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Regan Boychuk of Reclaim Alberta says the AER routinely ignores the law.
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For The Real News Network, I spoke this week with Regan Boychuk of Reclaim Alberta about three recent audits of the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER).
As Regan explains, these devastating audits have exposed the AER as a broken regulator which routinely ignores Alberta law, is rife with undisclosed conflicts of interest and has been captured by Big Oil.
This is a rush transcript and may contain errors. It will be updated.
Dimitri L.: This is Dimitri Lascaris, reporting for the Real News Network, from Montreal, Canada.
Canada has the third largest proven oil reserves in the world, surpassed in size only by those in Venezuela and Saudi Arabia. Most of Canada's oil reserves lie in the tar sands, which are concentrated in the province of Alberta. As a result, Alberta's oil industry is not only a major player in the global energy market, but it's activities affect profoundly humanity's ability to resolve the global climate emergency.
In Alberta, the oil and gas industry is supposed to be subject to vigorous government oversight and regulation, so that the industry develops in a safe, and environmentally responsible manner. The agency that is charged with the responsibility of regulating Alberta's oil and gas sector is the Alberta Energy Regulator, or AER. Weeks ago, three audits of the AER revealed that the agency is a deeply dysfunctional agency. Damning reports by Alberta's Auditor General, Public Interest Commissioner, and Ethics Commissioner centered on the creation and operation of the now-defunct International Center for Regulatory Excellence, or ICORE. According to the audits, the AER wrongfully used its resources to establish ICORE outside it's mandate, while it's former CEO, Jim Ellis, displayed "reckless and willful disregard" for the proper management of public funds.
Now, here to discuss these revelations with us is Regan Boychuck. Regan was appointed to the Oil Sands Expert Group, advising the Alberta government's 2015 royalty review. He is the Co-Founder of Reclaim Alberta, an organization raising awareness and advancing solutions of meeting the enormous challenge of unfunded oil field liabilities in Alberta. He joins us today from Calgary. Thanks for coming back on to the Real News, Regan.
Regan Boychuck: Thanks for having me.
Dimitri L.: So, Regan, let's start with the basic findings of these investigations. Please unpack for our viewers what the investigations revealed?
Regan Boychuck: Well, it really was quite an unusual situation, where three separate investigations took place. First, by the Public Interest Commissioner, then the Auditor General, and then later, the Ethics Commissioner. What they were looking into was mischief by the former President of the Alberta Energy Regulator, who resigned or stepped down last year. It was quite unusual to have so many separate investigations going on at the same time, it revealed a lot of detail.
The three reports boil down to a number of findings. Specifically regarding to the Ellis Affair, but I think they're quite emblematic of the regulator as a whole. What these investigations found is, first of all, that the regulator fails to follow legislation, that it fails to follow its own policy, that there's insufficient supervision by the board. The Auditor General also found that the AER operates under a culture of fear, where whistle blowers' protection run clear, and you have to be legislated. Underlings at the regulator are quite hesitant to speak up when the culture at the top, from Ellis on down, is reflected in the sort of shenanigans we saw with ICORE.
Dimitri L.: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Now, Jim Ellis, the former President and CEO of AER, and President of ICORE, former President, has of course resigned. It does not appear that any further action will be taken against him, even though the AER has lost an estimated $2.3 million as a result of this misconduct. Do you believe that further action should be taken against Mr. Ellis? If so, what should be done?
Regan Boychuck: Well, I mean, obviously. I don't think if I wasted millions of dollars of money that the government was responsible for that I would expect much more than Ellis has, when he's living out of province, which protects him in a lot of ways. He's been unreachable for months. I think there's something to be said for making a more serious example of the repercussions of what he did.
I think there's also much bigger issues left in the regulator, that he helped shape and set the culture for. I think that's where the vast majority of our efforts should focus.