Danielle Smith is Pushing The Same $20 Billion Corporate Giveaway She Pushed as a Corporate Lobbyist
Smith pushed for the $20 billion plan as a corporate lobbyist. Other lobbyists pushing the plan helped Smith’s UCP leadership campaign.
Alberta Premier Danielle Smith is poised to enact a controversial $20 billion corporate giveaway scheme that benefits a company she lobbied for just last year.
Both Smith and Energy Minister Peter Guthrie have endorsed the R-Star pilot program, which would transfer $20 billion for oil and gas companies to “incentivize” them to clean up their well sites – something they are already obligated to do under the law.
It’s a topic Smith has called “near and dear to my heart” – incentivizing struggling oil and gas producers to fulfill their legal obligation to clean up their pollution. Alberta has hundreds of thousands of wells that will cost an average of $230,000 to clean up. Almost 100,000 are inactive, many contaminating rural farmland.
Last year, just before running for leadership of the United Conservative Party, Smith teamed up with a conservative activist and lobbyist to help them advocate for R-Star’s implementation.
This program would see the province give away billions of dollars to oil companies in the form of royalty breaks. Panned by critics as “money for free,” the program has enjoyed the eager support of Smith, as well as Energy Minister Peter Guthrie, who said he’d make it a top priority.
Kris Kinnear, founder of Sustaining Alberta’s Energy Network, the conservative activist-turned-research group that developed the R-Star program, has ties to UCP MLAs and ministers.
In the last few years Kinnear has gone from UCP activist, to SAEN lobbyist, to coordinating Smith’s leadership campaign, and now works as “special projects manager” in the Premier’s office.
Smith’s ties to Kinnear go back to last year when she was President of the Alberta Enterprise Group, where Smith lobbied for R-Star just as SAEN did. During this time, Smith told the energy minister she would like to see R-Star expanded in scope beyond the proposed pilot.
“I truly believe the R-Star pilot program will prove to be a success, and could form the basis for a long term program to incentivize legacy well site reclamation,” Smith wrote in a letter to then Energy Minister Sonya Savage in July 2021.
Lobby records from January 2022 show Smith met with Savage to discuss the R-Star proposal. SAEN founder Kris Kinnear, meanwhile, lobbied the government multiple times between 2020 and 2022.
The scheme SAEN developed would see billions of dollars transferred to oil and gas producers through a credit system to fulfill what’s already a legal obligation to clean up orphaned and inactive wells, hundreds of thousands of which exist across the province.
SAEN’s ties to the UCP go back even further, to the last provincial election. Though the website was recently taken down, internet archives show the group began as an election activist group that supported UCP campaigns before moving on to lobbying.
According to Kinnear, SAEN’s original purpose was “to help connect busy oil and gas people with campaigning politicians,” adding “SAEN members helped with fifteen campaigns in the provincial election and three campaigns in the federal election.”
During an interview between Smith and another SAEN founder, former Calgary Mayoral candidate Zane Novak, Smith was told “SAEN got hundreds of supporters out to assist UCP candidates over the issue of abandoned wells.”
“We went to get about 50 people involved, meet candidates, find out what they stood for, what their values are, then help them get elected,” Novak told Smith. “In the end we actually activated hundreds of individuals. And we helped with fifteen MLAs getting elected.”
Kinnear told Smith the group’s assistance to the UCP was centered around oil patch liabilities.
“It kind of took off. I was hoping to rally fifty, sixty people and help four or five campaigns. We rallied hundreds and helped 15 campaigns go through. By me coordinating that, and helping them with volunteers and everything, I was able to drive a message. And that message was, the way Alberta is handling its liabilities in the oil patch is going to be a big issue for this government,” Kinnear said.
According to Facebook, candidates who received campaign support from SAEN members include now Energy Minister Peter Guthrie. According to their Facebook, they also helped campaign for Tyler Shandro, Demetrios Nicolaides, Jeremy Nixon, Nathan Cooper, Richard Gotfried, Whitney Issik, Mike Ellis, and Nicholas Milliken.
Despite Smith’s efforts, R-Star was ultimately rejected by the Kenney government, according to a June 2021 letter from former Energy Minister Sonya Savage to David Speirs, President of the Freehold Owners Association.
SAEN de-registered as a lobbying entity in November, 2022 shortly after Smith’s victory.
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