EDMONTON – Alberta’s energy minister is defending her new chief of staff despite his recent work for an anti-pipeline lobby group.
Marg McCuaig-Boyd said Graham Mitchell worked briefly earlier this year for Vancouver-based LeadNow but strictly in an administrative capacity.
She said Mitchell, while listed as executive director and registered lobbyist for LeadNow, did not do any lobbying and is in lockstep with the Alberta NDP’s policy to grow and improve market access for oil.
“He was just doing administrative processes for (LeadNow’s) office for a short period of time,” McCuaig-Boyd told reporters Thursday.
“Because he was interim executive director he had to be on the lobby list.
“He totally supports the position we have here in Alberta in our energy program.”
Mitchell was vetted and hired as chief of staff by the premier’s office before McCuaig-Boyd was appointed minister on May 24.
Leela Aheer, energy critic for the Opposition Wildrose party, said hiring Mitchell sends a troubling message to an already jittery oil and gas industry.
“It seems very contradictory in what’s needed now for stability in the energy sector,” said Aheer.
According to federal government records, LeadNow has lobbied to have Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s cabinet scupper Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline.
It has also lobbied to get the National Energy Board to open hearings on TransCanada’s proposed Energy East line to the public and to also take into account the effect of the line on climate change.
It’s another step in what has become a wary relationship between Premier Rachel Notley’s NDP and Alberta’s bedrock industry since Notley’s team won a majority government in the May 5 election.
The NDP has promised to review royalties, hike corporate taxes, bring in new climate change rules, introduce an energy efficiency policy, accelerate the phase out of coal-fired electricity generation, and ban gas drilling in urban areas.
Notley made headlines in the closing days of the campaign when she announced her government would write off the Northern Gateway project as a non-starter hopelessly entangled in environmental and jurisdictional red tape.
Northern Gateway would take Alberta bitumen through B.C. to coastal tankers for eventual shipment to Asia.
Notley has also said she will take a wait-and-see approach to the forthcoming decision from the U.S. State Department on whether to approve TransCanada Corp’s Keystone XL line to take Alberta crude diagonally across North America to refineries and ports in Texas.
But Notley has said she favours the Energy East project to ship bitumen to refineries in New Brunswick.
LeadNow has little love for Energy East, saying on its website that the line “would carry 1.1 million barrels of toxic bitumen to the coast every day, threaten communities and waterways in six provinces, and pump 32 million tonnes of global warming pollution into the atmosphere every year.”
David MacLean with Alberta Enterprise Group is among those shocked at the move.
“To appoint an activist who clearly has his mind made up about the Alberta energy industry — I mean, his organization has said that the energy industry in Alberta isn’t a big player economically in Canada. That’s false,” said MacLean. “They’re opposed to pipelines across Canada, and that’s not a good fit in the Energy Department, of all places.”
— With files from CHED