The Pembina Institute wants commissioner Steve Allan to meet six conditions before it will consider participating in a public inquiry into the alleged foreign funding of Canadian environmental organizations.
Like fellow Canadian environmental groups Stand.Earth and MakeWay, the Pembina Institute was asked to respond by Oct. 9 to an "invitation for commentary" from Allan, who has been leading the Alberta government inquiry since July 2019.
Simon Dyer, deputy executive director of the Alberta-based non-profit, sent a letter to Allan that lists condition he believes would ensure procedural fairness.
They include allowing the Pembina Institute to review reports, evidence, submissions and summaries of interviews where it is mentioned, prior to making an application to participate in the inquiry.
The institute wants the right to cross-examine anyone who provided these submissions and testimony to the inquiry. The organization also wants the inquiry to pay for its legal costs.
"Since the outset of this inquiry, we have been concerned that its purpose was pre-determined and intended to find all factual and legitimate criticisms of oilsands environmental impacts and regulatory gaps as 'misconduct,'" Dyer wrote.
"The conduct of the inquiry to date — including the recently approved terms of reference, extended timelines and costs, and the lack of transparency and public accountability around process — has only amplified these concerns, and as such we have reasonable basis for rejecting the opportunity to engage with the inquiry.
"That said, because we stand by our record of constructively contributing to oilsands environmental improvements that are necessary to improve Alberta's competitiveness and reputation on the global stage — and because we believe the vast majority of Albertans want to move beyond polarization — we are prepared to engage with the inquiry provided the conditions above are met. "
MakeWay, the organization formerly known as Tides Canada, declined to participate in the inquiry, citing concerns about impartiality and unresolved legal issues that still must be decided by the courts. Stand.Earth refused to respond.
In an interview with CBC News, Dyer acknowledged the Pembina Institute was taking a different approach.
"We're proud of our work. And I think our track record that's led to tangible environmental improvements over the past twenty years speaks for itself," he said.
"We don't want it ever to be said that we didn't seek to cooperate. And with some basic procedural rules of fairness, we're happy to share our work."
Alan Boras, spokesperson for Allan, said in an email to CBC News that the inquiry is giving Dyer's letter appropriate consideration and will respond directly to Pembina and other participants "in due course."
"As to how the Inquiry will engage with participants, it will follow the Rules for Procedure and Process published on the inquiry website," he wrote.
Those rules give Allan the power to grant access to documents and information if he chooses.
The Pembina Institute's wariness comes after its former executive director was targeted by Premier Jason Kenney during the 2019 provincial election campaign.
Ed Whittingham was appointed to the board of the Alberta Energy Regulator by the previous NDP government. Kenney vowed to fire Whittingham as soon as taking office, after he and other UCP MLAs accused him of being an anti-oilsands activist. Whittingham resigned from the AER shortly after the UCP won a majority government.
Two months later, the government appointed Allan to lead an inquiry investigating claims foreign interests hostile to Alberta's oil and gas industry were funding Canadian environmental campaigns.
Allan was originally supposed to submit his final report to Energy Minister Sonya Savage by July 2, but was granted a four-month extension due in part to the COVID-19 pandemic, which pushed the deadline to Oct. 30.
The inquiry also received an additional $1 million in funding. The terms of reference for the inquiry have changed twice since then.
Allan has confirmed he won't be able to meet the second deadline and has now asked Energy Minister Sonya Savage for another extension, which must be considered by cabinet, as would involve another change to the inquiry's terms of reference.
The inquiry is also facing legal challenges from environmental legal group Ecojustice.
Ecojustice filed a legal challenge against the inquiry last fall. A court date originally set for April was postponed due to COVID-19, and has not yet been rescheduled.
In July, lawyers filed an injunction seeking suspension of inquiry activities until the legal challenge is heard. A spokesperson for Ecojustice said last week that lawyers are still awaiting a written decision on the request for an injunction.