Originally published in Edmonton Journal
What happens when an inquisition can’t find any sinners? That is the conundrum facing the Kenney government’s so-called Public Inquiry into Anti-Alberta Energy Campaigns.
Steve Allan, the commissioner leading this Inquiry, has informed Greenpeace Canada that “I do not intend to make findings of misconduct” because — as he promises to state in his final report — our organization has done nothing “dishonest,” “unlawful” or that “should in any way be impugned.” Other environmental groups have received similar letters. Allan has also indicated he won’t be relying on the bizarre climate science-denying, conspiracy-spouting reports he commissioned as part of the inquiry.
As this is written, Greenpeace Canada still hasn’t been allowed to see what documentation has been collected. Based on his letters, however, he will likely name us as engaging in an anti-Alberta energy campaign.
That may please his political masters, but it is an affront to democratic debate.
Greenpeace Canada has never hidden the fact that we received funds from U.S. and European foundations for our tarsands campaign. The $2.9 million we received from those foundations in the 2007-2018 period (none since) is dwarfed by the $5.6 million we received from Albertans for this work during that same period.
Are these donors somehow not real Albertans?The inquiry defines “anti-Albertan energy campaigns” as “attempts to directly or indirectly delay or frustrate the timely, economic, efficient and responsible development of Alberta’s oil and gas resources.” It is choosing to interpret that definition as whatever the Government of Alberta considers timely, economic, efficient and responsible.
By those standards, former Premier Lougheed’s long-standing claim that oilsands development was happening too fast made him anti-Albertan. Equally unAlbertan are the mayors who asked for slower development because municipal infrastructure couldn’t keep up.
What constitutes “responsible development” — during a climate crisis — should be a legitimate subject for public debate by environmental groups (who get some funding from international sources to work on the global climate crisis) and by oil companies (who get much more international funding and aren’t shy about lobbying Canadian governments).
When Greenpeace Canada opened an office in Alberta in 2007, we did it because the oilsands were not only the fastest rising source of greenhouse gas emissions in the country, but were also the third-largest oil reserve on the planet. A “world-class resource” is going to get global attention.
We advocated for three big things. An immediate end to the expansion of the oil sands — a once radical position now adopted by the International Energy Agency. Cleaning up existing harms, like the toxic tailings ponds that still threaten water supplies. And finally, a plan to transition from fossil fuel production to renewable energy that protects affected workers and communities, a position that is also now supported by the International Energy Agency.
Canada’s Parliament and Supreme Court have recognized climate change is an existential threat.
These were not always popular opinions to hold. Climate advocates were called radicals, extremists and traitors (and other names not suitable for print).
Attempting to shoot the messenger, however, has left Alberta unprepared for the coming energy transition. Two years ago, Premier Jason Kenney dismissed investor concern over climate change as “flavour of the day” and launched his fight-back campaign as the way to solve Alberta’s problems.
It was no accident that Premier Kenney said he found Vladimir Putin’s jailing of Greenpeace activists as “instructive” as he launched the campaign that has attempted to intimidate climate-concerned Albertans through a combination of the highly secretive inquiry, the gaffe-prone war room and the criminalization of protest through Bill 1.
This is not politics-as-usual. We should not ignore the ensuing personal toll (death threats to prominent activists are not uncommon) or the chilling effect on smaller, Alberta-based organizations.
But in the end, Albertans aren’t afraid of the cold.
The assault on democratic debate has not silenced Kenney’s critics. It has only scared away investors who don’t want to be associated with regimes so openly opposing action on climate change.
Kenney’s hand-picked commissioner can’t find any sinners to condemn, so hopefully the Government of Alberta will stop attacking environmental organizations and focus on building a better future in the new energy economy.
Keith Stewart is a senior energy strategist with Greenpeace Canada and part-time instructor at the University of Toronto.