Kenney government praises Pembina Institute, alleged energy industry enemy, in court documents

Premier Jason Kenney's claim that the non-profit Pembina Institute is an enemy of Alberta's energy industry is contradicted in documents his own government filed in court.

Pembina Institute cited as ‘well-respected, non-partisan environmental policy think tank’

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney's has targeted the Pembina Institute, claiming it is anti-energy. But that claim is contradicted by court documents in which Kenney's UCP government praises the non-profit organization. (Peter Evans/CBC)

Premier Jason Kenney and his government have denounced the Pembina Institute as an enemy of Alberta's energy industry with an alleged foreign-funded, anti-oil, anti-pipeline agenda. 

To that end, Kenney has said Pembina will be targeted by the government's energy "war room," established to counter alleged misinformation, and the public inquiry into alleged foreign-funded attacks on the province's oil and gas industry.

But Kenney's bellicose public rhetoric is belied by his government's laudatory description of Pembina in court documents the province filed in its challenge of the federal carbon tax.

As CBC News reported Monday, the court documents show that despite the Kenney government's denouncement of the research institute, it relied on environmental analysis created by a modelling tool made available by Pembina, rather than its own analysis.

And when the federal and British Columbia governments challenged Alberta's use of Pembina's modelling tool, the Kenney government successfully fought to keep that analysis on the court record. It referred to the institute as an "expert source" and "a well-respected, non-partisan environmental policy think tank." 

Simon Dyer, the institute's executive director, said the Alberta government has worked with, and funded, Pembina for years, relying on its climate and energy policy research.

"I'm pleased to see that the government of Alberta does acknowledge that the Pembina Institute is a leading authority on climate and energy policy in Canada," Dyer told CBC News.

"Of course, it doesn't line up with the political rhetoric we have had to deal with, and the smears and insults we have received in Alberta, in the past year."

A spokesperson for Alberta's environment minister did not respond directly to a request for comment.

Premier, ministers refused offer to meet, Pembina says

In May, shortly after his United Conservative Party assumed power, Kenney announced the creation of a $30-million-a-year "war room" to fight what he characterized as an organized defamation campaign against Alberta's energy industry.

Kenney has said he would challenge the charitable status of special interest groups and end provincial funding of groups, such as the non-profit Pembina, he views as a threat to that industry.

But Dyer said that while Kenney's government attacked Pembina publicly, it wasn't prepared to directly confront the institute in private.

He said after the provincial election this spring, Pembina reached out to Kenney and three other UCP ministers, offering to meet and explain the policy work Pembina does. Those offers were declined or ignored.

"We are leaned on by academia and the media and experts and investors around the world for our work on the oilsands," Dyer said.

"It is very disappointing and frustrating that the premier and the new government of Alberta has not taken the time to learn about our work," Dyer added.

For decades, Pembina has partnered with industry and communities to promote responsible energy development, he said.

University of Calgary associate law professor Shaun Fluker says the UCP government's praise for the Pembina Institute will undermine the credibility of the government's 'war room.' (Mike Symington/CBC)
University of Calgary associate law professor Shaun Fluker said the Kenney government's lauding of Pembina in a court submission will only serve to bolster the arguments from critics who contend the government's "war room," and a related public inquiry, are designed to stifle legitimate debate about the oilsands.

Fluker said it is difficult to understand how the UCP government could target the Pembina Institute for allegedly disseminating false and misleading information, "yet on the other hand, rely on them."

"What this suggests to me is that the stated purpose of the public inquiry and the war room might not necessarily be what the real purpose is," said Fluker, who specializes in environmental law.

It is particularly notable, he said, that in its court challenge the Alberta government cited only a few non-governmental sources when presenting its evidence, "and the Pembina Institute is one of those sources."

Attacks distract from need for climate action: expert

The mandate of the government's war room, also known as the Canadian Energy Centre, is closely entwined with that of a controversial $2.5-million inquiry into "foreign-funded special interests" and their alleged campaigns to stop development in the oilsands.

In its current "investigative" stage, inquiry commissioner Steve Allan is conducting research, interviewing relevant parties, and determining whether a public hearing is needed. Allan is scheduled to provide Alberta's energy minister with an interim report no later than the end of January.

In a July press conference about the inquiry, Kenney singled out Pembina for accepting $8 million from foreign sources to oppose Alberta's energy industry.

Dyer said that claim is false and misleading because it does not oppose the energy industry and the institute receives 85 per cent of its total funding from Canadian sources, including industry and provincial governments. 

Pembina Institute executive director Simon Dyer says the UCP government's public attacks are at odds with its praise of the institute in court documents. (Nathan Gross/CBC)
He said despite Kenney's targeting of Pembina, Allan has not contacted the institute.

"It's totally appropriate for organizations to do work on climate and energy policy, so it is not clear to me where this supposed evidence of wrongdoing comes from," Dyer said, adding it would be preferable if the inquiry, and its outcomes, were truly independent.

"Unfortunately some of the comments by politicians seem to have presupposed what those outcomes are."

University of British Columbia political scientist Kathryn Harrison, an energy policy expert, believes the Kenney government's strategy of "vilifying environmentalists (and) exaggerating the economic impacts of carbon pricing," is an attempt over the short term to avoid meaningful action on climate change. 

"The real challenge for Alberta," Harrison said, "is transitioning its economy away from such heavy economic reliance on the oil and gas industry. 

"And I think rather than attacking environmentalists, it seems like it would be a better idea for the provincial government to think about a strategy for decarbonization of the economy and doing so in a way that supports workers and affected communities."

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

@jennierussell_ @charlesrusnell 


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