Deputy minister Dave Nikolejsin resigns

Senior bureaucrat resigns, cautions government on natural resource development

Deputy minister of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources has resigned. | BCOGC

Dave Nikolejsin, B.C.'s deputy minister of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources, has quit, and in a letter sent to colleagues appears to caution the NDP government against being too restrictive when it comes to its policies on natural resources.

Business in Vancouver has learned that Nikolejsin, a long-time senior bureaucrat under both the Liberal and NDP government, resigned on Friday.

His resignation comes on the heels of the dismissal in May of another senior bureaucrat – Mark Zahcarias -- as deputy minister of Environment and Climate Change, as reported by the Tyee.

Nikolejsin has not yet responded to an interview request.

In a letter obtained by Business in Vancouver, Nikolejsin seems to hint at his dissatisfaction with NDP government policies and attitudes towards B.C.'s natural resource industries, although Bill Bennett, former Liberal Energy and Mines minister and a personal friend, says that's not the way he reads it.

“B.C. is well endowed with natural resources that the world needs,” Nikolejsin writes in a letter to colleagues.

“If those resources don’t come from a place like B.C. that has extremely strong environmental standards, they will come from somewhere else.”

He goes onto praise the NDP government’s CleanBC plan, but urges his colleagues to strike a balance between environmental protection and resource development.

“As the world becomes increasingly aware of climate change and consumers care about the raw materials that go into their devices, the bona fides that companies get from operating in B.C. will pay off. 

"I firmly believe that companies’ ability to raise capital to build projects, and their ability to sell their commodities will increasingly be linked to their Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) credentials.

“The trick to all of the above is that we know the system is not infinitely elastic. The difficult job for all of you at EMPR is to pace these impacts, so government achieves its environmental objectives, companies recognize investments in B.C. as being worth the costs of entry, and people continue to benefit from good jobs and government revenues.”

Bill Bennett told Business in Vancouver that he spoke at length with Nikolejsin Tuesday, and said that, tempting though it may be to read Nikolejsin's letter as a criticism of the NDP government's policies on resource industries, that's not the impression he was left with.

"He gave me absolutely no hint of dissatisfaction with the government's policies," said Bennett, a former Liberal MLA and energy and mines minister. "He spent some considerable amount of time with me praising the efforts of the premier on the natural resource front.

"He told me that 31 consecutive years of working in the public sector has just worn him out. He wants to try the private sector before he's at retirement age."

Nikolejsin has been with the B.C. government since 1998, and served as the head of the BC Environmental Assessment Office under the Liberal government.

In his parting letter, Nikolejsin cites the $40 billion LNG Canada project as one of the government's crowning achievements.

"That project embodies the triple word score of being net good for the environment, good for the economy, and embraced (largely) by First Nations," he writes.

Ellis Ross, the Liberals' shadow critic for natural gas, said news of Nikolejsin's resignation came as a shock and is a loss for the nascent LNG sector in B.C.

"Here’s a person who knows everything about the LNG file in B.C. and we’re not even half way in achieving our full LNG potential," Ross told BIV. "I’m grateful for the work he did, i just thought he’d be around a lot longer."

(This story has been updated from the original version.)