There was a time when a Canadian ambassador to Washington would have resigned his post rather than allow a provincial politician to take private meetings with senior U.S. officials. Since Alberta sent its former energy minister, Murray Smith, to Washington in 2005, he’s met with Vice-President Dick Cheney, the President’s father, senior lawmakers, and got his own invite to Bush’s State of the Union address. But Michael Wilson doesn’t mind. “There is no question that the profile of Alberta and energy has
been raised in Washington since Murray has been here, and since the Alberta office was opened,” Wilson told Maclean ’s. “It’s a good joint effort we have between the province of Alberta and the government of Canada.”
Of course, things might have been different if Ottawa had disagreed with Alberta over an energy issue like Kyoto. “Is that a problem? Potentially,” says Wilson, but he doesn’t sweat it. Alberta burst onto the Washington scene last summer when the Smithsonian devoted a large chunk of a festival on National Mall to all things Albertan. Seminars, soirees and media coverage followed. But PR was not Smith’s only task. He was advocating for pipeline projects that could bring a million barrels a day of Alberta oil to U.S. markets, and for building new refineries. He worked with the State Department on an expedited permitting process for pipelines, and appeared before Congress. He brought top officials to Fort McMurray to see for themselves.
Now, as he heads home to join an energy advisory board for TD Securities Inc., Smith says his proudest diplomatic moment remains the day in 2003 when, as energy minister, he persuaded the U.S. government to formally recognize that Alberta’s 175 billion barrels of unconventional oil reserves were for real, and not hypothetical. Alberta oil stocks and many RRSPs swelled. On that alone, he chuckles, “I can die a happy man.” M
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