Willie Grieve 1953-2018

Willie Grieve 1953-2018

On the morning of November 21st, energy lawyers and economists across Canada received some sad news – Willie Grieve, the longtime Chair of the Alberta Utilities Commission (AUC) had passed away the previous evening.

Willie was a force in the community. A big man with long white hair, he had in a short time become the gold standard of regulatory excellence. He was a first-class adjudicator. He sat on all the big cases. His decisions were the model of clarity and upheld by the highest courts in the land.

He was also a brilliant teacher. Every spring he would truck down to Queens and deliver his annual lecture on incentive regulation. The Queens CAMPUT Energy Regulation Course has a diverse collection of students that include young people just joining the profession and older people coming back as regulators. Each year they all sat spellbound as Willie gave them an unruly blend of energy Law, energy economics and practice tips from 20 years of litigating regulatory cases across Canada.

The Editors of the Energy Regulation Quarterly (ERQ) wanted to publish a memorial to Willie. We turned to his two closest friends, Bob Heggie and Mark Rodger, whose reflections follow.


“I believe there is no higher calling than public service” – Willie Grieve

Willie Grieve’s passing was a devastating loss not only to the AUC, where Willie served as Chairman from 2008 to 2018, but to all of us who work in the field of regulation.

The editors of this journal, which Willie enthusiastically contributed to and read, asked Mark Rodger and I to offer a remembrance tribute to Willie. We are, of course, honoured to do so. Having read Mark’s wonderful tribute (Mark’s tribute to follow) to Willie’s personality and character, my focus will be on his professional accomplishments.

I was fortunate to work closely with Willie for a decade, and we spoke virtually every day during that time.

A lawyer by training, an economist by inclination and a scholar at heart, with a musician’s soul, Willie was most happy when involved in conversation. Whether answering questions, discussing ideas, arguing, reviewing work or passing along his wisdom – almost everyone learned something new from Willie.

For those of you who knew Willie, you know that he would invoke the legend of the Magna Carta on almost any occasion. I’ve been present when he has referred to the spirit and clauses of the Magna Carta with Deputy Minsters, company executives, my family and even the security guard in our building lobby.

Willie considered himself blessed to be our Chair – it was his dream job. Willie loved to recount the story of his law school class sharing their career ambitions. He recalled his classmates indicating various aspirations including litigator, corporate deal maker or judge. When it came to his turn Willie announced that he wanted to be a “public utility regulator” to which his classmates collectively replied, “what’s that?”

His path to us provided a breadth of experience that allowed him to fundamentally understand both the substance of our work and how an administrative agency should function in order to be successful within its unique operating environment.

Willie’s experience included being general counsel of the Saskatchewan Public Utilities Review Commission, counsel to the CRTC, Stentor and AGT/Telus, special assistant to the federal minister of Energy, Mines and Resources and a decade in executive leadership roles in TELUS Regulatory.

In other words, prior to becoming our Chair, he had performed all of the various role and represented or acted for all of the diverse interests that make up the public interest.

As the AUC’s first chair, he did the unthinkable; reforming, speaking freely about markets and technology, challenging the status quo, bristling at coded language and acronyms and championing economics in our decision-making.

His work at the Commission was impactful and enduring. The cases he sat on were critically important and the decisions he wrote are of a high quality, always with his signature insistence on simple, clear writing. More important and impressive was Willie’s earnest, calm and commanding presence in a hearing room. It is a unique skill to provide a judicial air while ensuring all in the hearing room feel welcome and heard.

Willie was striking physically, standing six foot four with “the hair”. He was always impeccably dressed – suit, buffed shoes and those spectacular hand-made ties from his tailor in Saskatoon. Seeing this image gave our staff comfort – a substantial, dependable, dignified leader – a rock to ground our growth towards stability and respectability.

When deliberating with his Commission colleagues in a case working group meeting, voices would only be tolerated if the advice was logical, theoretically sound, and without a hidden agenda. From his first case, he offered and expected a solid, principled approach, evidence based decisions and rational arguments in support of proposed solutions or ideas.

Willie’s work ethic was legendary. The AUC has a business rule that its decisions will be issued no later than 90 days after the hearing is over. Given the number of decisions we issue, many cases come down to the wire. That means, in many cases, working to midnight on the 89th day.

For Willie, this never meant issuing orders from the bridge into the engine room. He would roll up his sleeves and work side by side with staff to meet the deadline. I can’t count the number of times I’d be in his office at 5 or 6 at night and he would be packing up his laptop. I’d ask why and he’d respond “I’m going back to the ‘cave’ (his condo) to catch a couple of hours of sleep and them I’m getting up to write a section of the decision”. Many at the AUC will recall date stamped emails from 3 a.m. He simply was not prepared to ask our staff to do something he was not prepared to do himself.

When I asked Willie which of his accomplishments he was most proud of, as a reflection of his humility he refused to answer. When I pressed, he smiled and grudgingly responded that the introduction of performance-based ratemaking was more difficult and took more time than he had anticipated. It was an innovation I know his mentor and dear friend, Alfred Kahn, would have appreciated.

