Allegations of corruption are swirling at the Alberta legislature, but the premier is dismissing them.
The NDP says there is a clear conflict of interest in the premier’s office as Danielle Smith hired Kris Kinnear — director of Sustaining Alberta’s Energy Network (SAEN) — as a special project manager.
Kinnear — like Smith — lobbied for the controversial Liability Management Incentive Program (formerly known as RStar) and was one of the minds behind the oil well clean-up program.
Program proponents say the government should incentivize oil companies to clean up their own decommissioned wells by providing them with a break on royalties, which is the price Alberta charges a company to develop a resource.
The program would encourage the cleanup of old wells and drilling of new ones by granting royalty credits on new production based on remediation spending. That credit could be sold or applied against revenue earned from new production to reduce provincial royalties.
Proponents say RStar or something like it would encourage new drilling, help clean up Alberta’s 170,000 abandoned wells and create jobs.
Environmentalists, landowners and analysts within Alberta Energy and even the Rural Municipalities of Alberta have all opposed the program.
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RStar has also been widely criticized by energy economists, who say it would transfer money to companies who don’t need it to do work that most are doing anyway. They say energy companies are already legally obliged to clean up their mess.
Critics claim current high oil prices mean there’s no need for the subsidy, which could cost Alberta $5 billion in lost royalties.
The proposal, however, has been pushed for years by groups including Kinnear’s SAEN.
In a budget committee meeting on Wednesday, NDP Opposition Leader Rachel Notley asked Smith about Kinnear.
“What (is) Kris Kinnear’s role with respect to manager of special projects? And just wondering if you can tell us when he started, and we know he has expensed claims for meetings with the energy minister. So, I’m assuming that some of the work he does relates to the energy minister,” Notley said.
Kinnear’s LinkedIn profile suggests he has been with Smith’s office as manager of special projects since October 2022.
“We’ve seen a number of strange links between people,” Notley said.
Smith responded by saying there is no conflict of interest.
“The person in question is a yak farmer. He’s a landowner,” Smith asserted.
“And he was doing survey work as an independent individual who was very concerned about the level of liability that was occurring on land.”
But the NDP presented registry documents which show that Kinnear is still listed as the SAEN’s director.
Smith says Kinnear quit that position in October, and she will see to it that Kinnear has his name removed from the registry filing so it does not appear he is still part of that organization.
It’s not the first time the NDP has called out the UCP government over RStar and Kinnear’s role. In January, energy critic Kathleen Ganley said that it appears the government has already made up its mind to bring in the RStar program, despite the widespread criticism.
Global News has attempted to contact Kinnear numerous times for comment, but he has refused to speak.
As president of the Alberta Enterprise Group, an influential Calgary-based business lobby, Danielle Smith wrote then-energy minister Sonya Savage and met with her several times to pitch what was then known as the RStar program.
Smith was a registered lobbyist with the group until she decided to run for the UCP leadership last year.
Smith became premier on Oct. 11, 2022 and soon after wrote RStar into the job description of her first energy minister.
The premier has said the program is needed to clean up wells left by companies that no longer exist.
Scotiabank recently concluded the four companies best placed to take advantage of the program were Canadian Natural Resources Ltd., Cenovus, Paramount Resources and Whitecap Resources.
Those companies reported about $5 billion in net income in the last quarter.
— With files from Bob Weber, The Canadian Press