Another day near Syncrude’s oilsands site – the kind of picture Alberta Inquiry Commissioner Steve Allan hates to see illustrating news stories (Photo: Pembina Instititute, Creative Commons).

The United Conservative Party and its allies are not being truthful when they say, “The public inquiry into anti-Alberta energy campaigns has confirmed that foreign donors gave $1.3 billion to Canadian environmentalists to harm Alberta’s energy sector.”

It confirms no such thing. 

I pulled that particular quote from a tweet published on the Twitter account of the UCP Caucus in the Alberta Legislature, but anyone who is following news coverage of the report of the “Public Inquiry into Anti-Alberta Energy Campaigns” will have seen many statements of this nature. 

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

Likewise, headlines that followed the release of the report saying things like “Foreign donors gave $1.3 billion to Canadian environmentalists to ‘hurt’ Alberta energy sector: Report,” were inaccurate. 

This is more likely attributable to journalistic laziness and haste, however, because that is precisely the impression UCP politicians strove to give, apparently with some success, even though the report itself says something quite different. 

That particular headline appeared in numerous Postmedia newspapers, and was later amended to read, “Foreign donors opened wallets to ‘hurt’ Alberta energy sector: Report.” One could argue the second headline is still misleading spin, but it is slightly more accurate. 

But the outright falsehood quoted above, and still visible in the URL of the edited National Post headline, is bound to appear over and over again on social media. Two or three years from now, we will likely still be seeing it from time to time. 

This will have the effect, as intended by many of the people who will continue to spread it, of reducing a dispute over facts to a mere he-said/she-said argument over opinions. 

Moreover, since Mr. Allan’s report is often impenetrable and at times incoherent, no one is going to take Energy Minister Sonya Savage’s risible advice to read all 657 often unintelligible pages before commenting. 

Therefore, in the interests of peacefully settling future family disputes over holiday dinners – should family get-togethers ever seem safe again, I have cobbled together the following chart to explain the various numbers from Mr. Allan’s report that you well see bandied about in the days ahead. 

The $1.28-billion dollar figure in the first row of the chart is the total calculated by Deloitte Forensic Inc., the international forensic accounting firm engaged by Mr. Allan to assist him with preparing his report. It is Deloitte’s calculation of all funds from foreign sources received by Canadian and non-Canadian environmental charities for initiatives related to Canada between 2003 and 2019.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney (Photo: Alberta Newsroom/Flickr).

So, this number includes everything but the kitchen sink, including many projects that had nothing to do with Alberta or the oilsands. And the money came in over 16 years.

Numbers like this are habitually rounded upward by journalists, so it became the source of the $1.3 billion mentioned in the headlines. 

Mr. Allan is a forensic accountant. Why he didn’t do his own forensic accounting is a mystery to laypeople like me. Perhaps that’s a question someone could ask him if he ever appears again in public in Alberta. 

He was asked to pull this together because Alberta Premier Jason Kenney hoped to prove the conspiracy theory he repeated many times with great success on the campaign trail in 2019, that “foreign-funded special interests” had been “leading a campaign of economic sabotage against this great province.”

Mr. Kenney made that statement in April 2019, just after he’d been elected but before he was sworn in as premier. He went on: “To the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, the Tides Foundation, Lead Now, the David Suzuki Foundation and all of the others – your days of pushing around Albertans with impunity just ended.”

There would be “a public inquiry into the foreign source of funds behind the campaign to landlock Alberta energy,” he vowed. “We will use every means at our disposal to hold you to account.”

Energy Minister Sonya Savage (Photo: Alberta Newsroom/Flickr).

Actually holding an inquiry turns out to have been another of Mr. Kenney’s bad bets. He would have been smarter to strike an “expert panel,” as he did to justify other policy choices. A panel could have said anything he wanted, without the legal constraints of a formal inquiry to stick to the facts. 

Deloitte’s accountants found from public sources that foreign funders, mostly in the United States, granted $925 million to Canadian environmental organizations for a variety of projects. This is the number in the second row of the chart. These projects included many initiatives that had nothing to do with Alberta or the oilsands. 

