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Canada Former Alberta Energy Regulator CEO 'grossly mismanaged' public funds: Commissioner

23:00  04 october  2019
23:00  04 october  2019 Source:   edmontonjournal.com

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a man wearing a suit and tie: Jim Ellis, former Alberta Energy Regulator CEO.© Crystal Schick Jim Ellis, former Alberta Energy Regulator CEO.

The former CEO of the Alberta Energy Regulator “grossly mismanaged” public funds, public assets and public services when the regulator created a non-profit corporation to sell Alberta’s expertise to other countries, according to investigations by Alberta’s auditor general and public interest commissioner.

Alberta Auditor General Doug Wylie found at least $2.3 million of AER money was spent and never recovered from the non-profit, called the International Centre of Regulatory Excellence (ICORE), according to its investigation results, released Friday.

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In a third and fourth report, also released Friday, Alberta’s Ethics Commissioner Marguerite Trussler found former AER CEO Jim Ellis breached the Conflicts of Interest Act and was in breach of the regulator’s conflict of interest policies.

The AER spurred the creation of ICORE to help people from other energy-producing countries learn how Alberta regulates extractive industries like oil and gas. Providing advice to other jurisdictions is not part of the regulator’s mandate.

Ellis established ICORE Energy Services as a not-for-profit corporation in May 2017 after exploring different ways of offering training and consultation services, the public interest commissioner’s report said.

Marianne Ryan et al. sitting at a table in front of a curtain:  Marguerite Trussler (Alberta Ethics Commissioner), Marianne Ryan (Alberta Public Interest Commissioner) and Doug Wylie (Alberta Auditor General), (left to right), held a joint news conference in Edmonton on Friday October 4, 2019 to discuss the findings from their respective independent investigations into the activities related to the International Centre of Regulatory Excellence (ICORE) at the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER). (PHOTO BY LARRY WONG/POSTMEDIA) Marguerite Trussler (Alberta Ethics Commissioner), Marianne Ryan (Alberta Public Interest Commissioner) and Doug Wylie (Alberta Auditor General), (left to right), held a joint news conference in Edmonton on Friday October 4, 2019 to discuss the findings from their respective independent investigations into the activities related to the International Centre of Regulatory Excellence (ICORE) at the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER). (PHOTO BY LARRY WONG/POSTMEDIA)

But AER and ICORE didn’t operate separately, as they should have, Public Interest Commissioner Marianne Ryan and auditor’s investigations found.

Alberta Energy Regulator's former CEO grossly mismanaged public funds to create international centre: auditor

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“(Ellis’) actions demonstrated a reckless and wilful disregard for the proper management of public funds, public assets, and the delivery of a public service,” the public interest commissioner concluded.

As many as 50 AER employees were working on ICORE, from a few hours to full time, the auditor found. AER spent an estimated $5.4 million on ICORE activities, such as developing and delivering training courses in other countries and paying salaries. Only $3.1 million of that was recovered from ICORE, the auditor said.

AER is funded by levies from the energy industry. The regulator’s legal counsel told its board those levies should not be used for ICORE.

The public interest commissioner found email exchanges between Ellis and an unnamed AER employee that discussed disguising that his international travel expenses were for ICORE work.

An employee said in an August 2017 message to Ellis there are “multiple scrubbers behind the scenes on your expenses.”

The auditor pored over thousands of recovered emails and text messages to conclude public money was spent inappropriately on ICORE, protections to prevent conflicts of interest failed, AER board oversight was ineffective, and controls to monitor expenses were poor.

Last month, the UCP government launched a review of the AER’s mandate and governance structure. The review is supposed to be done by spring 2020. The government fired the whole AER board on Sept. 6, 2019.

AER CEO Jim Ellis resigned in November 2018.

The Public Interest Commissioner investigates reports of potential wrongdoing for whisteblowers/employees of the Alberta public sector.

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More to come.

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