Jim Prentice has been gathering help for his big pipeline push since well before he was Premier of Alberta.
He has volunteered to take on much of the heavy lifting himself to win support for controversial export pipelines such as the Keystone XL and Northern
Gateway. In addition to holding the province’s highest office, earlier this week Prentice also appointed himself Minister of International and
Intergovernmental Affairs as well as Minister of Aboriginal Affairs in an effort to consolidate the pipeline file into his hands.
Prentice has also recruited some high-profile supporters to drive his pro-pipeline agenda abroad. Rob Merrifield resigned earlier this week as a
Conservative Member of Parliament (for the Alberta riding of Yellowhead) in order to take a new job as Alberta’s official representative to the United
States based in Washington, DC. Veteran diplomat Ron Hoffman has agreed to sing the provincial praises as Alberta’s representative to the Asian Pacific
Basin based in Hong Kong and another former MP, Jay Hill, will attempt to pacify Alberta’s closest neighbours as Alberta’s representative to the New West
Merrifield’s most recent job as an MP was Congressional liaison for the Government of Canada, though given the recent focus from Ottawa on one Canada-U.S.
issue in particular, a more accurate title might be “chief Keystone XL lobbyist”. His new job could easily function with the same title.
Back in Edmonton, however, the man who will have the Premier’s ear when it comes to access for Alberta’s rapidly expanding supply of oil sands-derived
crude oil has a far lower profile. In fact, it is virtually nonexistent.
Amid a flurry of bureaucratic appointments announced the day Prentice was officially sworn in as Alberta’s 16th leader, the name “Bartek Kienc” was
mentioned in a single press release issued late Monday, noting six new staff members that would be joining the Premier’s office. His title was listed as
“Special Advisor to the Premier, Market Access.”
Little is known about Kienc or the position he now fills; a position which did not exist in previous administrations. According to his LinkedIn profile, Kienc has spent the past seven months as executive director of energy
infrastructure for CIBC World Markets. On the surface that would seem a logical precursor to his new advisory role, except the bank job was based out of
the Office of the Vice Chairman, which was Jim Prentice until this week.
Alison Redford resigned as Alberta’s 15th Premier in mid-March and Prentice was immediately heralded as her most likely successor. Even though he did not
officially launch his leadership bid for the Alberta PC Party until mid-May, Kienc joined Prentice at CIBC within weeks of Redford’s departure (assuming
his LinkedIn profile is accurate). For more than two years prior, Kienc worked for Alberta’s Energy Ministry as executive director of international energy
policy and has served in various energy-related roles in the provincial government since 2002.
Bartek Kienc would therefore appear to have been among the earliest – possibly even the first – person to be recruited by Prentice as he built his team and
platform. Yet, for some reason, he is being kept in the shadows. No mention was made of Kienc in any of the Premier’s recent public appearances, he was not
visibly present at any major press conferences and when BNN requested an interview to discuss broadly the details of his role, a spokesperson for the
Premier’s office declined on his behalf.
Gaining access to markets beyond the United States is arguably the most important, and the most difficult, economic challenge facing Alberta today.
Prentice was correct when he told the Globe Mail in his first interview as Premier on Wednesday that without new pipelines coming online by the end
of this decade, steep discounts for Alberta’s crude will return and the fallout will have a “profound impact” on not just the Alberta economy, but the
national economy via billions of dollars in potential royalty revenue governments will never receive.
If Prentice is successful in his pipeline push, Kienc will deserve at least some of the credit; even if the vast majority of Albertans have never heard of
him. And if Prentice fails, people will undoubtedly wonder how much his mysterious “special advisor for market access” is to blame.
Jameson Berkow is BNN’s western bureau chief based out of Calgary. Every weekday morning he researches the top stories affecting commodities and the oil patch, and sends his analysis to the BNN newsroom in Toronto. You can follow him on twitter @crudereporter