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Peter Kiss criticized a push by University of British Columbia students and faculty to have the university divest its fossil-fuel holdings.

DARRYL DYCK/The Globe and Mail

The president of a construction firm that holds a $60-million contract for the Site C dam has retracted a controversial vow not to hire people who attended the University of British Columbia.

Peter Kiss, president and chief executive officer of Edmonton-based Morgan Construction and Environmental Ltd., wrote a LinkedIn post last week in which he said the company would not hire people from UBC. He criticized a push by UBC students and faculty to have the university divest its fossil-fuel holdings, and denounced a similar effort at Queen's University, saying he wouldn't hire its students, either.

"I am a little frustrated by the divestiture strategies of University endowments that do not support Oil and Gas. So, if they can't support us we can't hire their students," Mr. Kiss wrote. "If you are a student of these schools you need to let the leadership know that you won't be getting a job in Alberta and why. If you are an employer in Alberta I encourage you to change your hiring practices."

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Mr. Kiss concluded his post by writing: "Eat Cows, Drill Oil, Be Albertan." He included links to a February news story about UBC, and an August column about Queen's.

When asked about his comments Tuesday by the Alaska Highway News, Mr. Kiss said his post "wasn't clear." He told the newspaper he was only referring to oil and gas work, not Site C, and would continue "hiring a tremendous amount of B.C. residents and local residents" for the dam project.

Adrian Dix, the B.C. NDP's critic for BC Hydro, sent a letter to Mr. Kiss on Tuesday in which he called his post "shameful" and his position "ill-considered." He said there has already been concern from locals on how much work the project will generate for British Columbians.

Mr. Dix said Mr. Kiss had every right to disagree with the stance taken by UBC students and faculty. "But to actively discriminate against all UBC students and graduates is contrary to good sense and the law," he wrote. "And all the while, you are getting BC public sector contracts and taking ratepayers' and taxpayers' money from UBC students, UBC graduates, and all ratepayers in British Columbia."

Mr. Kiss did not respond to phone and e-mail messages from The Globe and Mail on Wednesday, but tweeted, "I retract my earlier comments."

He wrote on Twitter that "Morgan will continue to hire the best local BC and aboriginal workers," including students from UBC and Queen's. He then tweeted he would be taking a break from social media.

In an interview, Mr. Dix called Mr. Kiss' retraction "a good thing."

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A request for comment from the Ministry of Energy and Mines was referred to BC Hydro. David Conway, community relations manager for the Site C project, wrote in an e-mail, "BC Hydro spoke to its contractor to make it clear that the comments do not represent our views and are not consistent with the project's hiring objectives."

Mr. Conway said all British Columbians are welcomed and encouraged to work on the Site C project. He said job fairs will be held in nine northern B.C. communities next month.

BC Hydro announced Morgan Construction had received a contract in July. The company is tasked with constructing approximately seven kilometres of access roads on the north bank of the dam site. It must also excavate about two million cubic metres of material, and clear approximately 55 hectares. The work began in August and is to be completed by the end of June.

A UBC spokesperson said its board of governors is in the process of reviewing the divestment proposal put forward by faculty and students. Approximately $85-million of the university's $1.46-billion endowment fund is invested in fossil-fuel related ventures, she said.

Queen's decided not to divest its fossil-fuel holdings in November.

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