Eminently Unsuitable Nikiforuk on Gwyn Morgan by Andrew Nikiforuk, Canadian Business Magazine, May 22-June 4, 2006 issue
When parliamentarians dismissed former EnCana CEO Gwyn Morgan’s nomination to the new Public Appointments Commission as “unsuitable” on May 16, they mostly cited his comments about the violent proclivities of certain Jamaican immigrants. Canadian Council of Chief Executives president and chief executive Thomas d’Aquino quickly denounced the vote as “sad and deplorable,” adding that “Gwyn Morgan ranks among the highest in competence, integrity and commitment to his country.” But making a partisan Tory (and party fundraiser) head of a department designed to usher in “more open, honest and accountable government for Canadians” just wasn’t a good fit from Day 1.
In fact, the 60-year-old’s record on transparency and ethics merits closer examination. First comes the notorious Wiebo Ludwig crisis in 1998. After the angry landowner declared war against Morgan’s firm and others due to persistent toxic pollution and leaks, the executive repeatedly failed to end the dispute before it escalated into one of the most notorious cases of domestic terrorism on the continent. In a bid to stop a nasty bombing campaign, Morgan helped set up a police sting that involved another bombing of a well facility that terrified the local community even further. He later admitted he was “consciously less than straight up” on the company’s role in the affair.
Next came the Ecuador debacle. Morgan’s investments in heavy oil and a transnational pipeline in that country continue to make headlines. His controversial gamble eventually became the subject of a critically acclaimed documentary: Between Midnight and the Rooster’s Crow by filmmaker Nadja Drost. It depicted startling incidents of environmental contamination and human rights violations–in many cases, the pipeline ripped through farmers’ backyards.
Morgan’s dealings with the residents of northwestern Colorado have also made headlines. Duke Cox, the owner of Escalante Builders in Silt, Colo., and president of Grand Valley Citizens Alliance in Garfield County, alleges that the company’s drilling practices have repeatedly fouled the air, damaged groundwater and sickened local citizens. Morgan’s approach to drilling even earned EnCana the highest fine ever awarded an oil and gas company in that state in 2004 ($371,200) for contaminating an entire creek; that same year, EnCana wracked up more fines, by dollar value, than any other company in Colorado in the previous 15. “EnCana gives a lot of lip service but little action to doing business right,” argues Cox. “They seem to be unwilling to address complaints and problems.” Yet in a 2005 Globe and Mail interview, Morgan characterized his industry’s track record as “very good.” He said studies showed no lasting environmental harm was done to the creek.
Then there is Morgan’s record on climate change. His anti-Kyoto views are well-known. In a 2004 speech to petroleum engineers, Morgan warned of “sound-bite junk science precipitating ill-informed public opinion” and against making “decisions because of political expediency.”
What’s most interesting, though, is that parliamentarians never even asked a key question about Morgan’s nomination: Is it appropriate for the former head of the continent’s largest gas company to oversee appointments to the National Energy Board? “Unsuitable” is still the right adjective.
Slide from presentation “There’s a hole in their story” by Jessica Ernst at University of Lethbridge, November 4, 2011