Deadline for inquiry into alleged anti-Alberta energy campaigns pushed back, again

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The public will have to wait until next year for the results of Alberta’s inquiry into whether alleged “foreign-funded special interests” are spreading misinformation about the province’s energy industry. 

Steve Allan is heading the province’s public inquiry into alleged foreign-funded attacks on the reputation of Alberta’s oil and gas industry. The deadline for the inquiry’s final report has been pushed back for a second time. (Evelyne Asselin/CBC)

The public will have to wait until next year for the results of Alberta’s inquiry into whether alleged “foreign-funded special interests” are spreading misinformation about the province’s energy industry. 

The inquiry originally had its completion date set for July 2020, but it was pushed back until October, and another $1 million was added to its initial $2.5-million price tag, due to delays related to COVID-19. 

On Saturday at the United Conservative Party’s annual general meeting, Premier Jason Kenney said that deadline would be extended again, this time until 2021. 

On Wednesday, Energy Minister Sonya Savage said cabinet had agreed to commissioner Steve Allan’s request for a 90-day extension.

“Cabinet granted this extension — which is being provided without any additional funding — to ensure that potential participants have a fair opportunity to provide input, and because restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic have led to procedural delays. The final report must now be submitted to my office by Jan. 31, 2021,” Savage said in a statement. 

Despite it being a public inquiry, Allan has not released his interim report to the public — just to the government — and he has not disclosed whom he has interviewed as part of his investigation.

Since the inquiry began, its terms of reference have also changed twice, with Allan saying his team doesn’t have the time or resources to prove whether particular statements are misleading or false.

Kenney launched the inquiry in July 2019 to see whether “foreign-funded special interest” groups have been disseminating incomplete, misleading or false information about the Alberta oil and gas industry — allegedly costing the province jobs and potential investments.

There are no regulations preventing environmental groups from accepting money from outside Canada, and no laws preventing an environmental group from advocating for action.

The inquiry’s website states that its investigative work has been ongoing, including preliminary research, gathering records, conducting interviews and planning next steps. 

“It’s the search for enemies, and they haven’t found them, so they need more time to find the enemies,” said Duane Bratt, a political science professor at Mount Royal University. 

Bratt questioned the specifics of what has led to the delays.

“Could they not do a Zoom call with [environmental groups] … to interview them? Is data collection and email down because of COVID?”

Savage said the inquiry is part of the government’s commitment to support the energy sector. 

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