Alberta anti-energy inquiry

Environmental groups release details of Alberta inquiry draft report and accuse commissioner of climate denial

Groups targeted in the so-called ‘anti-energy’ investigation allege the inquiry’s commissioner ‘lends his credibility’ to conspiracy theories, authoring a document that resembles a ‘rushed school assignment’

The head of an Alberta inquiry that targets environmental activists questioned the seriousness of the climate crisis in a draft version of its long-awaited report, Greenpeace Canada said on Monday.

The environmental group is among a growing number of organizations speaking out after viewing portions of the draft report of the provincial government’s inquiry into “anti-Alberta energy campaigns.” They alleged the report process is “flawed,” “unfair” and “misrepresents climate science and the severity of the climate crisis.”

The commission said in June it would send out notices to about 40 groups to ask for their response to potential findings of the inquiry. It also instructed groups to respond no later than July 16 and to ensure that their responses did not exceed 15 pages, without prior approval.

The Alberta government launched the inquiry as part of Premier Jason Kenney’s 2019 election campaign promise to “fight back” against what he deemed “anti-Alberta” activities, blamed for a slump in the oilpatch as major expansion projects were cancelled and thousands of workers lost their jobs. But the commission has also been plagued by delays as well as allegations of bias soon after it began its work.

In one section of the report, Greenpeace Canada said that the commissioner, Steve Allan, wrote that he agreed with some controversial statements made by a deceased Swedish academic, Hans Rosling, who wrote that while climate change should not be ignored or denied, that it is “also way too important to be left to sketchy worst-case scenarios and doomsday prophets” and that sometimes the most “useful action” would be to improve the data. (The draft report remains confidential and The Narwhal has not been able to review it.)

“The concerns identified by Rosling are concerns that I share,” the draft report said, according to a response released by Greenpeace.

That position raises red flags for Greenpeace.

“In 2021, anyone who says we need to wait for more data on climate change before we take any action is engaging in climate denial,” Keith Stewart, senior energy strategist with Greenpeace Canada, told The Narwhal.

“These sort of references and comments serve no purpose and are especially unfair and unbalanced when the commissioner declines to refer to the many highly credible reports in his possession which speak to the seriousness of climate change,” Greenpeace wrote in its response

“With respect, it is also unclear what expertise (or evidence) that the commissioner draws on to say that these concerns are valid and he agrees with them,” Greenpeace added.

Commissioner not relying on science: lawyer

Greenpeace further added that the draft report cites materials that were previously described by University of Calgary associate law professor Martin Olszynski as “textbook examples of climate-change denialism,” but does not address “the concerns raised about the misrepresentation of climate science and presentation of baseless conspiracy theories in those materials.“

Stewart added that the sections of the draft report he reviewed “grant credibility to a bunch of innuendo,” describing some of the report’s assertions as “jaw-dropping.” Stewart added he was concerned about how the inquiry’s inclusion of “innuendo” could aggravate safety concerns for activists by suggesting they are responsible for job losses.

Olszynski, who also said he read excerpts of the draft report, told The Narwhal that the commissioner “seems to be relying on views not supported by science.”

Representatives for the inquiry did not respond to The Narwhal’s questions by publication time.

Jennifer Henshaw, a spokesperson for Alberta Energy Minister Sonya Savage, told The Narwhal by email that “neither the minister of energy or any ministry or [political staffers] have had any involvement whatsoever in the drafting of the independent inquiry’s report.” 

“Alberta’s government looks forward to receiving commissioner Allan’s report, which was a key campaign commitment, democratically endorsed by more than one million Albertans,” she added.

As the B.C.-based democracy group Dogwood put it in its own response to the draft report, posted online, “this inquiry was an election promise by a political party looking for scapegoats as Alberta goes through a seismic shift in global energy markets.”

“Rather than confront the scale of the transition required, Jason Kenney’s government seems determined to keep shooting the messenger,” the group wrote, dubbing the process to be akin to a “rushed school assignment.”

Alberta Inquiry deadline shifted four times

The inquiry into “anti-Alberta energy campaigns” was originally due on July 2, 2020, but was then extended to Oct. 30, 2020, extended again to Jan 31, extended a third time to May 31 and then extended yet again to the current deadline at the end of July.

In announcing one of the extensions, Energy Minister Sonya Savage said in a press release the revised timeline would “ensure that potential participants have a fair opportunity to provide input.”

In its response to the draft report, Dogwood wrote that though the inquiry has been ongoing for two years (inquiry commissioner Steve Allan was appointed in July 2019),  the commissioner only shared the evidence he had gathered — in the form of screenshots, blog posts and pasted quotes pertaining to Dogwood — on July 10. This gave the group five business days to respond.

The group called the timeline “clearly unfair.”

Greenpeace noted similar concerns about tight turnarounds, writing that the “compressed timeline … meant we haven’t been able to fully address all of the issues raised in the dozens of documents from the inquiry.”

Dogwood also pointed to the approaching deadline for the commissioner to submit his final report by the end of July. That deadline, the group noted, gives the commissioner “scarcely 10 days to read responses from dozens of groups named in his draft report, digest their contents, correct errors, remove irrelevant sections and adjust his conclusions accordingly.”

