credibility, is seriously compromised by having three provincial cabinet ministers comprising its board of directors."

"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," he added. 

'Alarming abuse of power'

Premier Jason Kenney frequently cited information compiled by B.C. researcher Vivian Krause as evidence of foreign interference in Alberta oil and gas development.

Kenney made the inquiry a key part of the UCP's election platform in 2019. 

Allan, a forensic accountant from Calgary, was appointed inquiry commissioner in July 2019. He was tasked with producing a report by July 2020, but requested three extensions.

The 657-page final report was sent to Savage on July 30. Under the terms of the inquiry, she had until Oct. 28 — 90 days — to release the report.

Allan said in a written statement Thursday that he would not be commenting on his report due to legal restrictions placed on commissioners after they deliver a report.

Most environmental groups contacted by Allan to respond to his findings refused to participate in the inquiry, calling it a witch hunt.

They condemned Kenney and the UCP government for engaging in what they described as an undemocratic attempt to stifle free speech.

Devon Page, executive director of environmental law non-profit Ecojustice, said the inquiry was used to justify a campaign promise. He said everything in Allan's report was public information that was already posted online. 

"We have a report that a 15-year-old could have produced through web searches," Page said. "It amounts to a colossal waste of money."

Tim Gray, executive director of Environmental Defence, called the inquiry and the Canadian Energy Centre, an attempt to intimidate and silence organizations. 

"Although the report shows no evidence of wrongdoing by environmental groups, the Alberta government publicly refuses to accept the report's findings," he said. 

Simon Dyer, deputy executive director of the Pembina Institute, said the government misused the public inquiries act to discredit the organization. He said the group welcomes Allan's conclusion that no one did anything wrong. 

"The United Conservative Party and Premier Jason Kenney's rationale for the inquiry has been fully discredited," he said. 

Alberta NDP Leader Rachel Notley said Savage was dishonest in her news conference about what Allan concluded in his report. Allan wasn't there to correct the record, Notley said.

"[Savage] is hyping up that report, torquing the report well beyond what any reasonable factual review of it could support," Notley said.  "All of it together is achieving anger and not creating a single, solitary job."


Michelle Bellefontaine

Provincial affairs reporter

Michelle Bellefontaine covers the Alberta legislature for CBC News in Edmonton. She has also worked as a reporter in the Maritimes and in northern Canada.