Alberta Politics
Shell’s Jackpine oilsands mine 75 kilometres north of Fort McMurray (Photo: Julia Kilpatrick, Pembina Institute, Creative Commons).

Judge gives green light to ‘anti-Alberta energy campaigns’ inquiry – a ruling the UCP may come to regret

Posted on May 15, 2021, 1:41 pm
7 mins

At the end of a terrible week, there was a smidgen of solace for Jason Kenney and his United Conservative Party.

Yesterday, Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Karen Horner rejected Ecojustice Canada Society’s arguments the Kenney Government’s so-called “Public Inquiry into Anti-Alberta Energy Campaigns” was just a politicized attempt to intimidate environmental groups and gave the inquiry the nod to continue. 

Ecojustice Executive Director Devon Page (Photo: Ecojustice).

Ecojustice’s goal had been to have the inquiry ruled illegal. But Justice Horner said in her verbal ruling that the environmental law organization hadn’t proved the goal of the inquiry was to intimidate critics of the fossil fuel industry or that there was a “reasonable apprehension of bias” on the part of the inquiry. 

Naturally, Energy Minister Sonya Savage and Inquiry Commission Steve Allan crowed about the ruling – the former huffing that “we make no apologies for standing up for Alberta’s oil and gas industry by thoroughly investigating the widely reported foreign funded campaign aimed at discrediting the province’s energy sector,” and the latter by saying “I welcome this affirmation and look forward to continuing the work of the Alberta Inquiry.”

Equally unsurprisingly, Ecojustice Executive Director Devon Page expressed his disappointment with the ruling but vowed “to continue using the power of the law to defend nature, combat climate change, and fight for a healthier, safer environment for all people in Canada.”

Mr. Page said Ecojustice will wait for the court’s written reasons before deciding whether to appeal. But practical considerations – chief among them the fact Commissioner Allan is supposed to report at the end of the month – may make an appeal unlikely. 

Mr. Page certainly got this right in his statement: “We lost the court case, but we won the debate,” he said. “The Alberta government’s public inquiry long ago lost all credibility.”

I’ll say! After failing to deliver a report despite getting three deadline extensions, overseeing a budget increase from $2.5 to $3.5 million, spending close to $100,000 buying three goofy papers rich in “junk climate-denial science, bizarre conspiracy theories and oil-industry propaganda,” and doing whatever it’s doing in complete secrecy, Commissioner Allan and the “public” inquiry have a canyon-sized credibility gap. 

In fairness, though, Ecojustice can hardly take all the credit for that. Most of it belongs to Mr. Allan himself!

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

Mr. Page expressed the concern that the judge’s ruling “emboldens an Alberta government that is completely out of touch with the climate crisis.”

For proof, he said, “we need to look no further than this government’s disastrous attempt to open parts of the Rockies up for coal mining, or its failed attempt to challenge the price on carbon and its upcoming challenge to federal environmental assessment legislation.”

“The court has set a concerning precedent that may embolden other governments to use public resources and processes to silence public debate,” he stated. 

Those who share Mr. Page’s concerns can take some solace themselves, though, from the fact that if Commissioner Allan manages to deliver a report on May 31 based on what he is known to have done so far, it’s unlikely to provoke much more than derision, and perhaps a few defamation lawsuits. 

And it’s no sure thing the Commissioner won’t have to seek a fourth extension to hand in his homework, unfinished even though he worked on it during his mid-pandemic “personal” break in Palm Springs. 

Alberta Energy Minister Sonya Savage (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Queried by reporters, Mr. Allan has refused to confirm he won’t have to ask for another extension, and a spokesperson for Ms. Savage refused to say if the government had received a request. 

Moreover, Mr. Allan appears never to have served notice to any of the environmental organizations named by the government ministers as the villains in the supposed anti-Alberta campaign. 

“It’s clearly too late now for the Inquiry to serve notices on eNGOs and meet its May 31st deadline,” tweeted University of Calgary legal scholar Martin Olszynski on Thursday. And without adequate notice to organizations facing adverse findings, including adequate time for them to respond, Dr. Olszynski said, “the report is DOA from a legal standpoint.”

One way or the other, it is not impossible that the Kenney government, which has its mind on other things right now anyway, might soon wish Justice Horner had agreed with Ecojustice’s arguments and told Mr. Allan to pack it in and forget about reporting.

Jason Kenney: The leader God raised up for these times?