Accusations of climate change denial in Alberta government

Another environmental group also accused the inquiry of failing to take into account peer-reviewed science in the preparation of its report.

The “report doesn’t include references to any peer-reviewed climate science or expert analysis of the impacts of acting in line with that science on Alberta, Canada and the world,” according to 350.org, which also reviewed the draft.

These concerns add to a long line of criticism of the Alberta’s government’s stance on the climate crisis, including the 2019 characterization by Premier Jason Kenney of the focus of investors on climate change and emissions as “the flavour of the day” in an interview with The Globe and Mail’s editorial board.

A few months after that interview, news broke that his government took six months to release a report on the impacts of climate change in the province authored by Katharine Hayhoe, a Canadian climate scientist, and Anne Stoner, a postdoctoral research fellow from Texas Tech University.

The report, entitled “Alberta’s Climate Future,” first commissioned by the previous NDP government, had been the subject of multiple freedom of information requests and its delayed release led former Environment and Parks Minister Shannon Phillips to suggest the UCP government had attempted to bury it.

In emails reviewed by The Narwhal (obtained through a freedom of information request), a government employee acknowledged in December 2019 that the report had been sitting on the UCP environment minister’s desk for at least a month without being released. (A spokesperson for Minister of Alberta Environment and Parks Jason Nixon did not respond to a request from The Narwhal by publication time.)

The report was ultimately released in February 2020 and concluded “the main driver of climate change over the remainder of this century is expected to be human emissions of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases,” and added that “projected changes will profoundly impact Alberta’s natural environment, and have the potential to affect the province’s agriculture, infrastructure and natural resources, as well as the health and welfare of its inhabitants.”

Silly inquiry’ based on Google searches

The Wilderness Committee, a B.C.-based conservation group, denied it had participated in an anti-Alberta energy campaign, describing Allan’s investigation as a “silly inquiry” that spent millions of dollars on Google searches.

It noted that the commissioner’s draft report quoted statements from the conservation group’s website that were based on scientific evidence, including warnings that the planet needed to keep unconventional fuels such as Alberta’s oilsands in the ground.

It said that this “fact has most recently been confirmed by the International Energy Agency” in a report about how to achieve net zero emissions by 2050. The agency is an intergovernmental organization that helps countries coordinate and improve their energy policies.

The Wilderness Committee also confirmed that it was involved in opposition to oilsands development and had used a “tiny fraction” of a 2012 grant identified in Allan’s report to support its efforts.

“However, the overall goals include defending the rights and interests of coastal communities and Indigenous Nations on the Salish Sea, fighting for the federally identified critical habitat of species at risk, and linking the growth of Canada’s most polluting sector to dangerous climate impacts,” wrote climate campaigner Peter McCartney and executive director Beth Clarke in a letter to Allan. 

The letter also noted that the Wilderness Committee objected to the development of all oil and gas resources, not just those from Alberta, based on research by scientists.

“The project was not, as you presume, to ‘oppose Alberta energy.’ These messages are highlighted repeatedly throughout the statements you gathered from publicly available sources, yet you have chosen to ignore the clear intention of our work.”

Greenpeace Canada included short excerpts from the draft report in its response, sharing tidbits that it found particularly egregious, noting reports commissioned by the inquiry are cited without context. 

Olszynski labelled the reports commissioned by the inquiry as “junk” and suggested the report should instead rely on findings by groups such as the International Panel on Climate Change.

Greenpeace quotes the draft report as referencing theories ranging from “the movement has its roots in the ‘one world government’ philosophy,” to “it is a progressive/socialist movement,” to “the foundation for the movement is based on Malthusian theory,” to “the movement is driven by those who will benefit from trading in carbon credits, subsidies for renewable energy, the ownership of rail cars, or some other scheme that will be economically beneficial for the participants.”

Greenpeace alleges the commissioner “validates these theories,” noting that he states “it may very well be a combination of more than one of these theories. It is a question that this inquiry did not have the resources to ultimately determine.” 

“It’s kind of a stunning statement for a public inquiry: ‘I’m going to repeat hearsay, uncredited, which defames people; I think parts of it are true but I didn’t have time to check,’ ” Stewart of Greenpeace said. “What did he spend $3.5 million on?”

Greenpeace further quotes the commissioner as writing: “I have been directed to observations with which I agree, to the effect that activism that leads to extremism has the potential to seriously undermine the ability to achieve positive outcomes.”

“He characterizes the organizations that he’s investigating as extremists, and sort of blocking debate,” Stewart said. 

“Whereas I would argue, we actually have been contributing to and, in some cases, forcing a debate on what to do about climate change.”

Olszynski agrees that the report uses a broad brush to label environmental groups as extremists.

“He essentially labels — in a sort of indiscriminate way — the groups that are caught by his inquiry as extremists and as polarizing,” Olszynski said.  

“That implicitly, and explicitly really, does reflect a judgment about the severity [of climate change] and the veracity of climate science.”

Editor’s note: One of The Narwhal’s editors and co-founder, Emma Gilchrist, formerly worked in communications at Dogwood from 2011 to 2013.

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