Edmonton·Exclusive

Premier Jason Kenney's campaign manager hired as VP of Alberta Energy Regulator

Premier Jason Kenney's campaign manager and an outspoken anthropogenic global-warming skeptic has been hired as the Alberta Energy Regulator's new vice president of its science and innovation branch.

John Weissenberger has been outspoken global warming skeptic

Premier Jason Kenney's campaign manager, John Weissenberger, has been hired by the Alberta Energy Regulator. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press)

Premier Jason Kenney's campaign manager and an outspoken human-caused global-warming skeptic has been hired as the Alberta Energy Regulator's new vice president of its science and innovation branch.

But the decision to hire John Weissenberger will further undermine the public's trust in the provincial regulator, a leading academic says. 

"There isn't much trust to be lost at this point," said University of Calgary law professor Martin Olszynski, who studies energy regulation law. "There should be no trust."

AER has come under fire following the recent appointment of Laurie Pushor as chief executive officer. Pushor was a central figure in a Saskatchewan government land-deal scandal that cost taxpayers millions of dollars.

Also, the AER's recent decisions to suspend oil sands environmental monitoring during the pandemic, its failure to address the province's massive orphan well and oil sands tailings pond problems, and a recent scandal involving self-dealing by senior AER executives have been heavily criticized. 

"I mean it appears the premier is essentially just stacking the AER with people who think exactly like him," Olszynski said. 

Kenney told reporters he had nothing to do with Weissenberger's hiring by the AER and only learned about it a few days ago.

"He was not appointed by the government," Kenney said. "In fact I didn't even know that he had applied. My office and the government had absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with it.

Kenney said Weissenberger had "every right to apply for a position for which he is qualified and the regulator has every right to choose the best qualified person.

"I think it's great that they've selected one of the most highly regarded scientists in the Alberta energy sector for a position such as that."

The AER and Weissenberger did not respond to interview requests. In an emailed statement, the AER did not address Weissenberger's publicly stated denials of man-made climate change.

Instead, it said Weissenberger had been hired on July 6 following a "competitive hiring process."

"John brings over 30 years of experience in oil and gas and academia to the AER," the statement said. "Under John's leadership, his branch will support our organization in working to understand and evaluate new technologies proposed by Alberta's energy industry. 

"This branch will also help ensure our requirements are designed to regulate new technologies to ensure the safe, efficient, orderly, and environmentally responsible development of Alberta's energy resources." 

NDP Environment critic Marlin Schmidt called the decision "irresponsible."

"The world is telling us that we need to do a better job of managing the risks of climate change and with this appointment it looks like they are thumbing their nose at the world."

Appointment not announced

The AER did not announce Weissenberger's appointment. He announced his appointment on LinkedIn.

The AER would not disclose Weissenberger's salary.

According to Weissenberger's LinkedIn post, his job is to provide "technical leadership in five disciplines (geology, engineering, public safety, economics and environmental science); ensuring regulations are based on sound science and advice on technical issues is provided from an unbiased perspective."

John Weissenberger announced his appointment on LinkedIn. (John Weissenberger/LinkedIn)

Weissenberger's online resume states he has a doctorate in geology, is a former senior energy company executive and is an adjunct professor in the department of earth and atmospheric sciences at the University of Alberta. 

Denies man-made global warming

Published articles and blogs by Weissenberger dismiss climate change believers as being part of a "popular delusion" and participants in a form of "collective psychosis."

In a March 2006 article in the National Post, Weissenberger and co-author George Koch said the media was driving the climate change debate, listing a series of extreme cold weather events around the world as proof that this was a false narrative.

"The politicization of the climate change debate, whether by misanthropes seeing humanity in perpetual conflict with nature or neo-Luddites viewing technology and economic growth as intrinsically bad, drives the media bus. Once the mankind-bad, destroying-Earth paradigm is set, the facts will follow," they wrote.

NDP environment critic Marlin Schmidt said Weissenberger's appointment reinforces the message that the AER has abandoned its obligation to monitor the environment. (Justin Pennell/CBC)

In an April 2006 article in the Calgary Herald, Weissenberger and Koch accused Canada's oil and gas industry, specifically the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, of being "intellectually lazy" for accepting the "validity" of global warming theory. 

"To those who doubt the scientific basis of global warming theory, we say: Don't let a cabal of government-funded scientists, environmental activists and journalists convince us they are mainstream," they stated.

Long relationship with Harper, Kenney

Weissenberger has a long, connected history to former prime minister Stephen Harper and to Kenney. He has been a close friend of Harper since the mid-1980s. He ran Harper's campaign when he was first elected in 1993. Harper was the master of ceremonies at his wedding, media reported.  

Cronyism accusations came in 2007 when Weissenberger was named chief of staff to then citizenship and immigration minister Diane Finley, a position for which many said he had no background.

Weissenberger was also appointed by the Harper government to be a director of the Canada Foundation for Innovation before the 2015 election, which the Conservatives lost. 

He also served as Kenney's manager for both the Progressive Conservative and UCP leadership campaigns. He figures prominently in the "kamikaze" scandal in which Kenney's campaign ran stalking horse candidate Jeff Callaway to attack former Wildrose leader Brian Jean, Kenney's chief rival in the election. 

Weissenberger was also a director of the political action committee Alberta Victory Fund, which raised nearly $160,000 for Kenney, of which more than $147,000 was spent in the 2019 election.

"John Weissenberger has a very long history of working with and for Jason Kenney and Stephen Harper and the Conservative Party machine here in Alberta and this looks a lot like a reward for his loyalty over the years," Schmidt said.

Weissenberger's hiring came in the same week former MLA Dave Rodney, who vacated his Calgary seat for Kenney, was appointed to a $250,000 a-year-job as Alberta's trade representative in Houston. Kenney denied it was a patronage appointment.

"They are just shameless about appointing their friends to these kinds of positions," Schmidt said.

About the Author

Charles Rusnell

Investigative reporter

Charles Rusnell is a reporter with CBC Investigates, the award-winning investigative unit of CBC Edmonton. His journalism in the public interest is widely credited with forcing accountability, transparency and democratic change in Alberta. Send tips in confidence to cbcinvestigates@cbc.ca. and follow him on Twitter@charlesrusnell

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