Alberta Politics
Progress Alberta Director Duncan Kinney (Photo: Dave Cournoyer).

Shut down your ‘anti-Alberta campaigns’ inquiry or the courts will shut it for you, tiny group warns Alberta government

Posted on January 20, 2020, 10:20 pm
9 mins

OTTAWA – Well, one thing’s already clear, there’s no way the mighty Kenney Government will shut down its so-called inquiry into “anti-Alberta energy campaigns” on the say so of Progress Alberta, a small Edmonton-based research and activist organization.

That said, the day may come when the government’s leaders wish they had.

University of Ottawa Law Professor Amir Attaran (Photo: Provided by Amir Attaran).

This morning, Progress Alberta Director Duncan Kinney announced the organization’s lawyer has fired off a letter to Inquiry Commissioner Steve Allan demanding that he immediately end what critics have termed a political inquisition or face having it shut down by the courts.

Progress Alberta’s complaint is based in part on the argument the organization has repeatedly been targeted by Premier Jason Kenney and his UCP government, both during the provincial election last spring and since, “with false accusations that our group was a part of a conspiracy, working in league with American foundations, to sabotage Alberta’s economy.”

Alberta Inquiry Commissioner Steve Allan (Photo: Lieutenant Governor of Alberta).

“Those attacks appeared to be in retaliation for Progress Alberta exercising its constitutionally protected right to campaign against Jason Kenny and the UCP,” Mr. Kinney said in a statement, arguing that the government’s attacks on Progress Alberta appear to be in retaliation for the organization exercising its constitutionally protected right to campaign against the government.

In reality, he said in an email from Edmonton today, “we are not a part of the Tar Sands Campaign. We have never campaigned against pipelines or oilsands projects. We have never conspired with the Rockefellers to sabotage Alberta’s economy.”

David, with the head of Goliath, as imagined by Gustave Doré (1832-1883).

“But that didn’t stop Kenney from smearing us and turning us into an enemy of Alberta,” Kinney continued, suggesting that’s what the premier had to do in order “to distract Albertans from the brutal austerity he’s inflicting on Albertans.”

“We have a clear message for Kenney,” Mr. Kinney continued. “Shut down this unconstitutional and undemocratic witch hunt of an inquiry or we will shut it down for you.”

Now, if the government of Alberta is a Goliath in such matters, Progress Alberta is certainly David.

But since many of the most enthusiastic supporters of Premier Jason Kenney’s United Conservative Party Government are among those who believe the contents of Bible are literal journalism, it probably behooves us to review the Old Testament narrative found in Chapter 17 of the first Book of Samuel.

Alberta Minister of Red Tape Reduction Grant Hunter (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Little David, as alert readers of Scripture will recall, put his hand in his bag, and took thence a stone, and slang it, and smote big Goliath in his forehead. Thereby, history was made and a terrific metaphor created.

The rock in Progress Alberta’s metaphorical slingshot – Amir Attaran — is not just some spiky haired law graduate out to make a name for himself.

Dr. Attaran is a full professor in the faculties of both Law and Medicine at the University of Ottawa. A distinguished scholar, in other words. He has had, as they say, a diverse career as scientist, lawyer and advocate for public health, human rights and environmental protection.

Folks like Premier Kenney are not likely to be among Dr. Attaran’s greatest fans, of course, since many Conservatives took vociferous offence at his tweeted observation last summer that their party had become “the party of the uneducated.”

Regardless of his willingness to court controversy, the point is that Dr. Attaran is no piker when it comes to the law.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

“The attacks on Progress Alberta have created a chilling effect that has discouraged Progress Alberta’s traditional donors from supporting the organization,” Dr. Attaran wrote in his letter to Mr. Allan. “The threat of the Inquiry has also forced Progress Alberta to divert resources towards research and legal defense, rather than reaching its target audience.”

Since the commissioner cannot exercise his mandate to inquire into “anti-Alberta energy campaigns” without making a determination information distributed by opponents of the government’s policies is “misleading or false,” the letter argues, “the Commissioner must arrive at a value determination of the content of the Canadian organization’s expression, simply to cross the threshold of acquiring jurisdiction over it.”

“We do not believe that it is legal for the Inquiry’s jurisdiction to be predicated upon the value of constitutionally-protected expression.”

“While government can place proportionate restrictions on the right of free expression where there is a pressing and substantial objective, that is not the Inquiry’s function,” the letter continues. “Instead the Inquiry, by its Terms of Reference, has the intent of subjecting organizations who campaign and advance allegedly ‘anti-Alberta’ beliefs about the oil and gas industry to a legal process in which their associations with foreign organizations are examined by a Commissioner having coercive powers in the Public Inquiries Act.”

“This has a chilling effect a priori upon organizations wishing to express themselves, and hinders their participation in political discourse about the oil and gas industry,” the letter says, noting that the Supreme Court of Canada has ruled “government interference in political discourse is highly unconstitutional.”

