A former rancher and chemical engineer is set to become Alberta’s next energy minister, after Premier Danielle Smith unveiled her new cabinet on Friday.
The cabinet shuffle comes just seven months before the next election is due, and Peter Guthrie says his focus as minister will be on drawing investment to the province.
Mr. Guthrie replaces Sonya Savage, an oil and gas industry veteran who publicly backed a rival of Ms. Smith for the United Conservative Party leadership. Ms. Savage has been moved to the environment and protected areas file. Mr. Guthrie’s appointment to one of the most important cabinet posts in Alberta follows his vocal opposition to former premier Jason Kenney, who he accused of personal attacks, dividing people and intimidating opponents.
The member for Airdrie-Cochrane, first elected in 2019, comes to the Energy Ministry with no direct experience in the oil and gas industry, and acknowledged in an interview with The Globe and Mail on Friday his new role will “absolutely” be a steep learning curve.
But Mr. Guthrie said his chemical-engineering degree from the University of Alberta means he was “trained in a lot of processes” applicable to the energy sector, adding he has many university friends who are now scattered throughout the oil, gas and petrochemical industries in the province.
Ms. Smith’s choice to appoint Mr. Guthrie to a portfolio in which she has a passionate personal interest is a clear signal the Premier will lead direction on the file, said Lori Williams, an associate professor of political science at Calgary’s Mount Royal University.
“[Ms. Smith] doesn’t want anybody in there with expertise who’s going to have anything to say that might question or contradict her, and she couldn’t make that more clear,” Prof. Williams said.
“She’s putting someone in there who wasn’t a voice at the cabinet table. He’s been important as a dissident, but not as a contributor to the conversation.”
Mr. Guthrie was one of the first UCP MLAs to endorse Ms. Smith, and was appointed caucus liaison on her transition team.
While discussions about the energy sector didn’t come up a lot during the UCP leadership race, Ms. Smith has said she supports emissions-reduction goals – particularly in the oil sands – and believes clean technology and innovation will help reduce greenhouse-gas emissions and usher in carbon neutrality across the province’s economy.
Mr. Guthrie said Friday “everything that we’re hearing from industry is that they would like to meet” a net-zero goal, but added he needs to learn more about it and what it means to the sector. The same applies to carbon capture and storage and Alberta’s oil and gas royalty regime.
To figure it all out, he said one of his first steps as minister will be engaging with industry – including exploration and production companies of all sizes – and First Nations.
“What we want to be focusing on is things that are going to help and support the entire industry. And so I think the first thing is to get out and hear what industry is looking for from us,” he said.
How the government’s proposed sovereignty act will play into that remains to be seen. Ms. Smith billed the act as a means for the Alberta legislature to refuse to enforce specific federal laws or policies, arguing hundreds of billions of dollars in energy investment and tax revenues – as well as hundreds of thousands of jobs – have been lost owing to federal government policies.
Mr. Guthrie echoed that sentiment on Friday, saying the lack of large investments in the Alberta oil patch has been “due to the federal government’s intrusion in our space.”
And while he acknowledged part of his job will involve working together with the federal government, he said “dealing with Ottawa is going to be a significant hurdle in some respects, because you have a federal government that seems like it’s hell-bent on shutting down the fossil-fuel industry.”
Still, Mr. Guthrie thinks there have been some signs from Ottawa acknowledging that fossil-fuel demand in Europe needs to be met, and Canada can help.
“I’m just excited about engaging, learning more about this file and helping the industry. That’s what my goal is, and that’s what I’ll be doing,” he said.