Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Canada’s National Observer
Not one, but two federal committees now want Suncor CEO Rich Kruger to answer for his statement that the company will focus on its oilsands operations to pad the pockets of shareholders.
On Sept. 21, MPs on the Standing Committee on Environment and Climate Change passed NDP MP Taylor Bachrach’s motion to invite Kruger to testify after hours of debate and hard-to-follow amendments.
The motion carried with seven votes in favour and four Conservative MPs against. Bachrach’s motion was almost identical to one adopted Monday by the Standing Committee on Natural Resources, also opposed by Conservative MPs.
Suncor did not respond to Canada’s National Observer’s request for comment by publication time, nor did the company respond to a similar request for comment made on Monday.
The environment committee also voted to invite Alberta’s Minister of Energy and Minerals Brian Jean and Minister of Affordability and Utilities Nathan Neudorf to speak about the rationale for Alberta’s decision to temporarily pause approvals of new renewable energy projects. The invitations extended to Kruger and the ministers are voluntary, but parliamentary committees do have the ability to issue a legal summons. The natural resources committee is currently using that power to try to get Paper Excellence owner Jackson Wijaya to testify about the ownership structure of the company.
Before Parliament’s summer recess, the natural resources committee moved to summon Wijaya after a voluntary invitation was declined. The committee began its study into the pulp and paper industry following an analysis from Greenpeace that showed Paper Excellence is actually part of the same corporate group as Asia Pulp & Paper (APP) and Sinar Mas Group — a massive conglomerate controlled and owned by the multibillionaire Sino-Indonesian Widjaja family.
“We have issued through the power of the committee a summons for Mr. Wijaya to appear before committee,” said committee chair John Aldag in an interview with Canada’s National Observer on Sept. 19.
“The issue is that our power is only applied to Canadian territory and, as a foreign citizen, we can’t compel him to come to Canada. But if and when he was to land on Canadian soil, then the summons becomes enforceable.”
Aldag said they’re “checking in from time to time” to see if Wijaya books a trip to pop in on his company’s Canadian operations because if or when he does, they could compel him to testify.
Bachrach’s recent motion in the environment committee originally invited the Alberta Energy Regulator to speak about the seven-months-long renewables moratorium. However, through a series of amendments — and debate about provincial versus federal jurisdiction — MPs decided the ministers would be better suited for the task. Neudorf is the minister responsible for the pause on renewable energy project approvals. His mandate letter instructs him to push back against any federal regulation requiring a net-zero power grid by 2035.
Multiple Conservative MPs, including the party’s environment critic Gerard Deltell, questioned whether the federal committee was mistakenly wading into matters of provincial jurisdiction with the invites. MP Branden Leslie, a new member of the environment committee, asked, “Is it normal to bring a provincial minister before the committee to harass them for a policy decision that they’ve made within their jurisdiction?”
Committee chair Francis Scarpaleggia replied it’s not “totally unusual” for a provincial minister to appear before committee.
“I believe that we are not disrespecting provincial jurisdiction to work with provinces and to understand their motivations,” said Liberal MP Leah Taylor Roy. “We are not overruling them.”
“There’s a clear indication being given from both Suncor and the provincial government that they are making decisions that do not help us address the climate crisis,” said Taylor Roy.
Two policies in particular have been driving the debate over jurisdiction: the forthcoming cap on oil and gas sector emissions and the clean electricity standard, which would require all of Canada to have a non-emitting electricity grid by 2035.
“When Alberta is saying that it’s impossible to meet that and that the targets are unrealistic, but on the flip side is putting a roadblock into the very type of electricity supply that’s needed to transition away, I think it’s very much within our mandate to be discussing that,” Liberal MP Patrick Weiler told Canada’s National Observer in a phone interview on Sept. 20.
Conservative MP Dan Mazier said doubling up on the invitation the natural resources committee extended to Kruger is, in his opinion, “not a particularly good use of the committee’s time.” The Manitoba MP suggested parking the motion until the natural resources committee concludes its study.
“This is just doing nothing more than really isolating and making the environmental conversation more divisive than ever,” said Mazier. Conservative MP Michael Kram criticized the motion for singling out only one province, saying, “There are nine other natural resource ministers across the country who all adjust their policies on emissions from time to time.”
The Supreme Court of Canada’s 2021 decision that ruled the federal carbon pricing regime was constitutional came up several times in conversation about whether calling ministers to testify impinges on provincial jurisdiction.
“When there’s very clear comments coming from one of the major oil-producing companies in Canada that’s making it very clear that they’re deprioritizing action on climate, I think it’s directly within the mandate of this committee,” Weiler told committee members during debate on Sept. 19. He argued it is important for the committee to look into the issue so policymakers “can be better informed and better able to do our due diligence” while developing the oil and gas emissions cap, expected by the end of 2023.
Kruger isn’t the only corporate leader MPs want to hear from. When the natural resource committee passed the motion to invite Kruger, an amendment was added so other oil and gas CEOs could be invited. This means there will be a one-hour panel specifically with the Suncor executive — if he accepts — and committee members from each party will submit a list of preferred witnesses from other oil and gas companies, three to four of which will be invited to participate in a second panel, said Aldag.