Similarly, the letter says, the inquiry’s terms interfere with government opponents’ Charter-guaranteed right to freedom of association.

These matters are in addition to concerns about whether the inquiry’s mandate is even allowed under Alberta’s powers set out in the Constitution Act, 1867, which are the subject of litigation brought by other parties, the letter added.

Accordingly, Dr. Attaran’s letter concluded, “I caution the Government of Alberta to repeal the Terms of Reference and disband the Inquiry forthwith, failing which we may commence litigation, in anticipation of which I instruct the Government of Alberta to retain all records in connection with the Inquiry or its establishment.”

Well, Mr. Kenney and his commissioner won’t like that very much. Indeed, Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer soon advised the Toronto Star’s Edmonton reporter to tell Progress Alberta to “bring it on.”

Dr. Attaran responded on Twitter: “‘Bring it on’ is not exactly thoughtful constitutional analysis, @Doug_Schweitzer. My client, @ProgressAlberta, hopes for a more intelligent, mature response.”

You have to admit, though, was a great way to start “Red Tape Reduction Awareness Week.”

That risible occasion was launched today as well by so-called Red Tape Reduction Minister Grant Hunter in coordination with the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, a lobby group that is obviously no foe of the Kenney Government.

Mr. Allan’s inquiry is one bit of red tape that Alberta, and Canada, could do without.

16 Comments to: Shut down your ‘anti-Alberta campaigns’ inquiry or the courts will shut it for you, tiny group warns Alberta government

  1. Susan Rankin

    January 21st, 2020

    OH come on Aren’t these are just the #WEXIT WHINERS… Do the rest of us a favor WEXIT and Make Canada Intelligent Again.

    Reply
  2. Bruce mitchell

    January 21st, 2020

    I just started donating $10 a month from my retirement income after reading your piece in the vain glorious notion that it might piss off Kenny. Cheers

    Reply
  3. Political Ranger

    January 21st, 2020

    I have been away in the far distant jungles of Central America the last couple weeks. Of course, I pop into David’s blog when I can.

    This piece demonstrates the farcical and fantastic nature of Alberta politics. From this vantage it is beyond comprehension; which story is more credible or more fantastic, the one of David & Goliath or the one of the Alberta Minister of Red Tape Reduction? Is this a Monty Python skit?

    Here, I just laugh at the idiocy of it all! But I know this is real life for many, and soon for me too.

    How do such charlatans and low-intelligence people get to positions of leadership – and maintain their positions? There is something seriously sick in Alberta!

    Reply
  4. !?

    January 21st, 2020

    One wonders how long Alberta’s farmers & ranchers are going to endure the onslaught of climate change before turning on their oil soaked brethren.

    Reply
  5. Magda

    January 21st, 2020

    The War Room, the Alberta Value seminar (or whatever it was called) and this inquiry are the best things that could have happened to Rachel Notley if she wants to be premier again. Collectively they are doing what the NDP, the Green Party and various environmental groups over the years have been unable to do: make the O&G sector look stupid. Not evil, but stupid. You cannot recover from being seen as stupid.

    Reply
  6. alan

    January 21st, 2020

    If one wishes to sing in the Alberta UCP choir, then; one must sing the proscribed hymnals with the proper adoration, or risk being put on the official enemies list. Doug Schweitzer is acutely aware of where the officially and professionally defined boundaries lie and he is very careful in not crossing those boundaries. Prosecution and persecution is usually reserved for those who are both unconnected and powerless. Those who are ‘inconsequential’ in society.

    See for example, https://www.cbc.ca/fifth/episodes/2019-2020/the-autopsy-part-2-what-did-justice-cover-up

    and note very carefully the response of Mr. Doug Schweitzer. Business as usual in Alberta means preserving the entrenched perceived order of things and not stepping on the toes the well connected and the socially, economically, and politically powerful. Or, so it would appear.

    Reply
    • Murphy

      January 21st, 2020

      After watching the CBC program, I am left wondering as to whom among the Calgary oligarchs stood to be directly affected by an investigation. Denis never took a breath without having it suggested by one of the Great Calgarians.

      Reply
  7. Jim

    January 21st, 2020

    This is so brazen I don’t think anyone who believes in free speech in Canada can be anything but appalled.
    I have made some changes but this is similar to the statement from a so called free speech advocate, let us see if he responds with a similar one when those being attacked are on the other side of the issue. It should also serve as a reminder that a change in government may result in him having to open his books. The ball is in your court Ezra, not holding my breath.

    Reply
  8. Just Me

    January 21st, 2020

    The UCP government’s effort to demonize their critics is turning from something the height of farcical behaviour into something to be feared. Of course, that does not mean that their efforts should be ignored; if anything it establishes just how dangerous they really are.

    Playing Don Quixote and tilting at windmills as dragons is amusing enough to watch, but what happens when the UCP government, in full frustration, decides that they need to go full-on thug to get their way? If the courts and universities are not going to be friendly ground for them, maybe it’s time to go scorched earth and show that they really mean business?

