Environmental activist a mistake as Alberta Energy chief of staff

Marg McQuaig-Boyd, Alberta energy minister.

McCuaig-Boyd’s judgement as Alberta energy minister already being called into question

Regular readers will be shocked by this admission, but I occasionally get it wrong. This is one of those times. The column dates from June 11, 2015, shortly after the Alberta NDP formed government and Premier Rachel Notley’s energy policy direction wasn’t yet clear. Marg McQuaig-Boyd, a community college administrator from the Peace country, seemed an uninspiring choice for the energy portfolio. Hiring an avowed opponent of the oil sands and pipelines looked like a sure-fire signal that the NDP were going to be energy unfriendly. Well, that hasn’t happened – at least not in my opinion, though many Calgary industry executives still disagree. Notley and Environment Minister Shannon Phillips have taken the lead on energy issues and McQuaig-Boyd has been competent but low-profile. Which means Mitchell’s hiring wasn’t the disaster I feared. Sometimes when we pundits stir the sheep’s entrails we see false portents. Mea culpa.


Graham Mitchell, the new chief of staff to Alberta Energy Minister Marg McCuaig-Boyd, is what in political circles is called a “signal.” In this case, a very clear and troubling signal.

Graham Mitchell, chief of staff to Alberta Energy Minister Marg McQuaid-Boyd.

The Wildrose Party dug up Mitchell’s recent past as a registered federal anti-pipeline, anti-tar sands lobbyist for Leadnow.ca, which is a very odd past for his current job. Imagine if the Rachel Notley Government had hired Joanna Kerr, executive director of Greenpeace Canada, with its anti-fossil fuels mission and international notoriety. What an uproar such a hiring would provoke!

Well, Mitchell is likely even a little more radical than his Greenpeace counterparts because LeadNow is all about campaigns, including organizing Canadians to actively oppose Alberta’s biggest industry and the golden goose currently supporting the Canadian economy.

Examples of lobbying activities undertaken by LeadNow include:

  • Enbridge 21: Asking that the Conservative federal MPs in BC pressure cabinet to stop the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline
  • Requesting that the National Energy Board take into account climate science and open up hearings to the general public during the Energy East pipeline review process
  • Begin a comprehensive, independent safety review of all hydrocarbon transportation – pipelines, rail, tanker and truck – including public hearings and an examination of the role of deregulation and privatization in reducing safety standards.

LeadNow’s registration listing notes a dozen lobbyists in addition to Mitchell, but as executive director he ultimately had responsibility for all that lobbying.

What it really does is set the fox in the hen house. Mitchell will be at McCuaig-Boyd’s elbow, advising her on every energy file dealt with by her department.

Will he give her balanced, impartial advice? Or does the Canadian environmental movement now have its hands on a powerful lever to achieve its goal of shutting down the Alberta oil sands?

“This sends a troubling message to our energy industry,” Wildrose energy critic Leela Aheer said in a press release.

It does indeed.

And who made the decision to hire Mitchell? If it was McCuaig-Boyd alone, that sends a very clear signal about how she intends to manager her department. And it’s a signal that won’t be well received in the office towers of Calgary.

Mitchell’s appointment is also a strong signal that Premier Notley’s assurances to the Alberta energy industry may have been a bit disingenuous.

No one expected Notley to hire political hacks and former energy executives like the previous PC governments were wont to do.

But appointing frontline industry opponents for critical ministry positions is a leap much too far in the opposite direction.

I opined a few weeks ago that putting McCuaig-Boyd into energy might have been Notley’s first mistake. Thus far, my crystal ball is looking pretty accurate.

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