Alberta Premier Danielle Smith should come clean on whether funding for her leadership campaign has influenced her government’s agenda, says the province’s New Democrat Opposition.
Energy critic Kathleen Ganley said Friday it’s a “huge concern” that Smith, before she re-entered politics, lobbied for an oil well cleanup bailout program that she made a government priority when she became premier.
“This is, once again, Danielle Smith being willing to do the bidding of those who put her in power.”
Ganley said Smith should stop a pilot project the United Conservative Party government is planning that would grant $100 million in royalty credits to energy companies that clean up old and abandoned wells — work the companies are already obliged to do under the conditions of their licence.
As president of the Alberta Enterprise Group, an influential Calgary-based business lobby, 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 less than a year ago when she decided to run for the UCP leadership.
Within months, Smith raised $1.3 million for her campaign, far more than any of her opponents.
But after winning the leadership, Smith immediately made RStar a priority, writing it into her new energy minister’s mandate letter. That’s despite analysis from energy department experts who panned the proposal.
The sources of the money Smith raised for her campaign have not been revealed.
“It’s a huge concern,” said Ganley. “Politicians should be making decisions in the best interests of Albertans. Smith seems to serve private interests.”
Others have voiced similar concerns. Mount Royal University political science professor Duane Bratt has called RStar — now called the Liability Management Incentive Program — a “disgrace” that smacks of corruption.
Smith’s office has not responded to requests to address questions about how her campaign fundraising has affected her governing priorities.
In defending the pilot program, Smith said Thursday that government bears part of the responsibility to clean up Alberta’s 170,000 abandoned and orphaned wells, because environmental rules have changed over the years. She said the program will help remediate the province’s oldest and most troublesome wells.
However, an analysis from Scotiabank said companies best placed to take advantage of the program were four healthy companies that recorded a combined net income of nearly $5 billion last quarter.
Scotiabank concluded the program violated “core capitalist principles,” including that cleanup should be paid for by the polluter.
The program has also been criticized by rural municipalities, economists, landowners and environmentalists.
Ganley called the program a “scam.”
“It amounts to a massive transfer of wealth from Alberta families to companies that don’t need it.”