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Marlo Raynolds has a well-established network of relationships with energy and mining businesses, government and NGOs.Dave Chan

Running in the rural riding of Banff-Airdrie, Marlo Raynolds had hoped to join a new Liberal government as a member of Parliament, but came up far short in the October election. Instead, he has landed in Ottawa in a key supporting role: as chief of staff and adviser to the country's rookie Environment Minister, Catherine McKenna.

In a government short on resource-industry connections, the former environmental leader and renewable-energy executive stands out.

Not that he worked in the oil and mining business. But he served for many years as executive director at the Calgary-based think tank Pembina Institute, where he established a reputation for pragmatism and working with the oil industry on finding solutions to environmental challenges.

"He's going to hit the ground running, having a really well-established network of relationships that cross many boundaries – industry, government, NGOs," said Gordon Lambert, a former vice-president for sustainability at Suncor Energy Inc. and member of the Alberta government's climate-change advisory panel. "In that regard, having Marlo in a position like that, with that built-in capability to reach out and know who the players are and engage them, is just a great step."

Mr. Raynolds served more recently as executive vice-president for BluEarth Renewables Inc., a Calgary-based renewable-energy company that built a $1-billion portfolio of wind, solar and hydro projects before being bought out by Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan this summer. He left that position and is moving his young family to Ottawa in order to be part of the Liberals' effort to create a sustainable energy future, and implement an election platform he helped fashion.

"It's just so exciting," he said in an interview, after a day of vetting prospective staffers. "It's the opportunity of a lifetime to be part of this."

The Ottawa-Alberta relationship will be a critical one for the new government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

The Prime Minister is clearly cognizant of the resonance his family name still carries in the province where the memory of Pierre Trudeau's National Energy Program lingers like a ghost. And it can be resuscitated if his government's focus on climate change and raising environmental standards imposes too heavy a burden on a critical industry in a province already battered by the global commodities slump.

Ms. McKenna will make her first Canadian ministerial excursion to Edmonton next week, where she will meet with her provincial counterpart, Shannon Phillips, as well as some resource-industry executives. She already has logged international miles, travelling to Paris for a pre-summit climate meeting just days after being appointed to cabinet.

Mr. Raynolds plays down his role, saying he will merely advise and run the ministerial office for Ms. McKenna, whom he praises as "one of the brightest minds I've ever worked with, a great listener and capable of making tough decisions."

But the Minister is an international lawyer who has virtually no experience on energy and environment issues. (She did serve as executive director of the Banff Forum, which brings together young people to debate national issues.) And as her chief of staff, Mr. Raynolds will use his network to provide her with access to a broad range of opinions.

He acknowledges that the debate over oil sands became deeply polarized over the past several years as environmental groups campaigned against pipelines and the former Harper government demonized such activists as undermining the national interest. Now, there is a multitude of groups trying to bridge that divide – from the Conference Board of Canada and Energy Council of Canada to the University of Ottawa's Positive Energy project.

He vows that while industry leaders may not always like the government's policies – neither will environmentalists, he says – they will at least get a fair hearing.