Inquiry into oil and gas foes to deliver report next year: Kenney

CALGARY — An inquiry into who is funding environmental opposition to the province's oil and gas sector will be completed some time next year, at least six month later than its original target, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said Saturday.

Kenney's United Conservative government contends foreign interests have been working to undermine the industry for years and in 2019 he tapped forensic accountant Steve Allan to lead an inquiry.

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Allan was initially expected to report its findings in July and his deadline was most recently extended to Oct. 30.

A lawsuit filed by environmental law firm Ecojustice argues the inquiry is politically motivated, biased and outside provincial jurisdiction.

Kenney was responding to a question during a livestreamed question-and-answer session with United Conservative members capping off the party's annual general meeting, which was held virtually over two weekends due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Kenney said his government would be introducing legislation next year to make it illegal for foreign interests to fund political action committees and that it would pursue "legal avenues" to push Ottawa into cracking down on charities that improperly engage in political activity.

He added the $30-million-a-year Canadian Energy Centre, a war room meant to counter what the UCP government considers misinformation about the oil and gas industry, will ramp up again after the COVID-19 pandemic put it on hiatus.

"I think the most effective thing we can do is just to plow through the resistance," he said.

"I know folks on the left here cannot stand it because they don't want us to fight back."

He said the Canadian Energy Centre would be coming out with some large advertising campaigns aimed at garnering pipeline support in British Columbia and the United States, and appreciation for the energy sector's environmental performance in European financial markets.

Kenney was also quizzed during the session on whether his government would reimpose restrictions on bars and restaurants as COVID-19 case counts climb.

He said only three per cent of cases can be traced to the hospitality sector.

"I give my absolute commitment to that sector that is struggling that barring some absolute catastrophe, which we do not see, there is no likelihood of restriction on their ability to operate like we had in the spring."

Alberta's daily case count began to surge over the 400 mark this week, up sharply from about a month ago when new daily infection totals stood in the mid-100s.

While Quebec, Ontario and Manitoba have toughened restrictions on certain businesses and activities in recent weeks, Kenney has said his government prefers encouraging personal responsibility over imposing new shutdowns on Alberta's frail economy.

Alberta chief medical officer Dr. Deena Hinshaw has warned the province is in the "danger zone" as hospitalizations and intensive care admissions rise.

Earlier Saturday, federal Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole told UCP members that Alberta has responded to the COVID-19 pandemic better than the federal government, citing an early lead in testing as one example.

"Canada is light-years behind our allies on all health and economic measures," he said via livestream from Ottawa.

"They were late and confused at every single step of this pandemic."

O'Toole took aim at how Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's Liberals handled closing the border, procuring personal protective equipment, implementing rapid testing and supporting workers.

"Luckily Albertans have a premier that doesn't wait for a green light from Ottawa, a person who takes charge and makes things happen," he said.

"Perhaps it's because your premier got to see Mr. Trudeau up close for a few years and he knew very well that Albertans couldn't afford leadership from the Trudeau government."

O'Toole said Trudeau's talk of Canada "building back better" from the COVID-19 pandemic is code for excluding workers in the energy, forestry, auto and steel sectors and that the Liberals are dividing Canadians.

Kenney was asked by one party member whether he would support separation from Canada if Trudeau is re-elected.

It was an emphatic no.

"I love Canada, even if I don't like the policies of the current government," he said. "I believe the country is much bigger and more important than one bad government or one bad set of policies."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 24, 2020.

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