Lacombe-Ponoka UCP MLA Ron Orr (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

If the UCP is looking for any more comfort amid its current misfortunes, which include a plague worthy of the tribulations that afflicted Egypt in the Book of Exodus, Lacombe-Ponoka UCP MLA Ron Orr has published a social media post expressing the view Premier Kenney “is the leader God raised up for these times.” 

That part of Mr. Orr’s view is not widely shared, it would seem, even in the UCP Legislative Caucus, and certainly not on the Opposition benches or in the far reaches of the backbenches where Independent MLAs are sent to cool their jets.

Mr. Orr may not be the sharpest knife in the UCP drawer, but his notion that the suffering of those with COVID and that of those who “suffer under restrictions” is roughly equivalent may be a unifying idea among his disunited colleagues. 

17 Comments to: Judge gives green light to ‘anti-Alberta energy campaigns’ inquiry – a ruling the UCP may come to regret

  1. Abs

    May 15th, 2021

    Let me fix that for you Ron Orr, whoever you are:
    Premier Kenney “is the leader God threw up for these times.” Much better. The Bible warms against false idols, you see:

    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/False_Idols

    Oops, wrong link. Anyways, yahoo! Send in the cowboys and let’s get on with the blessed Stampede already! Steve can’t wait around forever, you know.

    Reply
  2. Just Me

    May 15th, 2021

    Considering Premier Angry & Crying Midget has managed to by judges in Alberta before, I’m not holding my breath in regard to this inquiry’s result.

    Alberta has become the Hermit Kingdom. I’m just waiting for the moment when the UCP starts issuing travel visas and regulated exits from the province, because will be trying like hell to get out.

    Reply
  3. Mike J Danysh

    May 15th, 2021

    Re Ron Orr’s epistle: I’d worry, to think God hates Alberta that much.

    Reply
    • David Climenhaga

      May 16th, 2021

      Frankly, I think we’re on the way to becoming just one big trailer park. And we all know how God feels about trailer parks. DJC

      Reply
      • Mike J Danysh

        May 16th, 2021

        Oboy. I better renew my house insurance before they declare Alberta uninsurable!

        Reply
  4. Mike J Danysh

    May 15th, 2021

    So we’re to believe there was no political bias? No intent to bully opposition to oil-at-any-cost?

    My instant reaction was, “The judge is biased.” That’s probably unfair. The bare statement of “no proof of bias” is apparently a reference ONLY to Steve Allen and his commission. The quote in paragraph four of the article:

    https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/edmonton/alberta-anti-alberta-oil-inquiry-ruling-1.6026482

    seems to refer mainly to Allen and his staff. I’m perturbed by the inference the Order in Council that got Allen et al going was deemed unbiased—especially after all the bloviating based on Vivian Krause’s discredited polemic. (Remember, Krause was invited to speak at a lecture series hosted by the Calgary Oil Show. I don’t recall if it was 2019 or 2020. The organizers—reported by CBC, but I can’t find the article—asked Krause if she’d extended her research, or submitted it for peer review. She said no, and the organizers withdrew their invitation.)

    It’s time for—are you ready?—conspiracy theories! Yaayy!!

    Maybe Jason the Court Jester had enough sense to tell the government (or Party?) lawyers what he wanted, and stay out of their way. Kenney is supposed to be a cunning political operative, so maybe he had the brains to sit back while the lawyers legalized the OIC to something that would pass a judge’s scrutiny.

    Or maybe I’m being harsh to Steve Allen. Maybe he hasn’t been biased against the eNGOs. Maybe he’s just too embarrassed to actually require them to testify. Inevitable failure tends to make some folks cautious, after all. That probably also explains the missed deadlines. Can’t deliver the required “conclusion”? Don’t deliver at all.

    Theory #3 is a prediction: there will be no report. Allen’s report won’t be officially delivered, probably after another extension—during which the draft copies will disappear. This won’t prevent every sensible and concerned citizen from yelling, “Fake! Coverup! No proof!” and similar sentiments. But, hey—better to be thought a fool than to prove it beyond a doubt. (That’s too long for a campaign slogan, but it might be a useful proverb for the UCP MLA’s, those who are left.)

    Ecojustice, says the article, is “awaiting Horner’s written reasons” before deciding to appeal. I sure hope Martin Olszynski, or one of his colleagues, will analyze the court’s decision for us. I’d love to see whether Justice Horner’s decision is straightforward, or some convoluted “rules-of-evidence” interpretation.