Indeed, a big one – the sum is redacted in the report but said to be $429 million by several journalists – went to Ducks Unlimited, now headed by Mr. Kenney’s former principal secretary, Larry Kaumeyer. Was that money used for an “anti-Alberta energy campaign”? Presumably not. 

The third row shows the $353 million Deloitte Forensic calculated was granted by U.S. charities to non-Canadian environmental groups to conduct initiatives related to Canada. 

Adding the $925 million and $353 million together gives the $1.3-billion estimate – so it is really nothing but a lie to suggest, as is repeatedly stated as fact by UCP supporters, that this money was all sent to somehow treasonous Canadian groups to harm Alberta’s fossil fuel industry. 

The next row shows Deloitte’s estimate of how much of that large pool of money was used over the 16 years to finance activities that actually opposed resource development in Alberta – which UCP supporters imply or state outright was the purpose of the entire $1.3-billion pool of funds. 

Finally, the $2.2 million to $3.5 million in the final row is an annual average of what the spending on what the government tendentiously calls “anti-Alberta energy campaigns” actually amounted to. 

And remember, this activity was entirely legal, only a matter of Canadians exercising their free speech rights. That was also the conclusion of Mr. Allan. 

That annual $3.5 million considerably less than the $30-million a year budgeted for the Alberta Energy War Room, also known as the Canadian Energy Centre Ltd., which was set up by the Kenney government in 2019. (That budget was reduced for 2020 owing to the effects of the pandemic.) 

Likely it is considerably smaller than the annual budget of the Calgary-based Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, the most prominent industry lobby group. Of course, we can’t know for sure, because CAPP doesn’t publish its budget. 

An honest headline, then, would have been this: “The public inquiry into anti-Alberta energy campaigns has confirmed that foreign donors gave up to $3.5 million a year over 16 years to Canadian environmentalists.”

In other words: Pfffft! 

Legislature’s back to work this afternoon as UCP sinks in polls

The Alberta Legislature will resume sitting this afternoon with an ambitious legislative agenda, details of which will be announced to media this morning, and a serious problem with public support.

Numerous recent polls show the Opposition NDP leading the governing UCP by comfortable margins. One startling poll by Viewpoint Alberta shows NDP support province-wide at 50 per cent, 23 points ahead of the UCP, at 27! 

Some of the UCP’s new bills are expected to be unconstitutional, and are bound to be highly controversial. If so, while the UCP will have the votes it needs to ram its agenda through the Legislature, it’s a bit of a stretch to say they still have a mandate to do it.

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  1. As any politician knows, the way to make a smaller number seem bigger is to not use an annual amount, but to use a total over an arbitrary or ridiculously long period of time. I suspect it is covered in Day 1 of How to Mislead with Numbers, which may be a required course for want to be career politicians. We wonder why politicians are held in such low regard – could it be in part related to the old tricks they use to try and mislead?

    Of course a newer trick is to repeat the misleading figure again and again, until more people believe it. So, this is where the National Post and other conservative publications come in. I doubt the misuse of the $1.3 billion figure was accidental. I have come to the conclusion that whatever journalistic standards apply, they seem to be much lower for headline writers. Of course, unfortunately some people only read or remember the headlines.

    As for the UCP’s mandate, I believe it was mostly a bait and switch to begin with. In the last election, they tried to avoid talking about cuts and when they had to they used reassuring words like modest or small. Of course, no mention of a war on doctors or nurses. However their biggest failure was with the economy – they promised more jobs and a lower deficit and have delivered neither so far, over two years later. Things they did promise and implement, like the War Room or this Inquiry, have proved to be counter productive or ineffective.

    After over two years of this, there is no reason to expect any better from them. So, I suspect they will continue to do things beyond their mandate and generally just mess everything up.

