University of Calgary

Bruce Carson

Carson at the controls

New executive director of the Canada School of Energy
and the Environment embraces the challenge

By James Stevenson

Three months ago, Bruce Carson announced he was stepping down as senior advisor to the prime minister, moving to Alberta and taking on the job as the first executive director of the Canada School of Energy and the Environment. A collaboration between Alberta’s three main universities, the CSEE involves more than 260 researchers and nearly 7,000 students. The school will examine a wide variety of issues facing energy, the environment and the economy, ranging from improved production and management of Canada’s vast traditional fuel resources to the continuing development of new energy sources.

You’ve been in politics for the better part of two decades. Why did you decide to move into academia now?

It’s just one of those opportunities that doesn’t come along very often. I’ve spent the last two-and-a-half years after we formed the government working on policy in both the environment and energy. It’s a great chance to work in a field that’s absolutely crucial to Canada, if not the broader global community. And I’ll get to spend some time close to the mountains and teach in the School of Policy Studies as well. It just seemed like such a great thing to be able to do and hopefully, at some point, the school can make a difference in how Canada attains its goal of becoming a clean energy super-power.

Will it be hard for you to leave politics to lead the Canada School of Energy and Environment, or are there similarities between the two jobs?

The day-to-day, hour-to-hour pressure won’t be the same. On the other hand, starting the school off from scratch is probably as much of a challenge or more so than what we faced in 2006 when we formed the government. Getting the school to the point where it becomes a centre of excellence in Canada and North America for energy and the environment is a tremendous challenge, so there’ll be a lot of similarities.

What will be the primary goal for the CSEE when you step into the job as its first executive director?

The primary goal is to become the go-to place in Canada and North America for research in both the development of clean energy and the protection of the environment. If you want to know how to do it, you log on to the Canada school website because that’s where that knowledge will be stored.

What specifically do you have in mind?

I think the first challenge is to take an inventory of what’s being done now, both at Alberta’s three universities and across Canada in research in environment and the development of clean energy. There doesn’t seem to me to be any repository or catalogue of the work that’s being done. The second thing is to meet with energy producers to see where they believe research could be done to help them produce cleaner energy. What I’ve found from my time in Ottawa is that there are a lot of silos out there where people simply don’t talk to each other. I think one of the things the school can do is bring groups together to share information. The third part is to also work with provincial and federal governments to bring along their policies in the production of cleaner energy and producing a cleaner environment.

Do you think it’s important that such advances in clean, green energy come from Alberta?

Yes, I think it’s really critical. I think we have an opportunity in Alberta to really show the way. One of the things that really upsets me is the slag on the oilsands that it’s the production of dirty oil. I know the companies that are involved have done an awful lot to protect the environment. There’s a lot more to be done, but it’s important to note that much has already been done. And I think that being an energy producing province, it’s incumbent upon the universities—the scientists and researchers—to take a leading role to help industry produce the cleanest possible energy.

What will be your biggest challenge in your new job?

I think it’s to get everybody talking to each other. To break down the silos that exist between the universities, industry and government. I know the universities ask the energy producers and government for money to do research in various areas, but it always seems to be done with very little recognition over what the guy sitting in the next-door office is doing. We need to bring everyone together so we’re all pulling in the same direction.