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


EDMONTON — 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, in a letter delivered to the Alberta Energy Regulator, said he cannot continue working on the board of directors given the incoming government’s “tactics and policy direction.”

“I was subjected to a smear campaign without precedent in Alberta for a public appointment held by a private citizen,” wrote Whittingham in a letter sent to regulator chair Sheila O’Brien.

“Much effort was made to defame my character.”

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

Kenney and his new United Conservative cabinet are to be sworn in Tuesday and Kenney had said one of his first tasks in the top job would be to fire Whittingham.

Kenney also promised to replace the rest of the AER board, saying that approvals for energy projects take far longer when compared with competing jurisdictions and that lag is hurting 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 at Pembina because the institute accepted millions of dollars from foreign-funded special interest groups that he said were seeking to landlock Alberta’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 approximately 85 per cent of Pembina’s 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 and a spokesperson for his transition team could not be immediately reached for comment.

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

Kenney is setting up a $30-million energy “war room” to respond to those he says spread falsehoods about oil.

He has also promised to hold a public inquiry into foreign sources of funds behind anti-oilsands campaigns.

Companies that boycott the oilsands will be boycotted by the Alberta government, he has said, and the province will also challenge the charitable status of groups involved in anti-oilsands campaigns.

Kenney has also promised roll back elements of outgoing NDP Premier Rachel Notley’s environmental plan, including the provincial carbon tax and a phase out of coal-fired electricity by 2030.

Whittingham, in his letter, said he fears Kenney’s new Alberta Energy Regulator team will approve projects at the expense of the environment, and said the change in climate policy will sacrifice critical national and international credibility on the green file.

Dean Bennett and Bob Weber, The Canadian Press

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