Alberta Energy Regulator official quits ahead of being fired by incoming premier

Ed Whittingham was singled out by incoming premier as a foe of oil development

Premier-Designate Jason Kenney addresses the media the day his after his election victory in Edmonton on Wednesday April 17, 2019. A member of Alberta’s energy regulator who had been singled out by premier-designate Jason Kenney as a foe of provincial oil development has quit. Kenney’s transition team has confirmed that Ed Whittingham has resigned from the board of directors of the Alberta Energy Regulator. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson)

A member of Alberta’s energy regulator who was singled out by incoming premier Jason Kenney as a foe of oil development has quit.

Ed Whittingham says it’s a decision he made the night of April 16, when Kenney’s United Conservatives won the provincial election.

“I felt I couldn’t work with this government. Nor does this government want to work with me,” Whittingham said Monday in an interview.

“It does feel like a load off my back. It’s not fun to be a punching bag.”

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Whittingham resigned from the board of directors of the Alberta Energy Regulator in a letter sent Sunday to board chairwoman Sheila O’Brien.

“I was subjected to a smear campaign without precedent in Alberta for a public appointment held by a private citizen,” wrote Whittingham in the letter.

“Much effort was made to defame my character.”

The resignation came just days ahead of Kenney’s promised date to fire Whittingham from the post, which paid a base wage of $76,500 a year.

Kenney and his new cabinet are to be sworn in Tuesday and he had said one of his first tasks would be to fire Whittingham.

Kenney has also promised to replace the rest of the board. He has said approvals for energy projects take far longer when compared with competing jurisdictions and the lag has hurt Alberta’s economy.

On the campaign trail, Kenney singled out Whittingham for his former work as executive director of the Pembina Institute, an Alberta-based think tank that promotes economically responsible energy development.

Kenney accused Whittingham of committing “economic sabotage” against Alberta’s oil interests while at Pembina because the institute accepted millions of dollars from foreign-funded special interest groups which Kenney says were seeking to landlock the province’s oil under the guise of promoting a greener future.

Whittingham, in his letter, rejected the charge.

“My views on responsible energy development are well documented in many op-eds and blogs readily available online, and are entirely consistent with safe, environmentally responsible development of oil and gas resources,” he wrote.

He said that under his directorship, Pembina never intervened in a regulatory process to oppose a pipeline, and about 85 per cent of its revenue came from people and institutions within Canada.

The rest, he wrote, ”originated from international sources that share (Pembina’s) clean energy goals. That put it in the same boat as hundreds of other Canadian non-profit groups and companies interested in public policy.”

Kenney responded Monday on Twitter. “It was gracious of Ed Whittingham to resign a day before we could fire him. Our government will never appoint people like him who are avowed opponents of Alberta jobs. And we will stop all funding to groups engaged in economic sabotage against Alberta.”

The UCP caucus added in a statement that “Mr Whittingham and Pembina’s agenda is clear: they want to shut down the Alberta energy sector. And it has been reported that they have taken $8 million in foreign money to fund their anti-oil, anti-pipeline agenda.

“Mr. Whittingham and Pembina have opposed every proposed pipeline project in recent memory.”

Whittingham is the first high-profile casualty in what’s expected to be a legal and public relations war by Kenney against those he says are conspiring to hamstring Alberta’s oil and gas industry.

Kenney has also promised to roll back elements of outgoing NDP Premier Rachel Notley’s environmental plan, including a provincial carbon tax and a phase-out of coal-fired electricity.

Shannon Phillips, who was the NDP’s environment minister and will be part of the Opposition caucus, said Kenney’s decision to boot the AER board, along with his other environment policies, are knee-jerk responses that will cost jobs and investment.

“This is part of a broader approach in which Jason Kenney shoots first and asks questions later,” said Phillips.

Dean Bennett and Bob Weber, The Canadian Press

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