Canada’s Energy Superpower Vacuum

Steven Harper’s government, hellbent on developing Canada as an energy superpower, also harbours a conviction that energy regulation is nothing but counterproductive red tape to be shuffled off to the side. As we saw with his treatment of Linda Keen, head of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, in 2007, Harper is blind to promoting solid independent scientific energy regulation and adherence to statutory requirements if the exercise of that regulatory authority interferes with his government’s vision of achieving superpower status.

Yesterday, another element of Harper’s careless thinking on energy regulation was laid bare.

Finally getting dragged under by his election finance practices, Harper’s only MP from Newfoundland & Labrador, Peter Penashue, resigned both his Intergovernmental Affairs cabinet post and his seat.

In the aftermath of Penashue’s resignation, his campaign manager, Reginald Bowers, also resigned yesterday from the Canada-Newfoundland&Labrador Off-shore Petroleum Board (C-NLOPB).

C-NLOPB is a joint federal-provincial regulator for the off-shore oil industry. The off-shore oil industry provides a very large portion of the provincial government’s revenues, is one of the province’s largest employers, and is engaged in extracting oil from one of the most dangerous and also ecologically significant parts of Canada’s maritime zone. The C-NLOPB bears a direct statutory duty for worker safety, environmental protection, and management of the off-shore resources. The importance of the off-shore to the future of Newfoundland & Labrador is profound. As tragically proven by such events as the loss of the Ocean Ranger drill rig in 1982, the challenges of safely and responsibly extracting hydro-carbons off the province’s coast must be taken very seriously.

What are the qualifications of Mr. Bowers that gave Stephen Harper confidence to appoint him to sit on the board? Here is his official bio from the regulator’s web site:

Reg Bowers

Mr. Bowers has extensive business involvement over the last thirty years of working in all areas of Labrador. His expertise came as the result of a void in the managerial expertise of Labrador’s business community, especially in Northern Labrador. Mr. Bowers has helped develop and set up hotels in every community, establish and develop a historical association in Hopedale to preserve and protect the building and artifacts there dating from the 1750’s. He also helped lay the groundwork for the development of the historical building at Hebron.

Mr. Bowers graduated from Memorial University of Newfoundland and Labrador with a Bachelor of Commerce and did extensive post secondary work with the Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants.

His community involvement ranged from sports organizations, tourism associations, school and college boards to social and fraternal organizations. This resulted in being selected Shriner of the Year for Newfoundland and Labrador in 2012 and being voted deputy District Grand Master for District 1, Labrador under the Grand Lodge of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Mr. Bowers was the Campaign Manager and Official Agent for Mr. Peter Penashue who was the only successful Conservative campaign in Newfoundland and Labrador. He has been a director on the local Provincial Association since the early 1990’s.

The inclusion of the second last sentence of the bio appears to be the essence of Mr. Bowers’ qualifications from Harper’s perspective.

Larding this vital regulatory agency with directors lacking any relevant experience or qualifications is not unique to Harper. In another disgraceful episode, this time in 2010, former premier Danny Williams tried to sneak his communications director, Elizabeth Matthews, onto the Board. Fortunately, in that case a public and political outcry forced Williams to back off.

Canada’s prosperity and quality of our natural environment will be severely undermined if we are not able to maintain the highest standards of performance in our energy regulation systems.

There are now two federal vacancies on the C-NLOPB. It is time for Harper to respond constructively to the shocking governance gap at C-NLOPB. One constructive step would be to break with tradition by appointing outsiders with no ties to Newfoundland politics. Instead, what are needed are regulators with outstanding achievements in relevant fields such as off-shore engineering, marine science, energy law, or emergency management.

Politicization of energy regulation is a national disease that fundamentally weakens our country. We must do better.

Post Script (March 15 2pm EDST) :

In January 2013, Scott Tessier was appointed the board’s new chair and CEO. Tessier is a former aide to ex Conservative MP and now now Canada’s Ambassador to Ireland Loyola Hearn. The board’s new vice chairman is Ed Williams. Williams the former Premier’s brother and also a former adviser to current Premier Kathy Dunderdale.

Post Script (March 19 8 pm):

Today the opposition Liberals in Newfoundland&Labrador issued the following sensible statement:

Expertise should trump patronage on C-NLOPB appointments

Opposition Leader Dwight Ball says political patronage shouldn’t factor into decisions made on who fills the seats at the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board (C-NLOPB). Last week the board lost Reg Bowers, a federal appointment who resigned amidst the fallout from the resignation of Labrador MP Peter Penashue.

Today in the House of Assembly Ball asked the Premier “When will skill and expertise trump patronage at the C-NLOPB, and when will offshore safety and environmental protection finally take priority for government?”

Ed Williams was a provincial appointment to the C-NLOPB in January, after leaving a senior position at Confederation Building. With the resignation of Bowers from the C-NLOPB, the federal government will have to name a replacement appointee.

“It is imperative that a Board that deals with such technical matters actually have a member who has technical knowledge,” noted Ball. “The C-NLOPB has been littered with Tory patrons that have no technical background; it’s time to appoint someone that actually knows what they’re talking about.”

Ball noted that the Energy Resources Conservation Board in Alberta has appointed board members with expertise in engineering, geology, law and environmental science to their board.  He is calling on the Premier to work with the federal government to fill the now vacant spot on the C-NLOPB with technical and safety expertise instead of another Tory patronage appointment.