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Minister for Natural Resources Joe Oliver is sworn in by Clerk of the Privy council Wayne Wouters. (Adrian Wyld/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Minister for Natural Resources Joe Oliver is sworn in by Clerk of the Privy council Wayne Wouters. (Adrian Wyld/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Joe Oliver: From Bay Street to Natural Resources Add to ...

On the surface, rookie Toronto MP Joe Oliver appears to be an unlikely pick for Minister of Natural Resources.

After all, Mr. Oliver spent more than 30 years in the investment world, working at several brokerage firms before becoming executive director of the Ontario Securities Commission and then head of the Investment Dealers Association of Canada.

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Even Mr. Oliver envisioned a more investment-related role for himself in government when he first ran (unsuccessfully) for federal office in Toronto in 2008, suggesting at the time that he hoped to use his background to help create a national securities regulator. "There's a lot of smart people in Ottawa but there aren't many people with my kind of background, my expertise in securities regulation," he said then.

So when Prime Minister Stephen Harper handed Mr. Oliver, 70, the natural resources portfolio on Wednesday, it looked like an unusual choice, given that the department includes an array of responsibilities such as energy issues, nuclear power, forest products, mining, pipelines, sustainable technology, earthquake preparedness and the Canadian atlas.

But many industry players are welcoming the selection, saying Mr. Oliver's investment background is exactly what's needed.

"I'm encouraged by his background," said David Collyer, president of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers. "We have said often that the perspective of the investment community on our industry and the ability to attract capital is pretty fundamental."

He added that Mr. Oliver's experience on regulatory issues will also be beneficial. "I would assume he knows something about what makes an effective regulatory system," Mr. Collyer said.

Avrim Lazar, chief executive officer of the Forest Products Association of Canada, said it will be helpful to have a minister who understands business finance and investment. "Because, in the end, for the forest industry especially, if we want to modernize our mills and make progress or improve exports, understanding where investment is coming is going to be essential," he said. "It's a big portfolio."

Mr. Oliver - who ousted veteran Liberal Joe Volpe in the riding of Eglinton-Lawrence in the May 2 election - faces some immediate challenges as minister. He will have to negotiate the sale of Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd., with SNC-Lavalin Group Inc. the likely buyer, and begin plans to meet provincial energy ministers who want to start work on a national energy strategy this summer. The mining sector is also eager to see changes to the environmental review process.

"The Prime Minister has given us someone, at least on paper, who looks like a solid choice, who would understand the importance of resource sectors," said Pierre Gratton, head of the Mining Association of British Columbia.

David Yager said Mr. Oliver's banking history means he'll know oil and natural gas well, even if he is the latest in a long line of ministers with no direct experience in industries such as energy.

"I can't remember a federal resources minister that actually came from the oil patch," said Mr. Yager, president of HSE Integrated Ltd., an energy services company in Calgary. "Someone from public capital markets in the resource portfolio is a positive."

What Mr. Yager wants is for Mr. Harper to leverage the power of majority government to bring coherence to its energy policies. Mr. Yager, who plans to run in Alberta's next provincial election as a Wildrose candidate, complained that the suffering natural gas industry needs help and noted that the removal of tax breaks in the oil sands makes it harder to pay for environmental improvements.

As for Mr. Oliver, he had this to say about his appointment late Wednesday: "Because I have raised capital for companies and governments in Canada and internationally, many of them located in Ontario, Quebec and Alberta, I think I have a background that may be relevant."

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