    Given Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer’s tendency to name-call and make threats, it should worry everyone if he decides to back up the same with the force of legislation. He doesn’t seem like the kind of lawyer who cherishes free expression; he seems like the type who would smash it. Legislating severe limitations on criticism from all quarters is a very possible scenario that could unfold. Use of the Notwithstanding Clause to smash civil liberties is a very real and present danger that everyone should take very seriously. These are the times where constant vigilance is survival.

    “Don’t let a thief into your house three times. The first time was enough. The second time was a chance. The third time means you’re stupid.”
    ― C. JoyBell C.

    Reply
  9. Bob Raynard

    January 21st, 2020

    If I had the money to launch a lawsuit, I would argue that because climate change denial groups like the Koch Brothers et al are trying to influence government’s environmental policy, they are, by definition, an environmental group. Once that was established, it would then be fair game to compel some Alberta based climate change denying media commentators to testify (it is my understanding that the ‘inquiry’ can only compel people within Alberta to testify). According to Jason’s Ministry of Truth, the climate change denial industry has hundreds of millions of dollars available to deny climate change. I really want to know if the media commentators, or their employers, have received any payment from the climate change denial industry.

    Reply
  10. Abs

    January 21st, 2020

    My spouse and I have considered starting a letter-writing campaign, urging Marg, Warrior Princess, aka Marg Delahunty, aka Mary Walsh, to come out of retirement and smite Jason Kenney mightily with her plastic sword. It seems like the only sensible thing to do, since plastic comes from petrochemicals, and something has to be done about all this. Maybe Marg with her sword could replace the big giant scissors that are brandished at these red tape cutting events.

    Reply
  11. Anonymous

    January 21st, 2020

    The UCP is getting more pathetic by the day, and it shows. Albertans are paying dearly for their very costly mistakes. The UCP is doing anything it can to distract itself from its major follies. Why is Grant Hunter still an MLA, after the controversial and inexcusable things he has said? The UCP are acting like dictators, and retaining the one party state system that Alberta had for so long with the Alberta PCs. I think the UCP has made it so they will remain in power indefinitely. Oil booms are over since several years ago (2014). Are the UCP going to be able to change that? No. All these panels are pointless, as they have a predetermined outcome, and are just a distraction from the UCP’s very costly mistakes, which are past $13 billion, and climbing, as well as diverting people’s attention from Jason Kenney’s election related crimes.

    Reply
  12. Doug

    January 21st, 2020

    The NGO’s are finally getting a taste of their own obstructionist medicine. The War Room will succeed if it keeps the likes of Progress Alberta on the run and wasting money on legal fees.

    Reply
  13. Bruce Turton

    January 21st, 2020

    A couple of verses the biblical fundamentalist/neoliberal fundamentalist groups totally ignore are from Luke 1:53-53, “He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich empty away.”
    And to top of the week’s UCP debacles, they have decided that learning has to be geared to the jobs of the 1990’s and earlier – no need for anyone to learn how to learn, or any notions of racial/social justice. Just learn how to do what “we” say you need to learn how and what to do. No recognition whatsoever that oil, gas, and tar are not really the direction that climate disruption is pointing us toward. The young people of Alberta might begin to see futures elsewhere quite soon!

    Reply
  14. Dave

    January 22nd, 2020

    This inquiry I think initially attracted more negative reaction and concern than it’s sad cousin the war room. However, the war room has gone on to make various high profile blunders while this inquiry has quietly managed to stay out of the news at least so far, except for some concerns about conflict of interest with a law firm. We’ll see if that lasts.

    Surely, even Mr. Kenney who seems a bit vindictive at times and always pugilistic must realize there is potential great political danger ahead for this inquiry. If the inquiry is a series of fact finding trips, with a report issued, it will probably not generate any more political trouble or concern than it already has. Particularly, if the report focuses on mysterious foreign organizations and puts the blame mainly on them. A restatement of the sometimes bizarre and over reaching conspiracy theories will not convince those that are not already inclined to believe the UCP, but it will probably not do further political damage.

    If the inquiry starts focusing on groups in Alberta, such as environmental groups and starts using the considerable powers it has against them, this could become a huge political mess for the UCP and Kenney. Included in the UCP coalition is a not inconsiderable number of libertarians, who believe strongly in free speech and could react negatively to the government trying to suppress it. If the impression Albertans get is this inquiry is going after political opponents of the government this could turn ugly for the government. Particularly as these groups are often small, with no significant ties to any foreign funding or organizations. The government should not want to look like a bully trying to shut down free speech and punish opposition, as that will turn the public off.

    Reply
    • Death and Gravity

      January 25th, 2020

      I agree that there may be a “not inconsiderable number of [soi-disant] libertarians” in the UCP coalition. If you expect them to stand on any sort of principle beyond “I got mine, fuck you”, you’re in for a big surprise. Scratch a libertarian, find a fascist.

      Reply

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