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‘A witch hunt’: Critics question intentions of Kenney’s anti-oil sands inquiry

WATCH: Alberta premier launches $2.5-million inquiry into oil opponents

After Alberta Premier Jason Kenney announced Thursday a $2.5-million public inquiry into foreign funding of groups campaigning against Alberta oil, critics are questioning the inquiry’s impact and intentions.

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

“It isn’t being headed by a judge, it isn’t being headed by someone outside Alberta, it isn’t being headed by an independent party,” political commentator Sandy Garissino said of the inquiry headed by forensic and restructuring accountant Steve Allan. “The result will be that environmentalists take foreign money, and now we know, that’s what it’s going to say.

“This is all about discrediting opponents of the pipeline.”

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The public inquiry will look into environmental groups that the Alberta government says have been bankrolled by American philanthropists who want to keep Canada’s oil and gas from reaching overseas markets where it would attain a higher price per barrel. Kenney referenced research by Vivian Krause, who appears to be the basis of his assertions.

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The inquiry will target groups funded by the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the Tides Foundation and the Sea Change Foundation, according to Kenney.

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Opposition NDP member Deron Bilous said the inquiry is the equivalent of a glorified Google search.

“This is a fool’s errand,” he said. “I don’t believe this will help Alberta further its interests in accessing pipelines and expanding our market access.”

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Journalist Mike De Souza said the inquiry is reminiscent of action taken by the Harper government several years ago, when Ottawa launched an elaborate communications campaign to promote Canada’s energy industry while lobbying foreign governments to eliminate international action on climate change.

“They gave millions of dollars to the Canadian Revenue Agency to investigate environmental charities,” he said. “So there was a series of audits and investigations that took place under the Harper government that seems to be a precursor to what the Kenney government is doing right now.”

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In the end, none of the non-profits investigated lost their charitable status.

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Prominent environmentalist Tzeporah Berman said the inquiry is a “witch hunt” to silence dissent.

“It weakens our democracy and attempts to scare citizens from engaging in the debate on issues critical to our economy and a safe climate,” she wrote on Twitter.

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Berman is involved in the Tar Sands Campaign against oilsands expansion, which is often cited by Kenney and Krause as an example of a U.S.-funded effort to meddle in Alberta’s energy sector.

“The mistake Vivian Krause and Premier Kenney make is thinking that it’s one campaign. It’s not,” Berman said in an interview last month. “It’s dozens of campaigns. If it’s anything, it’s a movement or movements.”

Berman says Krause has made a “reverse David and Goliath battle.”

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“Canada is a very small drop in the bucket for global philanthropic dollars on climate change,” she said. “[Krause’s] data is wrong and the fact that Kenney just accepted it is insane.”

However, oil and gas worker Deidra Garyk is in favour of the inquiry and hopes it can turn things in the industry around.

“I think that it’s important that we get information and facts out,” she said. “There is a lot of misinformation and disinformation being spread.”

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-With files from Heather Yourex-West and the Canadian Press