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Ian Doig (The Globe and Mail archives/The Globe and Mail archives)
Ian Doig (The Globe and Mail archives/The Globe and Mail archives)

Oil patch analyst had an independent streak Add to ...

He went to school with the Irvings, started his career alongside Calgary legend Dick Haskayne, lunched with energy industry chief executives and spent decades documenting and often criticizing Canada’s oil patch.

Ian Doig irritated heads of companies and provinces alike with his often acerbic observations on the business of energy, questioning corporate strategies and deriding oil companies for their public failings. At the same time, he was among the first to recognize the vast energy potential of offshore Newfoundland.

Mr. Doig was, in the words of Peter C. Newman, the “oil patch’s resident curmudgeon and it’s most entertaining writer.” His son Peter, who followed in his footsteps as an energy analyst, called him “the voice of reason in the oil patch.” The bureaucrats he used to hector for information called him less flattering things.

Whatever the case, the views Mr. Doig formulated were, for many years, highly sought after in Calgary. His monthly Doig’s Digest, launched in 1983, was among the most important publications in Canadian oil and gas, reaching an influential but limited audience that spanned the globe, from Alberta to Hong Kong and Australia. At its peak, some 500 people subscribed. At the end, the numbers had dwindled to 19. Yet Mr. Doig, who died March 10 of complications from a stroke at the age of 80, continued to publish. His family mailed out his last edition, completed just hours before he entered hospital, after his death.

Mr. Doig was born in Montreal. His father’s heroics in the First World War earned him medals and gained Mr. Doig a trip to London. He met King George VI, who bestowed the Military Cross on his father, who died when Mr. Doig was 12.

He was sent to a New Brunswick boarding school because “his mother couldn’t handle him,” his wife, Marion, recalled. He crossed paths with several of the Irving brothers at school, and after receiving a commerce degree, tried and quit law school. He came to Calgary by way of San Francisco, where he had driven to visit a friend. On his way back, he stopped to meet more East Coast friends in Alberta, and was persuaded to look for work. In his first job, in the comptroller’s office at Hudson’s Bay Oil and Gas, he sat near Mr. Haskayne, who would become one of the most important executives in the west.

Mr. Doig didn’t last long as a comptroller: “He didn’t enjoy debits and credits quite as much as I did, but he had a lot of talents with respect to policy issues,” recalled Mr. Haskayne, who many years later, at the top of his career, would still return Mr. Doig’s calls searching for information. “I probably learned more from him than he did from me,” Mr. Haskayne said.

In part, that was because Mr. Doig had a remarkable memory, which made him one of Calgary’s most important repositories of institutional knowledge. In part, it was because his perspective was honed by a broad career, including time as an industry lobbyist in Ottawa and years at Merrill Lynch where, as an analyst, he published a major report on offshore Newfoundland oil prospects before the Hibernia field was discovered.

He did not, however, fit well in corporate structures, and soon set off on his own: “He worked better by himself,” his wife recalls. That independent streak was a fundamental element of Doig’s Digest, the publication he created. He paid scant notice to corporate reassurances, digging instead into his contacts and public documents to sort out his own opinions. He famously disparaged the prospects of several East Coast projects, including the Sable Island offshore natural gas project and Hibernia. He was right on the first, wrong on the second – in part because oil prices grew faster than he expected.

“He was willing to be, frankly, fairly critical of people in the business, and he’d be critical of big companies,” recalls Roland Priddle, the former chairman of the National Energy Board who was a personal friend. But he was smart, often right and “a genuinely very decent chap,” Mr. Priddle said.

An avid traveller and athlete, he played tennis, squash and badminton, and his four children – Peter, David, Nancy and Janet – also engaged in competitive sports, including skiing.

His two sons followed in his footsteps to become oil patch financial analysts. David Doig traces the origins of his career to time helping his father assemble the digest as a teenager.

“He would say, ‘Can you help? I want to do this kind of graph showing the oil price over the last few years.’ And I would help him do that,” David says. “So I sort of got involved in that way, and got interested in it.”

“I think we just followed his footsteps,” says Peter, who adds that his father’s legacy was a search for some kind of truth: “He did his homework, he told it like it was, and if it upset some people, so be it. And more often than not, he was proven right.”

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