The appointment of an academic critical of carbon-based energy as chair and chief executive officer of the British Columbia Utilities Commission is drawing diverging opinions from the political opposition.
The provincial government Thursday (Sept. 14) announced the immediate appointment of Mark Jaccard as chair and CEO of the commission regulating energy utilities and ICBC. As such, the commission impacts large aspects of B.C. daily life and plays a key guiding role in the provincial economy through its influence on energy prices and the infrastructure carrying energy.
Jaccard, who previously served in the same role between 1992 and 1997 while the New Democrats were in power, currently works as a professor at Simon Fraser University’s School of Resource and Environmental Management. Jaccard has published and consulted extensively on energy and climate change and has often appeared as a voice for tougher rules to accelerate the transition toward a zero-emission future. Jaccard has also been a vocal critic of the oil and gas industry.
Jaccard replaces David Morton with one year left on his appointment, which he held since 2015.
This timing in addition to Jaccard’s reputation has shaped the response to his appointment.
BC United’s Tom Shypitka, shadow minister for mines & low carbon innovation and MLA for Kootenay East, called Jaccard’s appointment politically motivated, undermining BCUC’s mandate as an independent agency.
“The firing of (David Morton) is a drastic move by this NDP government to politicize the panel ahead of the next election, similar to their reckless political interference of BC Ferries that only resulted in further chaos and inefficiency,” Shypitka said.
Shypitka said Jaccard has spent considerable time criticizing liquified natural gas projects and accused him of wishing to take every chance to kill jobs in that industry.
“Once again, (Premier) David Eby has resorted to behind-the-scenes politics for his own benefit instead of protecting B.C.’s economy and jobs,” Shypitka said.
Jaccard also worked with the BC Liberals — BC United’s predecessor — between 2008 and 2011 and has a long-record of praising the environmental record of former premier Gordon Campbell. He called Campbell’s introduction of the carbon-tax as “ground-breaking.”
Not surprisingly, New Democrats see Jaccard’s return to his previous job in a different light. Eby said Jaccard brings “deep experience and knowledge of sustainable energy policies” to his role.
“I am confident this will enrich his oversight of the important work being done to protect affordability for ratepayers and rise to the urgent challenge of climate change by growing B.C.’s clean economy,” he said in a statement.
Energy Minister Josie Osborne echoed Eby.
“With more than 30 years of experience working as a regulator, policy expert and academic — providing independent advice to governments of all stripes — I know that Mr. Jaccard’s leadership will benefit B.C.’s energy utilities and the people and communities that rely on them, as we work together to navigate the transition to a clean-energy future,” she said.
Jaccard’s appointment comes as the province is focusing on generating more clean energy and reviewing BCUC’s role with the stated goal of better supporting B.C.’s clean energy transition in alignment with provincial climate change goals and affordability goals.
BC Greens Leader Sonia Furstenau did not directly address Jaccard’s appointment.
“We have to tackle multiple issues at a time and we need leaders who understand that solving the climate crisis means focusing on both people’s well-being and natural systems,” she said.
“Energy can’t be treated in isolation. (It’s) part of a bigger picture. The BCUC’s limited focus fails to align with B.C.’s energy, climate, and Indigenous rights objectives. That’s why groups have been calling for the BCUC to expand its role to meet climate targets, not just economic ones.
“I echo that call.”