Alberta Energy Regulator official quits before he can be fired by incoming Jason Kenney

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 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.”

Whittingham resigned from the board of directors of the Alberta Energy Regulator in a letter sent Sunday to board chair 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 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.

Shannon Phillips, the former NDP environment minister now part of the Official Opposition caucus, said Kenney’s decision to terminate 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 in an interview.

“He doesn’t actually care about the jobs implications or the (policy) certainty for (energy) investors.”




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