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Alberta Politics

VP Weissenberger, Agent-General Rodney and the ABCs of patronage

“This Alberta is a meritocracy” – Jason Kenney (April 30, 2019)

It was first reported this week by the CBC that John Weissenberger has been hired as the Alberta Energy Regulator’s new vice president of its science and innovation branch. Weissenberger is a former adjunct professor at the University of Alberta and manager of geological services with Husky, but it is his deep political connections that raised eyes this week. 

Weissenberger is a long-time conservative activist going back to the early days of the Reform Party and was Jason Kenney’s campaign manager during his successful bids for the the Progressive Conservative and United Conservative Party leadership campaigns in 2017. He was also director of the Alberta Victory Fund, the political action committee created to support Kenney’s campaign for the UCP leadership, and has been described as former prime minister Stephen Harper’s best friend.

It has also been reported that Weissenberger is a self-proclaimed ‘climate change skeptic,’ something that is unlikely to help the government’s bid to attract international investment and companies to move to Alberta.

Weissenberger’s wife, Angela Tu Weissenberger, was appointed by the UCP to the board of the Alberta Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis Commission in November 2019.

“Sherpa Dave” is Kenney’s Man in Texas

Dave Rodney MLA Calgary Lougheed
Dave Rodney

Congenial former Progressive Conservative MLA Dave Rodney has been appointed as Alberta’s Agent General in Houston, Texas. Rodney served as the PC MLA for Calgary-Lougheed from 2004 until 2017 when he resigned to allow Kenney to run in a by-election.

Rodney’s reward for stepping down, it would appear, is a pseudo-diplomatic post with a $250,000 annual salary. The former MLA served as a backbencher for all but two of his thirteen years in the Legislature. He served as Associate Minister of Wellness from 2012 to 2014.

And as anyone who has paid close attention to Alberta politics will know, Rodney is the first Canadian to have reached the summit of Mount Everest, twice.

Rodney’s appointment is reminiscent of former Stettler MLA Brian Downey‘s appointment as chairman of the Alberta Grain Commission when he resigned his seat in 1989 to allow Premier Don Getty to return to the Assembly (Getty had lost his Edmonton-Whitemud seat to Liberal Percy Wickman in the 1989 general election).

Rodney’s appointment marks the return of the Agent General title, a term that was widely used by Alberta’s out-of-country representatives until 1996, when the Agent-General Act was repealed and the Managing Director job title was adopted.

At the time the Agent General title was abolished, it had become associated with partisan patronage following a long string of appointments that included former PC MLA Mary LeMessurier to a post in London, former MLA Fred Peacock as the Asia-Pacific Agent General, a political aide in Getty’s office as Agent General in Hong Kong, and Getty’s wife’s cousin’s husband as Agent General in Tokyo.

Tory Patronage Machine Humming

Like the engine of a blue Dodge Ram, the UCP patronage machine has revved up since the party formed government in April 2019. counting donors, which would expand the list substantially, here is a quick list of individuals with connections to Kenney, the UCP and the conservative movement who have been appointed to various agency, board and commission positions:

