Leadership 2022: CEO Michelle Carr wants to pump diverse thinking into the BC Oil & Gas Commission

The BCOG&C regulates oil and gas in the province, overseeing the full lifecycle of energy resource activities.

Michelle Carr BCOG&C

Credit: BC Oil & Gas Commission

The BCOG&C regulates oil and gas in the province, overseeing the full lifecycle of energy resource activities

This year, we focus on those who have taken on new roles at the top of an organization recently, and quiz them about the changing landscape of leadership.

Given the remarkable career Michelle Carr has built doing exactly what she went to school for, it’s not surprising that the CEO of the BC Oil & Gas Commission (BCOGC) takes pride in proclaiming herself a “co-op success story.”

The UVic grad remembers taking a Geography 101 course in her third year (around 1990, when she started picking up on the idea of environmental sustainability in public discourse) that prompted her to leave English and classical studies behind forever. “I absolutely loved it and didn’t take any courses from any other faculty until I graduated,” says Carr. She now holds both a bachelor’s and a master’s in geography, having done six co-op placements in the natural resource sectors of federal and provincial governments.

She put in the elbow grease at Safeway to get through university, but her interest in the environment led her to commit 26 years to public service, addressing various natural resource issues in B.C. She got an advanced leadership certificate from Sauder in 2016, just before serving as the assistant deputy minister and general manager of the Liquor and Cannabis Regulation Branch, overseeing public safety and interest for more than 10,000 liquor establishments and manufacturers as well as the development of non- medical cannabis retail in B.C.

Then, in 2021, she came over to the role of the BCOGC’s new CEO from the Ministry of Energy, Mines and Low Carbon Innovation, where she was assistant deputy minister of the LNG Canada Implementation Secretariat. She was appointed to lead the provincial implementation of LNG Canada and Coastal GasLink projects shortly after the joint venture participants made their final investment decision.

“With it being the largest sector investment in Canadian history, that project intersected with the mandates of every ministry and government,” she notes. “I was excited to take on that role because I had a previous appointment as the assistant deputy minister and executive lead with B.C.’s Environmental Assessment Office, which conducted the environmental assessments of major projects worth approximately $36 billion in potential capital investment when I was there.”

If you ask Carr, she’ll say that being onboarded as a CEO is a lot like being onboarded for any other type of role: “You’re getting your keycard, you’re figuring out where the washroom is, you’re getting turned around… but, as the CEO, you do need to get up to speed rapidly so you can effectively steer the organization.”

After a national recruitment process, Carr took over the BCOGC from Paul Jeakins, who had directed the organization for 11 years. Normally, she would have a 30-, 60- and 90-day plan, along with a series of in-person meetings on her first day to get a sense of the culture, but the pandemic made it difficult for business to go on as usual.

“There weren’t a lot of people in the office,” she recalls. “When you’re meeting Indigenous leaders, community leaders and industry representatives through a screen, the ability to connect people to their roles and have that insight that comes from casual conversation was challenging.”

But, over the last six months, Carr has taken it upon herself to visit the Commission’s outposts, from its operational hub in Fort St. John to its offices in Victoria, Kelowna, Fort Nelson, Dawson Creek, Prince George and Terrace.

The 282-person Crown corporation regulates oil and gas in the province, overseeing the full lifecycle of energy resource activities. It monitors 50,000 kilometres of pipeline, approximately 1,000 facilities (including processing plants, compressor stations and LNG plants) and nearly 10,000 active oil and gas wells. From permits to site planning and restoration, the BCOGC is in charge of ensuring that operations are undertaken with public safety, reconciliation, the environment and economic growth in mind.

Still, the sector is under refinement. In light of shifting views around fossil fuels, energy transition, ESG and land use planning, Carr thinks it’s necessary to discuss the organization’s priorities and position on a regular basis. Together with her leadership team, the CEO built on the Commission’s vision for 2030 by creating something her team calls the S-POP—a strategic plan on a page.

“It’s always great when you’ve got people making an affectionate name for your strategic plan,” says Carr.

The new mission, vision and areas of focus include advancing reconciliation and partnerships with Indigenous people, encouraging resource innovation and facilitating energy transition. Creating a “progressive workforce” is imperative to that, according to Carr, who has a reputation for being transparent and collaborative, and who is particularly excited about inviting diverse ideas into the BCOGC.

“We want to be a workplace of choice,” she insists. “We are no different from other workplaces, focusing on hiring and retention of our staff… how do we harness that lived experience, the knowledge that comes from having employees across the province, living in community, to collaboratively advance the work of the Commission?”

Q&A with Michelle Carr

How do you handle criticism?

Feedback is a gift to support continuous improvement.

Are you a risk-taker or risk-averse?

I’m a thoughtful risk-taker at work but not on the ski slopes!

What is the most important skill for a leader to have?

To listen and learn from people in your organization and to keep people informed by communicating transparently and frequently.