Jason Kenney launches the Alberta witch hunt for ‘foreign-funded activists’

Premier Jason Kenney flanked by Doug Schweitzer left), Sonya Savage, and Steve Allan. Source: Government of Alberta.

In tip of the hat to 1950s McCarthyism in United States, wags are calling inquiry the “Un-Alberta Activities Committee”

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney launched the “public inquiry into the foreign funding of anti-Alberta energy campaigns” Thursday afternoon. During this speech Kenney railed against the “misinformation” supposedly spread by pipeline and oil sands opponents, completely missing the irony that his own speech was filled with lies, half-truths, and errors of fact.

Long-term Calgary accountant Steve Allan will head up the inquiry. He is the board chair for Calgary Economic Development and “a respected volunteer and community leader who advocates for economic development, poverty reduction, sports and the arts,” according to the government’s press release.

Tzeporah Berman.

The question is, what exactly can Allan accomplish since he can only call witnesses from within Alberta and the objects of his ire – such as Tzeporah Berman – reside in British Columbia or Ontario? During Phase I, he will “conduct a paper review, interview witnesses and complete additional research”  and in Phase II he “may hold a public hearing, if necessary.”

As the Canadian journalist who has reported most extensively about foreign-funded anti-pipeline and oil sands activism, I can assure readers there is very little “paper” for Allan to read. Sure, he can review Vancouver blogger Vivian Krause’s “research,” but as an acc0mplished and ethical professional, he will quickly recognize the limitations of her work: she has only done half the job.

For a decade Krause combed IRS databases searching for payments from American charitable foundations like the Tides Foundation and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund to Canadian environmental non-government organizations (ENGOs) like Greenpeace and Stand (formerly Forest Ethics), Berman’s ENGO. The available information included applications and covering letters from the foundations to the ENGOs.

That’s where she stopped.

During the interviews for my deep dive on her conspiracy narrative, Debunked: Vivian Krause’s Tar Sands Campaign conspiracy narrative, I interviewed over a dozen of the ENGOs and often asked them if Krause had followed up to ensure the funding was actually spent on activism, as she claims in her many blog posts and Postmedia op-eds. The answer was, no.

This email answer from Alison Henning, Tides Canada director of communications, is typical: “I slogged through a whole bunch of archived emails I could get access to back to 2014. Although in one email I found she asked a question about where the funding went, for the overwhelming majority, she would simply list a whole bunch of info she had collected, and then ask for us to reply and confirm it was correct.”

Vivian Krause.

Sloppy research methodology then resulted in wrong conclusions, like lumping unabashedly activist ENGOs like Dogwood Initiative and Greenpeace in with Pembina Institute (a Calgary-based energy policy think tank) and Keepers of the Athabasca, which was involved in community education and environmental monitoring.

Even though Krause made the Tar Sands Campaign the centrepiece of her ENGO criticisms, she left out critical information that didn’t jibe with her conspiracy narrative. For instance, the Tar Sands Campaign received $40 million over 10 years, but after then Alberta Premier Rachel Notley launched the Climate Leadership Plan the US foundation funding dried up and in 2019 is less than $1 million, according to my interview with Berman.

How ironic that when Kenney said today that it “has seen foreign special interests secretively spending tens of millions of dollars to thwart Alberta’s economic development by landlocking our energy – but it stops now,” the US funding of the Tar Sands Campaign has virtually stopped all on its own.

That was hardly the Premier’s only faux pas.

For instance, he told reporters that the US foundations “enlisted and financed dozens of Canadian and American interest groups to execute these activities.” This is incorrect. Canadian First Nations, ENGOs, communities, and scientists began meeting in 2006 and they created the Tar Sands Campaign, as a coalition that ranged from 60 to 100 organizations over the years, in 2008 and Canadians were always in charge, despite having an American coordinator from 2008 to 2011.

Here’s another Kenney error of fact: “Vivian Krause has also revealed that since 2009, the American-based Tides Foundation and its Canadian affiliate gave at least 400 payments, totaling $25 million to Canadian American and European interest groups specifically to oppose the construction of pipelines in Canada.” Tides Canada is in no way affiliated with Tides Foundation, according to its CEO Joanna Kerr, they simply share a name because Canadian founders were impressed by the American example.

Steve Allan.

Furthermore, Tides Canada does not fund anti-pipeline activism, says Kerr, though it does fund pipeline-related projects, such as helping indigenous communities adapt to the economic and environmental effects of oil and gas extraction and transport.

Then there’s this whopper, which I have no qualms about calling a flat out lie: “The consequences for Albertans are plain to see: tens of thousands of job losses, thousands of business closures, a negative economic growth and massive increases in public debt.”

Alberta oil patch job losses began in early 2015 and were caused by the fall of crude oil prices from over $100 per barrel to less than $30 the following year, with heavy crude benchmark Western Canadian dipping below $20 in early 2016. Oil prices and oil prices alone were responsible for the devastation in the Alberta economy. Job losses due to constrained pipeline capacity didn’t begin until early 2018 after a November leak on the Keystone pipeline. WCS prices didn’t plunge again until late summer and throughout the fall as rising production finally overwhelmed the Canadian pipeline system.

Unfortunately, space prevents us from explaining the full catalogue of Kenney’s own misinformation campaign.

According to Doug Schweitzer, minister of justice and solicitor general, Allan will submit his report by July 2, 2020. In addition to the $2.5 million budget, the government will also provide administrative and technical support to the inquiry.

Like his boss, Schweitzer missed another irony: the inquiry will cost about three times the amount of the 2019 US foundation funding to the Tar Sands Campaign. Maybe less, though, if Allan skips the public hearing portion of the inquiry because he has no one to question since all the ENGOs are in Vancouver opposing the Trans Mountain Expansion pipeline project.

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