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Suncor Energy Inc. refinery in Edmonton.JASON FRANSON/The Canadian Press

The interim chief executive of Canada’s Suncor Energy SU-T said on Friday that he has the mandate to make changes to improve the oil-producing company’s poor safety and operating performance, even as its board looks for a permanent CEO.

“To be clear, as interim CEO, my mandate is not to simply maintain the status quo,” Kris Smith said in his first public remarks to analysts since his appointment in July.

He added later, on a quarterly conference call, that he plans to overhaul Suncor’s processes while the board of directors conducts its CEO search. “We can’t stand still. I have the full support of the board to drive the changes necessary.”

Former CEO Mark Little resigned after the latest of a string of fatalities at sites operated by the second-biggest Canadian oil producer. It has also struggled with operational problems that have hampered production.

Smith said Suncor had already assessed the problems at its oil sands mining sites and is focusing on risks such as contact between vehicles and work around water.

“We’re clear on what we need to do to improve our safety performance,” Smith said. “We do not need more diagnosis, but what we do need to do is execute.”

Suncor struck a deal with activist investor Elliot Investment Management last month, appointing three new independent directors and launching a review of its fuel retail business

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