  2. One has to assume that, short of its own January 6, the UCP government must deploy its own version of große Lüge, or The Big Lie, by perpetuating the zenith of blatant falsehood that $1.3 billion was specifically focused on beggaring Alberta energy and hurting the bitumen industry, its workers, and the province—when in fact the long awaited report on alleged Anti-Alberta energy campaigns found nothing even close to $1.3 billion: the actual number reported is only about 96 percentage points smaller…that’s all, no biggie…

    No wonder comparisons to a certain evil empire which were once considered journalistically verboten—too incendiary, disrespectful of victims of incomparable suffering, encouraging fringe fascism, &c—and the tenets of said empire’s große Lüge propaganda technique are being more frequently raised in reference to the UCP government.

    The handier comparison is of course with US presidunce Donald J Trilby who learned a dumbed-down version from his mentor and former attorney, Roy “Svengali” Cohn. tRump inimitably advertises his use of this tactic by co-opting and turning around his Big Lie (that he won the election he lost) and accusing those who accuse him of repeating his Big Lie of themselves telling a Big Lie (that he’s telling a Big Lie). The evil genius is that both accusers appear correct: the Big Lie really is a Big Lie, the ad absurdum approaching the chauvinistic speed of light. Ready the Twin Paradox.

    This certainly wouldn’t be the first time tRumpublican playbook tactics have been aped by the UCP. When energy minister Savage says it doesn’t matter if the number’s one-billion or ten-billion to Albertans who have lost their job, for example, it’s the same “don’t-believe-what-you’re-seeing” that tRump was hand feeding his base back in 2017. Of course premier Kenney’s defiance of Covid protocols will be the most memorable example: it was twinned with tRump’s.

    Yet, both have had disastrous results. What does the UCP get out of copying tRump? Didn’t his unpopularity lose him the election and his businesses a fortune? Didn’t he get impeached twice and is still facing some serious indictments? In tRump’s case the only group which doesn’t believe all these damning failures is his base— and Republican politicians are so afraid of it he’s got them by the balls—there’s even legitimate worry he might win again. But what has the UCP got?

    One good thing about failing tRump school is there’s a much smaller potential for Big Lie tactics to foment violence like in the US. There never were the requisite ingredients in Canada anyway. It’s just a shame the UCP keeps imagining there are. It’s costing Alberta dearly.

  3. Imagine if there was an inquiry into how much money killer kenneys catholic church has spent from say 1970, just over fifty years time, to settle out of court crimes against children. Anyone paying attention knows they do this to cover up the extent of sexual, physical, emotional, and even spiritual abuse against Canada and the worlds most vulnerable. I imagine this figure would absolutely disgust all caring and thoughtful people in this country and the world. Something regrettably tells me it will never happen. But trust the ucp, they’re standing up for the little guy just not the little kids it seems. Oh wait. Someone informed me that these children mostly end up drug addicted and suicidal which are both sins and the wages of sin are death so it looks like good ol’ ideology polish to the rescue.

    1. The price isn’t $1.3 billion, but rather $7.5 billion. The reason for this is that there has been $6 billion in loan guarantees that still haven’t even been accounted for.

