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From taking on “radical environmentalists” to selling Canadian oil to the Chinese, rewriting regulations to questioning the need for an Alberta-led national energy strategy, Joe Oliver is shaking up the once-sleepy federal natural resources portfolio like Canada’s future depends on it.
And he’ll tell anyone who’ll listen that it does, because either Canada finds a way to develop and sell its immense resources now, or opportunity will pass to others. “We are engaged in a battle for the country’s future,” the 72-year-old grandfather said in an interview during a stop in Calgary this week.
Direct, relentless, unapologetic, Mr. Oliver is the antithesis of political correctness. Like him or hate him, he’s getting more done than many of his predecessors — through initiatives involving First Nations, tanker safety, red-tape reduction.
Even heart surgery in January didn’t slow him down. Next week he’s off to Washington and New York to defend the proposed Keystone XL pipeline to policy makers and the media, in case there are any more questions to be answered or any doubt about Canada as a responsible resource developer.
Has there been blowback? Plenty, he concedes, particularly from the green camp.
“I have been accused of every crime against humanity, pretty well,” he says. “I don’t read the blogs, but some of these people are clearly unhinged.”
But as a former investment banker, a profession in which rejection is “your second name,” Mr. Oliver says he has a thick skin.
“I should say that it’s bad strategy to be defensive, diffident and apologetic when you don’t have to be or you shouldn’t be,” he said. “And if you are, they won’t stop,” he said. By not backing down, “at least you get your message out.”
Mr. Oliver came to politics late in life. A lawyer and Harvard MBA graduate, the Montreal native was elected for the first time in 2011, just before turning 70, to represent the mid-town Toronto riding of Eglington/Lawrence. He’d just concluded a long career in investment banking at Merrill Lynch, and also served as the executive director of the Ontario Securities Commission and CEO of the Investment Dealers Association.
Despite his lack of political experience, he was invited to join the cabinet as natural resources minister, a portfolio he embraced because “it gives me a chance to do something meaningful.”
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