  • Len Rhodes was appointed as Chair of the board of directors of the Alberta Gaming, Liquor, and Cannabis Commission. He was the UCP candidate in Edmonton-Meadows in 2019.
  • Janice Sarich was appointed to the board of governors of MacEwan University. Sarich was the UCP candidate in Edmonton-Decore in 2019 and represented the district as a PC MLA from 2008 to 2015.
  • Lily Le was appointed to board of governors of Norquest College. Le was the UCP candidate in Edmonton-City Centre in 2019.
  • Laurie Mozeson was appointed to the Municipal Government Board. Mozeson was the UCP candidate in Edmonton-McClung in 2019.
  • Karri Flatla was appointed to the Board of Governors of Lethbridge College. She was the UCP candidate in Lethbridge-West in 2019.
  • Tom Olsen was hired as CEO of the Canadian Energy Centre. He was the UCP candidate in Calgary-Buffalo in 2019.
  • Bettina Pierre-Gilles was appointed to board of Bow Valley College. Pierre-Gilles ran for the UCP nomination in Calgary-Currie ahead of the 2019 election.
  • Donna Kennedy-Glans appointed to board of governors of Banff Centre. Kennedy-Glans was the PC MLA for Calgary-Varsity from 2012 to 2015 and briefly ran for the party leadership in 2017. She was also appointed to the Fair Deal Panel.
  • Janice Harrington was appointed as Alberta’s Health Advocate and Mental Health Patient Advocate. Harrington was executive director of the PC Party and UCP from 2017 to 2019 and was previously involved in PC Party campaigns.
  • Shelley Beck was appointed to the board of governors of Medicine Hat College. Beck has worked as a constituency assistant to Cypress-Medicine Hat UCP MLA Drew Barnes.
  • Wayne Drysdale was appointed to the Municipal Government Board. Drysdale served as the PC and UCP MLA for Grande Prairie-Wapiti from 2008 to 2019. He was Minister of Transportation from 2014 to 2015.
  • Heather Forsyth was appointed to the Alberta Review Board. Forsyth served as the PC and Wildrose MLA for Calgary-Fish Creek from 1993 to 2015. She served as Solicitor General from 2001 to 2004 and Minister of Children’s Services from 2004 to 2006.
  • Lloyd Snelgrove was appointed to the Board of Governors of Lakeland College. Snelgrove served as the PC MLA for Vermilion-Lloydminster from 2001 to 2012. He served as Minister of Finance and Enterprise from January 2011 to October 2011.
  • Bill Smith was appointed as member and vice-chair of the Public Health Appeal Board. Smith is the former president of the PC Party and was a candidate for Mayor of Calgary in 2017.
  • Andy Crooks was appointed to Municipal Government Board. Crooks was chairman of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation during Jason Kenney‘s time as its spokesperson in the 1990s.
  • Richard Casson was appointed to the Board of Governors of the University of Lethbridge. Casson served as the Member of Parliament for Lethbridge from 1997 to 2011.
  • James Rajotte was appointed to the Board of Governors of the University of Alberta. Rajotte served as the MP for Edmonton-South West and Edmonton-Leduc from 2000 to 2015.
  • Diane Ablonczy was appointed as a member of the Council of the Alberta Order of Excellence. Ablonczy served as the MP for Calgary-North and Calgary-Nose Hill from 1993 to 2015.
  • Ted Menzies was appointed to the Board of Governors of Olds College. Menzies served as MP for Macleod from 2004 to 2015.
  • Janice MacKinnon was appointed to the Board of Governors of The University of Alberta. MacKinnon chaired the UCP government’s Panel on Alberta’s Finances in 2019.

Editor’s Note: Thank you to Brent Wittmeier for the inspiration for the title of this post.

Categories
Alberta Politics

Orphan Wells finally getting attention but Bill 12 draws concerns about landowner rights and political interference

The Alberta Liabilities Disclosure Project is raising concerns about changes made to the management of the Orphan Well Association in the recently passed Bill 12: The Liabilities Management Statutes Amendment Act.

Sonya Savage

While it is good news that orphan wells are finally getting the attention they deserve, critics are questioning why Bill 12 was rushed through the Legislative Assembly during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The bill was introduced by Energy Minister Sonya Savage on March 31 and received Royal Assent on April 2 after limited debate through an expedited legislative process.

Bill 12 included amendments to the Oil and Gas Conservation Act and the Pipeline Act, which Savage argued “provide clarity about the OWA’s mandate, better enabling it to, first, make agreements with producers to help bring sites through closure stages; two, ensure oil and gas resources are not prematurely abandoned; and three, exert more financial control to actually manage the orphan sites.”

During debate in the Legislature, Edmonton-Gold Bar NDP MLA Marlin Schmidt criticized the accelerated passage of a bill dealing with this decades old problem.

Marlin Schmidt NDP MLA Edmonton Gold Bar
Marlin Schmidt

“I certainly don’t want to be responsible for leaving a $300 billion bill for my children and grandchildren to have to deal with because we didn’t have the foresight and the fortitude to make the polluters pay when we had the opportunity to do so,” Schmidt said in the Assembly on April 1.

In a press release last week the ALDP expressed concerns that Bill 12 threatens landowner rights by broadening the list of activities companies can carry out on private property without compensation to or consent from the landowner and creates loopholes which effectively transfer landowner compensation to taxpayers, leaving unpaid property taxes being written off in bankruptcy.

The group also expressed concern about political interference in oil well clean-up, with Bill 12 giving the provincial cabinet the power to direct the Orphan Well Association’s work and funding.