    1. Context is everything.
      Where do Canadian ENGOs get most of their funding? From Canadians.
      U.S. dollars accounted for a fraction of Cdn ENGO funding. U.S. foundations provide far more funding to U.S. ENGOs to oppose U.S. pipelines and projects. No shortage of domestic opposition to pipelines in the U.S.
      “Figures on [The Rockefeller Brothers Foundation’s] website show the foundation spends almost six times as much fighting climate change in the U.S. as it does in all other countries combined. (CBC)
      “Environment charities may benefit from new Alberta premier’s vow to fight them” (CBC, Apr 18, 2019)
      Garossino: “Over the last decade, the Tar Sands Campaign got a whopping 0.3% of its major funders’ total grants budget. That number barely counts as a rounding error. … Since 2009 the campaign’s three anchor foundation funders, the Hewlett and Oak foundations and RBF (Rockefeller Bros.), granted fully $7 billion worldwide in all categories. They granted more than $750 million to American climate projects, and just $22 million to Canadian anti-pipeline groups.”
      “Tides is not the ‘funding and co-ordination juggernaut’ behind anti-pipeline activism” (National Observer)
      “US funding typically contributed 8 to 10% of total annual budgets for smaller ENGOs and a much smaller percentage for larger organizations.”
      Sierra Club BC raised $1,252,000 annually over the past 5 years. U.S. funding for energy and climate change activities “averaged 7.5% of the budget over that period, but declined sharply in 2018 and 2019”.
      “Greenpeace Canada received 2.2% of its $9 million to $11 million annual budget from U.S. foundations at the height of the Tar Sands Campaign, but that has declined to its current level of 0.4%.” (Energi Media, May 14, 2019)
      Krause reports that “funding from U.S. foundations accounted for roughly 15% of Dogwood Initiative’s total revenue for 2016. With 260,000 supporters, most of whom are Canadian…”
      “Election Activism: Dogwood Initiative Who Is It & Who Funds It?”
      Krause criticizes Leadnow for accepting $63,000 in funds from U.S. foundations in 2016-17: 0.25% per cent of Leadnow’s revenue for those years.
      “Ecojustice received just over $1-million in foreign donations in the 2017-18 tax year, out of about $7.4-million in total revenue – less than 14%.”
      “Environmental group Ecojustice threatens legal challenge over Alberta public inquiry” (Sept 18, 2019)
      “The David Suzuki Foundation said 90% of its donations come from Canadians — and two-thirds of those are from individuals.”
      “Environment charities may benefit from new Alberta premier’s vow to fight them” (CP, Apr 18, 2019)
      Pembina Institute’s biggest donations are from oil & gas companies and Big Banks that fund them.
      Why should Canadian ENGOs refuse U.S. funding for work already underway? In what universe do ENGOs support pipelines and fossil fuel “development”?
      “Every year, the world’s five largest publicly owned oil and gas companies spend approximately $200 million on lobbying designed to control, delay or block binding climate-motivated policy.”
      “Oil And Gas Giants Spend Millions Lobbying To Block Climate Change Policies” (Forbes, 2019)

    2. The UCP left Albertans with a price tag for KXL at $7.5 billion. There are loan guarantees that were $6 billion, on top of the $1.5 billion for the pipeline cost. No one knows what happened to the $6 billion loan guarantees. The UCP also threw away over $400 million to some type of pipeline company. The money was never used in any type of practical way. Another one of the UCP’s pricey shenanigans. The pretend conservative, Ralph Klein, wasn’t strict with oil companies in Alberta to clean up after themselves, and Albertans are saddled with a whopping $260 billion to fix this up. We also had the Alberta PCs do another very pricey blunder, via the Redwater upgrader. It has a price tag that tops the $30 billion range, or even greater. To add further problems, the pretend conservative, Ralph Klein changed the oil royalty rate of Peter Lougheed in an adverse way, which made Alberta $575 billion poorer. Peter Lougheed was certainly right when he said that you can’t trust Reformers.

  4. In other news, the War Room today charged inquiry commissioner Steve Allan with accepting foreign funds for his public inquiry. The only possible explanation for clearing ENGOs of wrongdoing.
    Inquiry commissioner Steve Allan responded by accusing the War Room of accepting foreign funds. The only possible explanation for its repeated bungling.
    Energy Minister Sonya Savage responded by accusing Premier Jason Kenney of accepting foreign funds. The only possible explanation for creating these twin disasters in the first place.
    Premier Jason Kenney responded by accusing Albertans of accepting foreign funds. The only possible explanation for voting for him.
    Albertans lie unresponsive in ICU.

  5. The National Post is a disgrace as a news organization. It often doesn’t report the news or provide balanced, objective, fair and truthful analysis to provide informed context to the readers. Rather, more often than not, it merely repeats the talking points contained in the UCP or the CPC press briefings without providing the needed context to the reader, even when those press briefings contain misleading or counter-factual evidence and assertions dressed up and paraded as facts.

