Calgary

Former head of Pembina Institute a good choice for AER board, says energy professor

A distinguished fellow at the Calgary School of Public Policy says the appointment could be a good move, in contrast to some strong criticism from the United Conservative Party.

UCP condemns government appointment, but research fellow says diversity of views important

Ed Whittingham, former executive director of the Pembina Institute, has been appointment to the board of the Alberta Energy Regulator. (Courtesy of the Pembina Institute)

A former professor of energy economics at the University of Calgary and distinguished fellow at the Calgary School of Public Policy says the appointment of a former Pembina Institute executive director to the board of the Alberta Energy Regulator could be a good move. 

That's in contrast to some criticism from the United Conservative Party, condemning the government for the appointment. 

The UCP held a news conference on Tuesday slamming the NDP government for selecting Ed Whittingham as a board member.

"A person who is actively trying to shut down pipelines coming out of our province is not balanced," said UCP house leader Jason Nixon. 

"Albertans that I'm talking to are completely appalled by the government's decision to do this."

Diversity of voices

In a news release, the party says Whittingham is an anti-oil activist and likens his appointment to activist Tzeporah Berman's placement on the Oilsands Advisory Board.

Michal Moore of the School of Public Policy, however, says it's important to have a diversity of voices around a regulatory board table.

"Most regulatory bodies, especially those who are charged with implementing policy, will try and seek out the most diverse range of experience and thinking that they can in order to have a sense of what the breadth of issues are and what the liabilities or benefits of making any given decision are," he said. 

"So at the end of the day, any one of those commissioners, given their background, is likely to bring a perspective on things that clarifies the data and the information that are submitted in the hearing."

Open doors

Moore said having someone like Whittingham on the board could open dialogue with Albertans who don't feel represented in the hearing process or the policy-making process. 

"So in trying to imagine a future where the oil industry is integrated, perhaps not seamlessly, but at least comfortably with the rest of the social and political milieu of the province, then I would say having someone like Ed or with that kind of a background is a valuable commodity," he said. 

"It gives another perspective that can be very useful for pretty comprehensive decision-making."

Government defends appointment

The NDP government is defending the appointment.

"Mr. Whittingham is a good and qualified appointment who believes strongly in the sustainable develop of Alberta's energy industry. We stand with him," said energy minister spokesperson Mike McKinnon in an email. 

"Mr. Whittingham has been upfront about his concerns in the past about the sustainability and pace of oilsands development. Many Albertans have shared those concerns for many years. He's also been clear that our government has changed the conversation by taking action."

The chair of AER's board also stood by the decision.

"The strength of the AER board of directors lies in a diverse set of backgrounds and experiences," Sheila O'Brien wrote, detailing her and her colleague's varied professional backgrounds.

"I can't emphasize this enough — the Responsible Energy Development Act prohibits the board from becoming involved in the day-to-day operations and decisions of the regulator. Instead, we contribute to the broader strategy that guides the AER."

The Pembina Institute is an environmental think tank that provides research on oil and gas and sustainable energy. It focuses on "promoting the responsible use of fossil fuels," as well as green energy, climate policy, green building and green transportation. 

Whittingham was appointed on Feb. 12. 

About the Author

Drew Anderson

Drew Anderson is a web journalist at CBC Calgary. Like almost every journalist working today, he's won a few awards. He's also a third-generation Calgarian. You can follow him on Twitter @drewpanderson. Contact him in confidence at drew.anderson@cbc.ca.

With files from Reid Southwick, Tracy Johnson and Sarah Rieger

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