Expects to draw on energy and regulatory background to assist clients
After serving as a provincial cabinet minister in Alberta, Sonya Savage considers joining a law firm a great opportunity.
“I think it's probably a very natural landing place for me to go back to the law after being away from it for a number of years. That’s where I started my career,” she said.
The new senior counsel at Borden Ladner Gervais will keep working in Alberta, where she previously served as minister of energy and of environment and protected areas and, for a few weeks, as the acting minister of justice and solicitor general. She held those last two positions after then-Premier Jason Kenney asked her predecessor to step down during an ethics investigation. Savage was in that interim position during the truckers’ blockade at Coutts and describes her tenure in those dual short-term roles as a period of non-stop crisis management during highly explosive and developing situations.
It is in her longer-term energy and environmental portfolios, however, where Savage feels she made a difference in Alberta, as that is when the province created its critical minerals strategy and introduced the emissions reduction and energy development plan as its response to climate change.
Before joining the government, Savage was in the private sector and held senior policy and regulatory roles at the Canadian Energy Pipeline Association and Enbridge, where she worked on government relations.
Savage believes her experiences in and out of government will translate well into assisting her clients in planning for the future.
“Companies that can see around the corner, see what’s coming next, and not just manage what’s before them today, those are the companies that will succeed and move forward. And the ones that don’t and can’t see what’s around the corner will suffer.”
But, she added, looking forward isn’t easy right now, as everything is in flux.
“We’re in a period of time right now where everything is about change. What was important and top of mind a year ago is not what’s driving the policy agenda today. I saw that pretty clearly in four years of government,” she says. “I can certainly offer a perspective that understands risk, understands how policies are made and what’s driving them, understands how quickly everything can change and how much risk there is.”
Now that she is out of public office, Savage can see how policy decisions she and her colleagues made are playing out.
“It’s extremely interesting to watch how all of these policies have been implemented and how that is translating into [the work of] various legal departments, whether it’s corporate work with mergers and acquisitions and financing for companies that are doing transactions in the energy-transition sector or whether it’s project development and regulatory [counsel] navigating those types of hurdles, or whether you’ve got clients that are just waiting for some certainty between federal and provincial policies, that’s going to be interesting. And it’s going to be quite challenging.”
One of the issues Savage is watching play out right now results from a decision in CAE Inc. v. His Majesty the King, 2023 44077 (SCC) that refused to allow CAE to appeal an earlier Federal Court of Canada judgement. CAE had received federal government assistance for a research project – funding that was supposed to be paid back at a low (below commercial) rate of interest, and the company felt that the Canada Revenue Agency treated the unsecured repayment obligations more harshly than it would a typical private-sector loan agreement by applying tax rates to the principal of the loan, not just the interest.
“The concern is that could apply to clients that were receiving government incentives like the federal clean technology investment tax credit for carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS) that would help them move forward with green energy and energy-transition projects. I was not expecting that at all.” As a cabinet minister, Savage implemented Alberta’s CCUS framework as the province wanted to encourage technology development.
Even if Savage encounters challenges assisting clients to navigate a rapidly changing world, she is excited by the prospect of doing so.
“I approach every challenge as an opportunity. I learned that really firmly within government because most every day in government, there are three or four difficult challenges that come across your desk, and you can either give up on them or say, ‘Let’s fix these things. Let’s find a way forward.’”