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Kenney government launches inquiry into foreign-funded groups that criticize Alberta’s oil industry

WATCH: Alberta Premier Jason Kenney is launching an inquiry into foreign-funded interest groups, which he says are targeting the province's oil sector. The $2.5-million initiative is supposed to focus on fact-finding, and may involve public hearings. But as Heather Yourex-West explains, critics question whether it will make a difference.

Alberta’s provincial government is launching an inquiry into foreign-funded interest groups with campaigns against Alberta oil.

Premier Jason Kenney made the announcement on Thursday, appointing forensic and restructuring accountant Steve Allen to commission the inquiry.

The authority of the $2.5-million inquiry will be limited to Alberta and won’t be able to compel testimony from outside Alberta. However, there will be an information review, research and witness interviews involved.

The second phase of the inquiry could also include public hearings.

“There’s never been a formal investigation into all aspects of the anti-Alberta energy campaign,” Kenney said.

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“The mandate for Commissioner Allan will be to bring together all of the information.”

READ MORE: Kenney says higher risk tolerance, ability to act quickly key for Alberta energy ‘war room’

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Kenney pointed to research conducted by Vivian Krause, whose studies have led her to believe the push against the oilsands is funded by American philanthropists in an effort to landlock Alberta oil so it cannot reach overseas markets, where it would attain a higher price per barrel.

According to Kenney, the inquiry will look at the broad picture of these interest groups, but will target groups funded by the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the Tides Foundation and the Sea Change Foundation.

“[The campaign’s] main tactics have been disinformation and defamation, litigation, public protests and political lobbying,” Kenney said.

There are currently no laws preventing environmental groups from from accepting donations from outside of Canada or for advocating for action on the environment and climate change.

LISTEN: Energy journalist Markham Hislop joins Danielle Smith to discuss the Kenney government’s new inquiry

According to Kenney, the regulations were changed by the federal government lifting limits on political activity by these groups.

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Kenney said he would seek advice from the commissioner on whether questionable spending by these groups prior to the amendments to the law could be a legal issue the province could address. He also vowed to bring in a law that bans foreign money from Alberta politics.

The premier said the inquiry isn’t an attack on free speech. He also said groups within Alberta could be subject to provide public testimony to the inquiry.

Kenney said the biggest question is around the interest these groups have in the Canadian energy sector.

“I believe having foreign interest groups funnel tens or perhaps hundreds of millions of dollars into a campaign designed massively to damage our vital economic interests is a matter of the greatest public concern,” Kenney said. “The energy industry and the emissions challenge are global. The question then is, why is the anti-energy campaign so overwhelmingly and disproportionately focused on one major producer?

“Why aren’t these groups running campaigns to block pipelines in the United States to the same extent that they have in Canada?”

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READ MORE: Ottawa won’t rush into sale of Trans Mountain pipeline to Indigenous groups: Sohi

Federal Natural Resources Minister Amarjeet Sohi was in Calgary on Thursday for an address to the city’s chamber of commerce. He said foreign influence should be a concern but that he believes there should be reflection into why there has been a challenge to get pipelines built.

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“We should always be concerned if foreign influence is trying to influence policy in your country, or the development of resources in your country,” Sohi said. “But I think we need to look inside within Canada: why are we not able to build pipelines?

“I think you will find reasons within our own country for not moving forward with those projects.”

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Not everyone is on board with the inquiry.

NDP economic development critic Deron Bilous called the inquiry a fool’s errand, and said the government is spending money on trying to find somebody to blame for the position the province is in.

“What the premier is trying to do is change the channel on his abysmal record thus far as far as job creation,” Bilous said. “What Albertans want to see is job creation. What they don’t want to see is a glorified witch hunt.”

According to Justice Minister and Attorney General Doug Schweitzer, the inquiry will take a year to complete and a report will be delivered to the government on July 2, 2020 with recommendations on how the government should proceed.