Ex-regulator's new job raises public interest concerns

The head of British Columbia's oil and gas regulator resigned last month to work for one of the energy companies his former employer is responsible for regulating. Alex Ferguson, now a senior adviser with Apache Canada Ltd., is the third top official in the past 17 months to leave a provincial public body for a job in the natural-resources industry.

The government has guidelines that can temporarily restrict or prohibit similar movements - although loopholes exist and waivers can be given. For example, senior bureaucrats must wait 12 months before going to work for a company they've had dealings with during the year prior to their departure from government - but only if that involvement was "substantial."

However, those guidelines don't apply to the oil and gas commission - which enforces rules on everything from drilling to pipeline construction.

Paul Woolley, communications director for the Ministry of Energy and Mines, stated there aren't any post-employment restrictions at the commission because its staff are "technical experts who have the right to choose where they wish to work in their chosen field of study."

Mr. Woolley said the commission didn't find out Mr. Ferguson was working for Apache in Calgary until Sept. 6. Mr. Ferguson said his new job doesn't involve lobbying the province and is focused on new international ventures.

He said he advised the deputy minister of energy and mines, Steve Carr, that lobbying wasn't "my thing. It never was. I'm not going to embarrass you or government, I'm not going to embarrass myself or my new employer."

Still, Mr. Ferguson said his Apache colleagues might ask him questions about B.C.'s oil and gas regulations - parts of which he helped develop.

The former oil and gas commissioner explained he left the regulator because he needed a change and wanted to go where there was an opportunity for salary advancement.

"I'm not greedy," said Mr. Ferguson, whose salary totalled $167,058.58 in the last fiscal year. "But I make less money than I made when I was the chief forester at Canfor."

Mr. Ferguson said he had many hints of job offers from natural-resource companies since taking over the commission four years ago - including from Apache. This spring, he let that firm and others know he might be interested in leaving the regulator.

The former commissioner said he didn't tell the regulator's board he was looking to leave. Although he said that he had advised them, "I'm not going to be here forever."

Apache made its offer on Aug. 9, with Mr. Ferguson resigning from the regulator a day later. He said there were no job negotiations or interviews leading up to that offer because he felt such discussions would be inappropriate given his regulatory role.

Mr. Ferguson said he didn't make any decisions concerning Apache or its competitors in that period because that work is delegated to other officials.

Asked what kinds of dealings he had with Apache officials during the year before he left the regulator, Mr. Ferguson said they were no different from those he had with other companies or stakeholders. "Periodically, when I wander around Calgary, I'll interact with different companies just to see how things are going, any issues."

Mr. Ferguson's departure followed that of top oil and gas bureaucrat Gordon Goodman, who joined EOG Resources Inc. last year after the government found his involvement with the oil and gas firm as a civil servant hadn't been "substantial."

In addition, the government's top mining bureaucrat, Karina Brino, left her position in July to become head of a mining lobby group - although she is barred from lobbying the province for a year.

New Democratic critic John Horgan said those movements can cause the public to question whether "our natural resources are being stewarded in the public interest."

"We need to amend our public-service rules to ensure public servants have every right to move to the private sector but do not diminish confidence in the work."

Leave a comment

Copyright © 2004 - Public Eye Mediaworks. Reproductions of any portion of this Website are permitted only with the expressed permission of Public Eye Mediaworks.
Canadian Web Hosting graciously provided by dotcanuck Web Services. Layout and graphics courtesy of Art Department Design.