Skip to main content

A prominent environmental policy expert who became a target for Jason Kenney during Alberta’s recent election campaign is resigning from the board of the provincial energy regulator and warning that getting rid of limits on oil sands emissions will revive international opposition to the industry.

Ed Whittingham, who led the Pembina Institute environmental think tank from 2011 to 2017 and was appointed to the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) board in February, told chairwoman Sheila O’Brien that he “cannot support the new government’s tactics and policy direction” and would step down effective April 28, according to a copy of the resignation letter obtained by The Globe and Mail.

Mr. Kenney, whose United Conservative Party (UCP) government will be sworn in Tuesday, had vowed during the election campaign to fire Mr. Whittingham and replace the entire AER board while working to streamline approvals of major projects and permits for oil and gas wells.

The departure foreshadows a wider clash between the new government and environmentalists as the incoming premier seeks to dismantle much of the New Democratic Party government’s climate-change plan.

Mr. Whittingham was a key architect of the 100-megatonne cap on oil sands emissions, introduced by Rachel Notley’s NDP in a deal that won support from some of the sector’s largest companies. But Mr. Kenney had accused him of helping to wage “a campaign of economic sabotage” against Alberta and its dominant industry.

The premier-designate has promised to set up a war room to combat negative publicity about the oil sands and challenge the charitable status of groups accused of taking money from foreign foundations while working against the province’s leading industry.

In his letter, Mr. Whittingham said he was the target of a “smear campaign,” a charge Mr. Kenney’s press secretary disputed Sunday.

“We reject the assertion that telling Albertans the truth about these facts amounts to a smear,” Christine Myatt said. Pembina has been a vocal industry and pipeline foe that is funded in part by U.S. foundations, she said.

Mr. Whittingham said in the letter that during his tenure at Pembina, the think tank did not formally intervene in regulatory hearings to oppose any pipeline. He also said that 85 per cent of its revenue came from Canadian companies, governments and individuals.

The emissions limit was central to Ms. Notley’s climate plan and aimed squarely at blunting opposition to new pipelines. Eliminating it, as well as the regulatory shutdown of coal plants, could backfire by provoking industry opponents, he said. Ottawa has also said that some oil sands expansions would be subject to federal environmental assessment legislation without the cap in place.

“These measures have driven environmental improvements and innovation, and give Canadians the confidence that Alberta is doing its fair share to address climate change in decisions with national implications,” Mr. Whittingham wrote. “Scrapping them will put that confidence in jeopardy, and renew national and international criticism of Alberta’s environmental record – criticism that greatly and indisputably subsided these past four years.”

Ms. Myatt would not say definitively that the new government would eliminate the policy, but noted that the UCP platform makes no mention of the emissions cap.

“Getting pipelines built, fighting back against foreign-funded special interests and standing up for a fair deal in Canada are key priorities of our team. Mr. Whittingham’s assertions on our emissions cap commitments are false, and we are pleased he has resigned.”

Prior to his appointment to the AER board, Mr. Whittingham sat on an external advisory committee for global oil giant Royal Dutch Shell PLC; served on an oil and gas council convened by the World Economic Forum; and worked alongside industry in technical roles for the Alberta government.