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Airdrie-Cochrane MLA Peter Guthrie named Minister of Energy

Airdrie-Cochrane MLA Peter Guthrie has been named the new Minister of Energy in Premier Danielle Smith’s cabinet, which was announced in a news release Oct. 21.
Cochrane resident Peter Guthrie is seeking the United Conservative Party’s nomination for Airdrie-Cochrane prior to the 2019 provincial election.
Airdrie-Cochrane MLA Peter Guthrie was named energy minister on Oct. 20. File photo/Cochrane Eagle

Airdrie-Cochrane MLA Peter Guthrie has been named the new Minister of Energy in Premier Danielle Smith’s cabinet, which was announced in a news release Oct. 21.

Guthrie was also named as a member of Treasury Board, the body responsible for budget planning, financial management and economic analysis, as well as the administration of tax and revenue programs.

The first-time cabinet minister spoke to The Eagle while on his way up to Edmonton last Friday. The swearing-in ceremony was Oct. 24.

Guthrie said he expects to receive his mandate letter from Smith within a few weeks, but he already knows how busy he will be and what the early priorities are in his new assignment.

“Swearing in, and then it’ll be trial by fire hose thereafter,” he said with a chuckle.

“I’m looking forward to it – there’s only seven months until the next election.”

With the lead-up to the election next spring, that means the new minister will only have a little over five months on the job before the writ is expected to be dropped.

“So we’ll have to really focus down,” he said.

Guthrie had a chemical engineering background before he entered politics in 2019, and has been a landowner who has had to deal with government in the area of energy agreements and leases.

The newly appointed cabinet minister said one of his first priorities will be to follow up on a position the premier has already endorsed. Known as the R-Star Program, it’s a concept originally promoted by an energy research organization called Sustaining Alberta’s Energy Network (SAEN).

Their website describes them as a non-profit group, “focused on developing Industry inter-connection, government and Industry liaison, research and improved public policy with a strong grass roots connection.”

“R-Star is a pilot project that incentivizes the clean-up and reclamation of wells, and in doing so, it creates a royalty credit for future drilling,” Guthrie explained, noting his other prior experience as a rancher might give him some instant credibility with other landowners.

Another consideration – a big one – will be how to promote Alberta as investor-friendly to the energy industry.

Smith’s sovereignty act proposal, which would hypothetically allow Alberta to refuse federal laws and court dealings, has been criticized by opponents and some commentators as a threat to Alberta’s investor-friendly reputation.

Smith has walked back her stand on the yet-to-be-drafted bill since being named premier, saying the Alberta government would still have to abide by Supreme Court rulings.

Guthrie said the idea of the legislation is to define boundaries between the province and Ottawa, which would reduce uncertainty.

“We don’t have any big projects, and that’s in large part because we have a federal government that’s not supportive of the industry,” he said.

The first-term MLA said the lack of investment here came long before the sovereignty act, and the act aims to address the current situation.

“I see it as a positive – we are showing our jurisdictional strength, and I think investors will like that,” Guthrie said.

He added he’ll be working with the investment community to make them more comfortable in Alberta.

One of Guthrie’s opponents in Airdrie-Cochrane in next May’s election will be NDP candidate Shaun Fluker, an energy and environment specialist in the law faculty at University of Calgary.

Fluker said he will bring his experience in those fields to bear in watching the new energy minister closely.

“It’s an important post, obviously, a senior cabinet post, in a portfolio with great significance attached to it in this province,” Fluker said.

The adage that came to Fluker’s mind after Friday's cabinet reveal is well-known to fans of Marvel superhero Spiderman.

“With great power comes great responsibility,” he remarked.

But the conciliatory tone dropped away quickly. He sees the sovereignty act as a threat to investor confidence.

“I would say the UCP government has been dreadful at positioning Alberta to continue to be an energy leader,” Fluker said.

He offered some advice to the new minister: abolish the the Canadian Energy Centre (CEC), a body of the UCP commonly called the ‘Energy War Room.’ Fluker called the war room an attack vehicle for the government to counter opponents’ claims involving energy policy, and a waste of taxpayers’ money.

“It’s just making Alberta look foolish on the international stage, so I would suggest Peter focus on what really matters,” he said.

The CEC is a provincial corporation mandated to promote Alberta's energy industry and rebut domestic and foreign-funded campaigns against Canada's oil and gas industry. Its creation was a campaign promise by former premier Jason Kenney during the 2019 election.

Fluker said it’s important for Alberta to promote the energy industry in a global, carbon-conscious way that includes renewable energy.

“And frankly, we just haven’t seen that from this government to date.”

Howard May

About the Author: Howard May

Howard was a journalist with the Calgary Herald and with the Abbotsford Times in BC, where he won a BC/Yukon Community Newspaper Association award for best outdoor writing.
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