Alberta’s inquiry into allegations foreign money drove misinformation campaigns about the province’s oil and gas industry should have cost $8.5 million if the government had paid market rates, says a new report.
On Thursday afternoon, the Alberta government published a four-page report on its website detailing how commissioner Steve Allan spent the $3.5 million allocated to him to fulfil a United Conservative Party election promise.
The expense report says Allan tried to accept a salary of $1 for his last nine months of work to keep the inquiry on budget.
Government policy prevented this, so the province agreed to pay Allan minimum wage for the last nine months of work, which he then donated back to the inquiry to cover other expenses.
Allan collected the pay of a provincial court judge for the first 16 months of the inquiry, earning him approximately $398,000.
Allan found foreign charitable foundations and environmental groups participated in co-ordinated campaigns that targeted the oilsands, but concluded no one broke any laws. Although he found $54 million-worth of grants were directed to campaigns against Alberta oil and gas in a 16-year period, he couldn’t directly link them to the cancellation of any energy projects.
Many environmental groups said the inquiry was a political witch hunt. Some attempted to challenge the authority of the inquirer in court.
The newly released inquiry expense document says accountant Deloitte Forensic and legal firms Denton’s and Rose LLP worked on the inquiry for $400 an hour, which was “significantly discounted from standard rates.”
Based on the payments to those firms, the inquiry used nearly 4,000 hours of legal services and more than 2,500 hours of accounting.
The inquiry also paid independent Vancouver researcher and blogger Vivian Krause $35,000. Krause spent a decade looking at the connections between U.S. charitable foundations and green campaigns with Alberta oil in their crosshairs.
Krause travelled to Calgary to meet with accountants working on the inquiry, she said in an interview on Thursday. She brought a dolly loaded with documents and USB drives to share her records. She said she also spent dozens of hours answering their questions by email.
“I saved them an enormous amount of time,” she said.
As previously disclosed, the inquiry also paid nearly $100,000 for three research papers, including nearly $28,000 to historian Tammy Nemeth.
Nemeth’s report claims that a “transnational progressive movement” is attempting to overthrow the “modern western industrial capitalist society” by infiltrating institutions such as the United Nations and the World Bank, universities and corporations.
Allan said in an email Friday he is unable to give interviews because of the nature of his role as inquirer.
He said the project stayed under its expanded budget “thanks to the commitment and dedication of all the inquiry team to conduct this important work for Albertans.”
Allan, a Calgary forensic accountant, was initially hired in July 2020 to produce a report within a year for $2.5 million. He requested $1 million more funding, had three deadline extensions and changed the terms of reference after embarking on the project.
He submitted the 657-page report to the energy minister on July 30, 2021, and the government released the report in October.
Although the expense report implies Albertans got a discount, Greenpeace Canada spokesperson Keith Stewart says he can’t understand how the inquiry spent nearly $1.6 million on legal fees when there were no public hearings and no affidavits.
“This absolutely was not a bargain by any means,” Stewart said on Friday.
He said Albertans should question how much value they got for what he characterized as a political vanity project, when its main effect may have been spooking potential investors.
“[It] made Alberta look like a laughing stock on the world stage,” he said.
Krause said she’s disappointed in Allan’s final report. She said the evidence the inquiry compiled should have prompted him to make bolder recommendations, and potentially take legal action.
“The discussion of the price tag is missing the point here that the inquiry didn’t do its job,” Krause said.
She said she regrets not raising concerns about the inquiry process sooner.
The energy minister’s office did not respond to questions about the expense report by publication time on Friday.