David Swann Liberal MLA Calgary-Mountain View
David Swann

“Which wells get prioritized for cleanup should be determined by independent evaluations and public health requirements, not by partisan politics,” said former Calgary-Mountain View Liberal MLA David Swann, who is a member of the ALDP.

“Having Cabinet drive decisions on well cleanup means the OWA could become a slush fund for the government to reward their friends and punish vocal opponents. We can’t let that happen,” Swann said.

Oil well liability became a big issue in Alberta politics in January 2020 when rural municipal politicians raised giant red flags about the estimated $173 million in unpaid municipal taxes as a result of some oil and gas companies nearing insolvency and many more companies just believing paying taxes is voluntary.

Speaking an energy symposium organized by the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers last week, Premier Jason Kenney described oil well reclamation as “a collective financial liability,” which has raised some concern that the government is creating a dine-and-dash business model – especially with the price of Western Canadian Select hitting record lows.

On March 3, the Alberta government announced a $100-million loan which was expected to fund the decommissioning of 800 to 1,000 orphan wells.

There is currently estimated to be more than 3,700 orphan wells scattered across Alberta and an additional 94,000 inactive wells in the province.

New AER CEO

Laurie Pushor Alberta Energy Regulator
Laurie Pushor

Stepping right into the middle of the oil well liability issue is Laurie Pushor, who took over as the new Chief Executive Officer of the Alberta Energy Regulator on April 15. Pushor recently served as deputy minister of Energy and Resources in the Saskatchewan government and before that as a ministerial chief of staff, but political watchers in Alberta may remember him from his time in Alberta in the 1980s an 1990s.

Pushor served as executive assistant to Premier Ralph Klein and spent two years as a senior aide to Peter Elzinga, former minister of economic development and was executive assistant to transportation minister Marv Moore in the early 1980s.

He was also the Progressive Conservative candidate in Edmonton-Meadowlark in the 1993 and 1997 elections, where he earned 31 percent and 38 percent of the vote placing second to Liberal MLA Karen Leibovici. He served as president of the local PC Party association in-between those two elections.

 

Categories
Alberta Politics Daveberta Podcast

Episode 47: If you ain’t oil, you ain’t much. A deep dive into Alberta’s oil well liability crisis.

Oil well liability became a big issue in Alberta politics this month when rural municipal politicians raised giant red flags about the estimated $173 million in unpaid municipal taxes as a result of some oil and gas companies nearing insolvency and many more companies just believing paying taxes is voluntary.

Tina Faiz and Regan Boychuk joined Dave Cournoyer on this episode of the Daveberta Podcast to discuss the growing issue of oil well liability, and the political and policy repercussions created in its wake.

Tina Faiz is a communications consultant and political strategist based in Edmonton and Regan Boychuk is the lead researcher and oilfield liability expert with the Alberta Liabilities Disclosure Project.

The Daveberta Podcast is a member of the Alberta Podcast Network, powered by ATB. The Alberta Podcast Network includes more than 30 great made-in-Alberta podcasts.

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Alberta Politics Daveberta Podcast

Episode 41: The federal election and Jason Kenney’s Ontario whistle-stop tour

What is missing from the federal election debate, Premier Jason Kenney’s whistle-stop tour through Ontario, and the fall session of the Alberta Legislature are some of the hot topics Dave tackles with this week’s guest co-hosts – Natalie Pon and Justin Archer.

Natalie Pon is a chartered professional accountant and a conservative activist in Edmonton. Most recently she was on the interim board of the United Conservative Party.

Justin Archer is a partner at Berlin Communications in Edmonton and a professional communications strategist. Justin and Dave worked together in their first political jobs with the Alberta Liberal Party back in the mid-2000s.

Thanks to our producer, Adam Rozenhart, for helping us put the show together, and a huge thanks to the Alberta Podcast Network, powered by ATB, for supporting the show. The Alberta Podcast Network includes more than 30 great made-in-Alberta podcasts, including The Common Ground Podcast.

You can listen and subscribe to the Daveberta Podcast on Apple PodcastsGoogle PlaySpotifyStitcher, or wherever you find podcasts online. We always love to feedback from our listeners, so let us know what you think of this episode and leave a review where you download.

Send us your feedback, or ask us any questions you have for our next episode. You can get us on TwitterInstagram, the Daveberta Facebook page, or you can email us at podcast@daveberta.ca.

We will be back again in two weeks! Enjoy!

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