Albertans, and Canadians, had some laughs yesterday with the #ReportAnAlbertan hashtag. Underneath the mockery, however, is a very real attack on Canadian citizens.
Premier Jason Kenney and Energy Minister Sonya Savage announced the launch of the Alberta Inquiry website over social media and the Government of Alberta sent out a press release entitled “Fight Back on Foreign Funding“.
The website, AlbertaInquiry.ca, provides an avenue to participate in the inquiry via a submissions page that outlines how visitors can contribute relevant information to the inquiry. The site will also help visitors learn more about the inquiry, its mandate and the commissioner ~ Government of Alberta Press Release
UCP Leader Jason Kenney, now Alberta’s Premier, made the notion of foreign funding to stop Alberta’s resources from getting to markets part of his campaign platform leading up to Alberta’s general election in April.
Kenney’s inspiration for the theory appears to rest on the conclusions of Vivian Krause, whose work he cited as a means to “crush Alberta’s enemies“. Krause, an independent researcher who followed the paper trails of environmentally-conscious foundations in the United States who provided grant funding to non-profits in Canada, has been a guest speaker at energy conferences across the country over the last few years. Krause’s conclusions are not unanimously agreed upon.
Other work which will be used includes two American reports presented in 2017 and 2018 on Russian influences of social media during the 2016 Presidential Election, and in an attempt to influence U.S. oil markets, respectively.
The inquiry, initial details of which were released in July, is a $2.5 million dollar government project to identify influences who are involved with “anti-Albertan” or “anti-energy” campaigns and Canadian organizations who have received funding from them. The website was live as of yesterday.
At this stage in the process, I’m focused on information-gathering and fact-finding, and that’s why it is critical that I hear from anyone who has valuable information to share. I encourage anyone with relevant information to visit the website for further details. ~ Steve Allan, Inquiry Commissioner
The mandate, according to the Terms of Reference at AlbertaInquiry.ca, includes investigating funding received by Alberta and Canadian organizations, whether they received funding from municipal, provincial or federal governments and whether they have charitable status. It is, in essence, a witch hunt against those who may hold differing priorities from the United Conservative Party, who now controls the direction and policies of the Alberta government.
University of Alberta Economist Andrew Leach, who is currently pursuing his Master of Laws, also pointed out that the Inquiry would not respond to Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (Alberta) requests as the Inquiry is not a government body under the legislation.
As noted in the mandate, the Government understands that its ability to “fight back” is limited. It has the ability to cease provincial funding for Canadian organizations who have received money from other organizations who “evinced an intent harmful or injurious to the Alberta oil and gas industry”, but advocating for environmental protections and considerations is not, in itself, illegal in Canada (yet).
The Calgary Herald’s Don Braid responded to the announcement saying this level of inquiry has never been used for such overtly political purposes. Do not mistake the fact that this is very political; Jason Kenney ensured that it was so.
Kenney has singled out Albertans, like former Pembina Institute Executive Director Ed Whittingham, and organizations, notably the Alberta Teacher’s Association, who have invited environmentally conscious individuals to speak to members. Kenney also took umbrage with the University of Alberta for granting an honorary degree to David Suzuki in 2018. Kenney doesn’t take issue with oil and gas representatives sharing the stages.
Early Tuesday morning, Amnesty International published an open letter to the Alberta Government noting potential problems with the Inquiry.
“Premier Kenney, Amnesty International has documented the increasing prevalence of tactics similar to those included in the Fight Back Strategy being employed to restrict human rights defenders and civil society groups globally including by labelling valid criticisms as lies and defamation and by denouncing financial and other support from sources or supporters in other countries. Alberta should be at the forefront of denouncing such actions by other governments, not following their lead. ~Alex Neve, Secretary General, Amnesty International
Inexplicably, after responding to the letter from Amnesty International in the morning, Kenney went on to speak at an Oil Sands Conference at noon where he “joked” that protesters don’t come back after they are jailed for protesting. The silence in response was somewhat gratifying but, as PoliticalRnD’s Robbie Kreger-Smith noted, those words call this Premier’s commitment to the rights of Canadians into question.
Alberta has been either complacent about or complicit in the information bubble it allows within its borders. While an energy transition is happening across the globe, the Alberta government has been mostly silent, until the Alberta NDP formed a majority government in 2015. This complacency did little to prepare Albertans for any transition in their economy or careers (an exception would be the Ministry of Advanced Education’s Learning Clicks program which provided in-person post-secondary planning information to junior and senior high school students and adults for well over a decade; the UCP defunded that portion for the 2019-20 school year).
For many, especially those who worked in the oil industry or knew someone who did (and in Alberta it’s tough to find someone who didn’t), there is a lot of fear. The UCP’s election platform and promise to “stand up” for Alberta’s energy industry seemed like a gift. But Alberta’s information borders are no longer enough to stop Albertans from feeling the effects of a changing economy; and the UCP government, elected for their popular but poor policy for economic prosperity will leave more Albertans behind than they ever thought possible.
This post contains fact and opinion.
Deirdre is a political commentator, columnist, reporter, and podcaster in Alberta. She relies on facts, snarky Twitter, and satire to share knowledge and a laugh.
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