    Reply
    • David Climenhaga

      May 16th, 2021

      Well, no one’s seen the judgment yet. Judges make their decisions on the bases if the law and the facts. They can be wrong, which is what the appeals courts are for. My guess is there were flaws in Ecojustice’s strategy, though, things not covered for one reason for another that perhaps should have been. The requirement to prove their case was on them. From a commonsense perspective, there can be no argument the inquiry is politically biased, and incompetently conducted to boot. DJC

      Reply
  5. Mike J Danysh

    May 15th, 2021

    Further to Ron Orr’s epiphany, I recall an incident from the Old Tory government of Ed Stelmach.

    While Ed Stelmach was premier, the Department of Energy published a document that contained an obvious lie. The Auditor General (Fred Dunn, I believe) caught them, and Kevin Taft, leader of the Liberal Opposition, called them on it in the Legislature. The Tories went ballistic. Denunciations that amounted to “How dare you catch us lying” flew across the aisle.

    But the thing that chilled me, and it still does as I type, was Ed Stelmach’s complaint. He accused the Liberals of damaging the “sanctity” of the Legislature. Yeah, you read correctly. Stelmach apparently believed the government chamber deserved the unquestioning loyalty given to a church. (By extension, that’d mean Stelmach himself deserved the unquestioning respect given to a parish priest.)

    It was disturbing then, and Orr’s echo is disturbing today. How many Albertans believe that Church and Government are One? The number can’t be high, but they’re gonna be noisy when their boy, Lord Jason the Great Big Failure, gets the boot.

    Reply
    • Alan K. Spiller

      May 16th, 2021

      It reminds me of what lawyers were telling me during the Klein days. They were deliberately trying to make certain that every judge in the province was a conservative supporter. In other words have control of the court system. Want to bet Horner was one?

      Reply
      • Mike J Danysh

        May 17th, 2021

        That’s one bet I won’t cover. Canadian judges aren’t elected like US judges, but it sure looks like provincial governments can pick friendly judges when they want to. Wasn’t the dissenting opinion in the Supreme Court verdict on the federal carbon tax written by an Alberta judge?

        Reply
  6. Anonymous

    May 15th, 2021

    The UCP are looking at any excuses they can find to deflect from their weak leadership. Anything goes, and at a great cost and disservice to Alberta. What are the UCP going to do about the very large cost Albertans have to pay to cleanup abandoned oil wells in Alberta, which is $260 billion, and came from the Alberta PCs, in the 1990s? The open pit coal mining issue in Alberta is another matter, which the UCP isn’t properly addressing. We have a right to be concerned about these things. Money simply cannot be compensation for an environment that is damaged beyond repair.

    Reply
    • Alan K. Spiller

      May 16th, 2021

      By slashing taxes by some $9.4 billion over the next few years they have literally rewarded the oil industry for creating it and told landowners effected by it too bad we can’t help you we don’t have any money, it’s all Ottawa’s fault. Where is the intelligence in that?
      Yet we still see stupid fellow senior Albertans making up idiotic comments to try to defend them.

      Reply
      • Anonymous

        May 17th, 2021

        ALAN K. SPILLER: You are right. It’s also younger people who are voting for these illegitimate and pretend Conservatives, because their older relatives told them it was the right thing to do. I’ve known seniors and younger people who were defenders of Ralph Klein and I know people who also support the UCP. The UCP absolutely love Ralph Klein, and there are individuals, like me, who know Ralph Klein was very bad. The UCP are just as bad. They can throw away billions of dollars on things that don’t benefit Alberta, and when it all goes wrong, they blame Rachel Notley and Justin Trudeau for it. Who ends up suffering? The people who think the UCP are great, including the seniors. How did they not remember the horrible mess of Ralph Klein?

        Reply
        • Mike J Danysh

          May 17th, 2021

          “Never underestimate the power of human stupidity.” Some people will make up their minds, right or wrong, than hang on like grim death to their opinions despite all evidence to the contrary. Sadly, Alberta has more than its share of such–and they seem to gravitate to right-wing politics.

          Reply
        • Alan K. Spiller

          May 17th, 2021

          Our family had known the Klein family since the early 1960s and we certainly knew what a jerk Ralph was. When he was campaigning to become premier his mother Flo told my mother that she didn’t think he was capable of running this province properly.

          When he was closing hospitals and cutting 5,000 nursing positions his father Phil said to me Al what in the hell is the matter with that son of mine? While he gives away billions in royalties he is trying to make us live without a proper health care system. This could cost some Albertans their lives. Phil was right it did and one was almost my father.

          Klein’s own daughter Angie was furious with her father over the slashing of income tax to benefit his rich friends and made it clear she was trying to vote him out.
          The truth is members of the Klein family were a lot smarter than the fools who supported him, they knew what a disaster he was for this province

          Reply

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