Joe Oliver had precious little time to learn the gig. As a rookie MP elected three years ago, he was thrust immediately, at the age of 70, into cabinet as Natural Resources Minister.
The role is, de facto, half-spokesman, half-ambassador – Mr. Oliver became one of the Conservative government’s most well-traveled ministers, zig-zagging the globe preaching the virtues of Canada’s energy sector as opposition to it, and the oil sands in particular, surged. With energy projects such as the Keystone XL pipeline hanging in the balance, Mr. Oliver became a familiar face, an unabashed champion of the energy sector.
He is said to work tirelessly and shoots often from the hip, but Mr. Oliver is by and large a reliable Conservative figure who stumps the party line, even when partisan barbs raise eyebrows – such as referring, in writing, to “environmental and other radical groups” that oppose the energy sector. While Canada drags its heels on oil and gas emissions regulations and remains far from its emissions reduction targets, Mr. Oliver’s role as faithful party stalwart irked members of the opposition.
Nonetheless, it made him one of the cabinet’s most outspoken ministers on a hot-button file. Now, he may have to change his spots. (Of course, Jim Flaherty made waves in his final months by wading into subjects typically off-limits in the job.)
Mr. Oliver will not have the same learning curve as before. He is familiar with Bay Street as the former executive director of the Ontario Securities Commission. In him, Canada’s financial sector will see as familiar a face as there is in the federal cabinet after Mr. Flaherty’s departure. That stability will be welcomed.
“Whoever steps into the role, they don’t have to be a carbon copy of Mr. Flaherty. Nobody could be, but in terms of the broad policy thrust, I think it was appropriate from a policy perspective, and most people would like to see that continue,” Doug Porter, chief economist of BMO Capital Markets, said on Tuesday after Mr. Flaherty announced his departure from a cabinet role he held since 2006.
A bilingual lawyer, Mr. Oliver is the oldest member of Mr. Harper’s cabinet – he will be 74 in May and had heart surgery last year, although he has resumed his hectic pace and plans to seek re-election. In appointing him, Mr. Harper is breaking from the path taken by some of his predecessors, such as Jean Chrétien, who ultimately faced leadership competition from their finance minister – passing over younger cabinet stalwarts said to be planning one day to succeed him as prime minister.
Mr. Oliver represents the Toronto riding of Eglinton-Lawrence and was first elected in 2011, a race that ended in complaints from the defeated Liberals that mysterious, harassing robocalls were made erroneously in their candidate’s name. His seat was among the gains in the Toronto area that helped deliver a Tory majority.
His departure will open up the Natural Resources portfolio, which continues to be crucial amid a series of proposed energy projects and the ongoing wavering in the United States over whether to approve the Keystone XL proposal.
Before politics, he had a long career in investment banking, working at Merrill Lynch and the Ontario Securities Commission before serving as president and chief executive officer of the Investment Dealers Association of Canada, according to his parliamentary biography. He holds an MBA from the Harvard Graduate School of Business.