Foreign entities targeted Canadian lives and regulations with anti-oil campaigns: Albert Energy Minister
EDMONTON -- Canadian environmental groups were simply exercising their democratic rights of free speech when they accepted foreign funding for campaigns opposing oilsands development, a public inquiry has reported.
But Alberta Energy Minister Sonya Savage said that even though environmentalists may have been within their rights, they were still in the wrong in opposing energy development that cost Alberta jobs and money.
"The report didn't suggest anything illegal was going on," she said. "But if you ask people in Alberta who lost their job if anything wrong happened, I'm pretty sure they would say yes."
On Thursday, the Alberta government released the final report of the Allan commission, struck in July 2019 to look into allegations that Canadian environmentalists were accepting foreign money to fund campaigns aimed at impeding expansion of Alberta's oilsands, a source of greenhouse gases.
The environmental groups have never denied that. On Tuesday, commissioner Steve Allan seemed to shrug at the charge in his report, which cost $3.5 million.
"I have not found any suggestions of wrongdoing on the part of any individual or organization," wrote Allan, who did not appear at the press conference releasing the report.
"No individual or organization, in my view, has done anything illegal. Indeed, they have exercised their rights of free speech."
Allan also says the campaigns have not spread misinformation.
While he finds that at least $1.28 billion has flowed into Canadian environmental charities from the U.S. between 2003 and 2019, only a small portion of that has been directed against the oilsands. Auditors Deloitte Forensic Inc. estimate that money at between $37.5 million and $58.9 million over that period -- which averages to $3.5 million a year at most.
Alberta's United Conservative government funds its so-called "war room," an arm's-length agency instituted to counter environmental groups, at up to $30 million a year.
Although the report finds that charities working in support of the oilsands received at least $1.6 million a year from foreign sources, Savage said foreign money shouldn't be used to influence Canadian political decision-making.
"Alberta's natural resources belong to Albertans and decisions about their development should be made by people of this province. We are committed to ensuring that occurs."
Still, she acknowledged that environmental groups weren't the only reason for troubles in the province's oilpatch.
"The commissioner could not conclude that the campaigns were the sole cause of project cancellations," she said.
Savage warned that Allan's findings outlined the method by which environmental groups would attack the next generation of energy projects, such as carbon capture and storage or hydrogen.
"This is money in search of a cause," she said.
Allan recommends a series of reforms to improve transparency in the charitable sector. He says charities should be subject to the same standards of disclosure as private corporations.
He also calls for an industry-led campaign to rebrand Canadian energy.
"Industry associations, governments, and the industry itself have failed to counter (environmental groups') efforts, such that the public has not had ready access to complete, reliable and balanced information," Allan writes.
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