    It is most unfortunate that the print and news media in general is so concentrated in this country, and that it pretty much accepts and presents as truth the lies fed to it by the right-wing propaganda machine. The lack of balance and the deliberate strategy to exclude or diminish other voices on the part of the monopolistic media giants that dominate news in this country is dangerous. It is even more dangerous than it was in the past because these lies are amplified by social media.

    But, of course, it suits their interests and their bottom line. The right-wing media supports the politicians that will keep their profits as high as possible. Furthermore, it allows them to brigade their low-information audience to support causes they want, such as the diminishment of the CBC and other publicly funded institutions.

  6. “- the sum is redacted in the report but is said to be $429 million by several journalists – went to Ducks Unlimited…Was that money used for an ‘anti-Alberta campaign?'”
    Ducks Unlimited Alberta is a baffling choice of targets. The website reveals not word about attacking fossil fuels.

    Here’s what they do say. “We share a common vision to conserve our most valuable natural assets because once they are lost, so too, is our way of life. Alberta by the numbers: 2,622 Habitat Projects, 4,444 Landowner Partners, 2.4 million acres preserved since 1938.”
    Why would Kenney’s propagandist take on Ducks Unlimited? Four hundred and twenty-nine million dollars?

  7. Two quotes come to mind,

    The first is an inverse “Brandolini’s law” and a UPC specialty; where, “The amount of energy (time and money) needed to create bullshit is an order of magnitude larger than that needed to refute it.”

    The second is the old standby, “If you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bullshit.”

    The ever hungry target audience is always eager to be fed an endless supply. It is simple confirmation bias.

  8. Is it fairer to criticize Albertans for not caring about facts as long as they get to feel self-righteous outrage, or to criticize Conservatives for that, or both?

  9. With the coming opening of the Leg, I suspect that the Premier Crying & Screaming will start off with a Throne Speech boasting of an ambitious agenda for economic renewal, a education policy that will surpass all over jurisdictions, and a social program initiatives that will restore hope in Alberta as the greatest place on earth.

    Following will be more tax cuts for O & G, more regulatory rollbacks that will suspend every single labour code progress since the 1900s, an environment agenda that will continue to deny the existence of climate change, and even more action to deepen the rural/urban divide.

    And just to make the crazy that much crazier, there will be an announcement to make good on the “overwhelming” support for constitutional renewal with the introduction of legislation in Alberta to abolish equalization…or else.

    Mo’ popcorn

  10. These pretend conservatives and Reformers are getting more and more desperate, as time goes on. They are also reaching new levels of absurdity. Peter Lougheed knew that you can’t believe or trust what these Reformers say, and he was right. Look at what we have in the UCP. They do the most priciest shenanigans and make everyone else pay for it. When the earliest opportunity arises, the UCP must be thrown out. It’s still mindboggling how there are people who still believe the outright lies of these pretend conservatives and Reformers, as they believed the lies Ralph Klein fed them. This is shameful.

  11. OPEC produces 30 million barrels a day. If they have to curtail production by 2 million barrels a day to keep the price north of $80 US a barrel that amounts to $160M US per day.

    In 365 days that is 58 billion a year.

    Course the nice guys at OPEC, and oil by rail (a favourite of the NDP) would never look for alternatives for such a drop in revenue….

    There is alot of money to be made making sure Alberta ethical oil is land locked.

    1. BRET LARSON: Alberta ethical oil? About 30 years ago, the pretend conservatives and Reformers in the Alberta PCs gave the oil in the province of Alberta to outsiders, who aren’t Canadian, and left Alberta with basically nothing. Messing with the oil royalty rates of Peter Lougheed, lost Alberta $575 billion. Top this off with these pretend conservatives and Reformers in the Alberta PCs giving Albertans a $260 billion price tag for cleaning up these abandoned oil wells in Alberta, and from a financial and ethical standpoint, things aren’t so rosy. Furthermore, because of the type of oil Alberta has, nobody else really wants it, because there is so much cheaper oil out there. It’s not something that is in demand. It hasn’t been in demand for almost 8 years already.

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