Claudia Cattaneo | August 21, 2014 12:06 PM ET
Proponents of controversial energy projects seem to be putting increasing value on the bare-knuckle experience gained in politics to help manage potentially conflicting industry, community, aboriginal and environmental interests.
Stockwell Day, the former federal international trade minister and former Alberta treasurer, has joined the management team of Pacific Future Energy Corp. as a senior advisor, director, and chair of the company’s advisory committee. The Vancouver-based company backed by Mexico’s Grupo Salinas is proposing a $10-billion refinery on British Columbia’s North Coast.
He follows on the path of Jim Prentice, the former federal cabinet minister who was recruited earlier this year to win aboriginal support for Enbridge Inc.’s Northern Gateway pipeline through northern British Columbia. Mr. Prentice left the assignment mid-way to run for Alberta premier.
TransCanada Corp. has tapped Phil Fontaine, the former national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, as a consultant to win aboriginal support for its Energy East pipeline project.
And while not a private sector recruit, Gary Doer, Canada’s ambassador to the United States and the former premier of Manitoba, has emerged as a top spokesman for the Keystone XL oil sands pipeline, prioritized by Canada and proposed by TransCanada Corp., in the face of often below-the-belt opposition in the United States.
Mr. Day said he took the assignment because the refinery has the potential to be “an exciting legacy project for Canada.”
“The principals of the company advised me, when they contacted me, that they liked the fact that I had Alberta experience as minister of finance,” Mr. Day said in an interview Thursday.
“I am acutely aware of the unique challenges of the industry there. They like the experience I brought to the table as president of the Treasury board federally, which involves understanding the regulatory process, and the added blend of minister of international trade, which brought me in close contact with the needs that are relevant in Asia.”
The Pacific Energy project addresses challenges facing the transportation of Alberta’s oil sands oil to the B.C. coast and in the ocean, he said.
The refinery would be built in partnership with First Nations in the Prince Rupert area, be the world’s greenest by using advanced European refining technology, capture and store greenhouse gases.
It would take bitumen from Canada’s oil sands and process it into gasoline, diesel, kerosene and other products that would be less harmful to the environment if there is a spill, and create lots of high-tech refinery jobs in the province.
“It deals with what has been a constant irritation to me, the fact that our Canadian [oil] product, 99% of it goes straight to the U.S., which is becoming a diminishing market as they approach self-sufficiency,” Mr. Day said. “It’s time to open up these other markets.”
Peter J. Thompson/National Post, file
Peter J. Thompson/National Post, fileMr. Day said he took the assignment because the refinery has the potential to be “an exciting legacy project for Canada.”
The plan was unveiled in June by executive chairman Samer Salameh, who is also the head of telecommunications businesses and new business development for Grupo Salinas, a large conglomerate based in Mexico owned by billionaire Ricardo Salinas with more than 100,000 employees and operations in 11 countries.
“We are very excited to have Mr. Day join our team,” said Mr. Salameh said in a statement. “Our project office is now up and running at a robust pace. Our goal is to finalize the refinery site by the end of 2014. We expect to enter into the regulatory process in 2015.”
It’s one of a handful of projects proposed so far – including Northern Gateway and Kinder Morgan’s TransMountain pipeline expansion — to link growing production from the oil sands in Alberta to consumers in Asia.
British Columbians have shown scant enthusiasm for the plans, which they fear present too much environmental risk and too little economic reward.
Mr. Day said he agrees with B.C.’s view that “there should not be a carte blanche acceptance to an energy proposal until it meets certain conditions.”
That is why he believes the Pacific Future proposal is well placed.
“It addresses the issues that are properly raised by our indigenous people,” he said. “It addresses environmental concerns about raw bitumen hitting our coast line, and it addresses the economic issues of the value added opportunities being created here in B.C. for decades to come — It’s a trifecta of interests that wind up being beneficial to everybody concerned.”
A politician couldn’t have said it better — but Mr. Day, 64, said he has no plans to return to politics. He also doesn’t envision government support for the refinery “at this point.”
“We have to show, regardless of what a government may do, that the economic fundamentals are in place for a standalone project and we believe we can make that case,” he said.
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