Charlottetown lawyer Scott MacKenzie says the word came “out of the blue’’ that he could get the nod to take the helm of the mighty and broad ranging Island Regulatory and Appeals Commission.
The 58-year-old senior partner of the law firm Stewart McKelvey thought long and hard about accepting the post.
His law practice is busy and rewarding, having seen him represent large corporations, major financial institutions, banks, government financial and development agencies, administrative tribunals, municipalities, airport and harbour authorities, and family-owned businesses.
He even had a hand in the legal work for the developers of the Confederation Bridge, tackling everything from reviewing security documents to make sure they complied with P.E.I. law, to providing information on the province’s Workers Compensation Act.
“That was a very interesting project,’’ he says. “It was a huge project.’’
Now he is ready for a new and substantial challenge, leaving behind a 32-year legal career to take on the job as chair and chief executive officer of IRAC, the powerful body that regulates auto insurance, electricity, land protection, waste management and water and sewer, as well as hearing appeals on environmental issues, planning taxes, unsightly premises. It administers residential and rental property issues, not to mention being responsible for public hearings on municipal boundary extensions.
MacKenzie anticipates a steep but quick learning curve.
He certainly is no stranger to IRAC. In his legal work, he has had considerable contact with the commission, notably in dealing with applications that fall under the Lands Protection Act.
He thrives on meticulously pouring through regulations to get the needed information to serve a client. He has been recognized as a leading lawyer by Lexpert and Best Lawyers in Canada in the areas of corporate/commercial law, banking and finance, real estate development and land use planning, and infrastructure project law.
Starting April 21, he becomes the big boss at IRAC, replacing Moe Rodgerson, who is completing the first ever 10-year term as chair and CEO of IRAC since the commission was established in 1991 following the amalgamation of the former Public Utilities Commission, Land Use Commission and the Office of the Director of Residential Rental Property (Rentalsman).
Rodgerson, 58, who started with IRAC as a commissione, then vice chair, says an even decade seems a sensible period for the same person to hold the commission’s top post of chair and CEO.
“Well I think in terms of maintaining some degree of continuity and direction and decisions, I think 10 years is appropriate,’’ says Rodgerson. “I also think it is a good idea for there to be change over.’’
He says the chair/CEO is ultimately responsible for the operation of the commission, supervising and directing a staff of about 20 people.
“You’re responsible as well for the commissioners in terms of assigning their areas of responsibility,’’ he adds. “Then you obviously take an active role in at least some aspects of the operation of the commission.’’
One constant challenge for Rodgerson over the past 10 years has been addressing public outrage over gas prices.
When fuel prices escalated over an extended period of time following Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Rodgerson was regularly confronted by angry consumers with some becoming “extremely abusive’’.
Late last year, Rodgerson said IRAC would give more detailed explanations on gas price decisions after a P.E.I. cabinet minister called on the commission to provide more information to help the public better understand the reasons behind regulated gas price decisions.
“I’m not sure that we’ve been fully successful at it but I am really proud that we have tried to keep the commission open, to receive input from the public,’’ he says.
“We’ve never refused the opportunity to speak to any group or organization or for that matter individuals that want to get a better understanding of what we do and how we do it.’’
MacKenzie endorses that philosophy and approach and plans to follow suit.
“I think the more open and transparent you are, the better it is, whether it’s gas prices or decisions on anything that IRAC makes a decision on,’’ he says. “I don’t see any benefit at all to not being anything other than completely open and transparent.’’
MacKenzie adds that he is accustomed to being in adversarial situations so he is not the least bit worried about some people disagreeing with one IRAC decision or another.
“I’m not there to be loved,’’ he says. “I just want to do the right thing and do the job right.’’
MacKenzie has long been familiar with taking matters into his own hands.
Growing up in Charlottetown, he was only 11 when his mother Betty died and he was 20 when his father, John W. MacKenzie, the first independent real estate broker in P.E.I., died.
“When you lose your parents at an early age, you know that you’ve got one person to rely on and that’s yourself,’’ he says. “So you kind of work hard at things.’’
MacKenzie worked as an ambulance driver in the summer while pursuing his business degree at UPEI and keeping tabs on his younger sister, Lynda MacKenzie-Dean.
He would go on to have a short stint teaching a law course at UPEI in 1985-86, but realized the faster pace of practicing law and the interaction with clients was more his speed.
Putting in 55 to 60 hours a week at the law practice has been the norm for MacKenzie. He anticipates less weekend work when he shifts over to his new job heading up IRAC in late April.
“But from what I understand, if there are hearings on the go, it’s no different than in the legal practice: it’s a long day and a long evening,’’ he says. “If there’s a lot on the plate than you put the hours in and you get the job done.’’
MacKenzie, who regularly hits the gym to stay in shape, enjoys travelling and relaxing at a summer cottage in Cavendish with his wife, Joy, who is a manager at the Department of Veterans Affairs.
The couple has two children: Alexandra, 27, works with Innovation P.E.I. and Willem, 22, is a UPEI business student.
As for MacKenzie’s new chapter, he has mixed feelings about his career shift.
“I have been here a long time,’’ he says of the many years at Stewart McKelvey.
“So it will be an interesting day that I walk out the door and leave my key at the front desk...I’m kind of going in (to IRAC) with a clean slate and see how it works and hope I can do a good job.’’