His accomplishments went beyond the work of regulation. For our staff, he was always approachable and demonstrated care and compassion, genuinely engaging them on a personal level. A delightful conversationalist with an enormous breadth of experience, regardless of the subject, he spoke to you as a friend. I know many of you reading this will echo that sentiment.

Willie often spoke of the future of regulation. He imagined a number of fascinating problems arising from technological change and competition. He said “It will be tough sledding and exciting and you will have to be nimble and able to react – it will be so much fun”.

We at the AUC will miss Willie and we are substantially poorer for his passing. We will draw on Willie’s wonderful example as we meet those challenges and continue to build the AUC on the foundation he created.


We in Canada’s Energy Sector are very fortunate to work alongside many talented colleagues across a broad range of professional disciplines. Sometimes, one is lucky enough to receive an unexpected gift – the blossoming of a professional work relationship that evolves into a lasting and strong personal friendship. Such was my experience with the Gentle Giant, Willie Grieve.

Bob Heggie has provided a thoughtful, well-deserved tribute to Willie, focusing on his leadership and impressive achievements at the AUC. My remarks and recollections about him are aimed beyond the AUC and the hearing room. They are those of a close, personal friend.

Early influences are always instrumental in shaping the character of a man. Willie was born in British Columbia and spent his early years in Markham, Ontario, but the other loves of his life (next to his wonderful wife Barb) were the western cities in which he lived – Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, and Edmonton, Alberta. Before Willie became a lawyer, and then energy regulator, he was a professional trumpet player who toured with bands across Canada. Our mutual interest in music took us on our own adventures at various gigs and music festivals in Canada and the US over the past decade.

Willie could play, but he could also string a yarn together, and he recounted many interesting and often comical tales during his carefree but impecunious days as a travelling musician. After Willie graduated from University of Saskatchewan College of Law in 1984 the touring ceased, but he retained a passion for music that lasted his entire life and spanned generations. Willie leaves behind his brilliant son Rob, a virtuoso guitarist and songwriter who now records albums and plays before stadium crowds around the world. One of Willie’s foremost points of pride near the end of his life was that Rob’s musical accomplishments had clearly eclipsed his own.

Willie played his trumpet for the last time this July 2018 at our local pub in Port Medway, Nova Scotia. It was one of those magical, warm summer nights, with sea breezes sweeping in through the screen door, great friends, and porch lights twinkling everywhere. The house band opened the second set with Chicago’s prescient Does Anyone Really Know What Time It Is? Willie joined in on cue with that yearning trumpet riff all of us know by heart and only wish we could play ourselves. He brought down the house. And then Willie proceeded to play the night away.

Random acts of generosity speak volumes about the nature of a person. A few years ago Willie and I were attending a Blues festival in Memphis, Tennessee. At around 2 a.m., we found ourselves in the midst of a very large crowd on Beale Street, the main Memphis music thoroughfare. We struck up a conversation with two young men from rural Mississippi. As it turned out, one of them was a successful US college football player who hadn’t been lucky enough to make the NFL. Willie encouraged him to consider the CFL. By the end of our discussion, Willie had the young man’s contact information and had promised to contact a couple of CFL teams to facilitate an introduction and possible try out. Willie and the young man communicated by email for some months and I believe the young man eventually established an opportunity with the CFL. These young kids told us that Willie and I were the first Canadians they had ever met. They were staggered that Willie, from a prairie town they’d never heard of and couldn’t pronounce, took enough interest to reach out. But that kind of behavior was simply a matter of course for Willie Grieve, and it is one of his qualities that endeared him to so many.

Willie, though extremely accomplished, was humble. He never spoke of his achievements. They spoke for themselves. He believed that a career in the law was still a noble pursuit that could change lives, and indeed the world, for the better. His daughter Sarah, having already obtained a Masters degree, plans to follow in his footsteps and attend law school. Sarah is also a bass guitar player. Not surprisingly, Willie had a particular focus and interest in engaging with young people in the fledgling stages of their careers. With his easy, welcoming style and approachable demeanor, Willie made himself accessible to newly minted engineers, economists, lawyers and others. He provided them with many valuable insights and encouragement “to do better”. These interactions promoted both a greater understanding of how the energy sector functions but also something less tangible but possibly more significant: how the next generation can pursue their careers to the fullest and make a meaningful contribution.

Willie was a lifetime learner who engaged in rigorous debate on a wide range of subjects. He was a devoted contributor to and lecturer at the CAMPUT Energy Regulation Course at Queen’s University held annually in Kingston, Ontario. Willie was also a founder, and key, consistent supporter Canadian Energy Law Forum, now in its 13th year, and an active Program Committee Member of the Northwind Electricity Invitational Forum, in its 15th year. These unique Canadian forums represent invaluable opportunities for stakeholders to share information, and discuss critical, and often times sensitive issues in a constructive, respectful way. Neither forum would have achieved the success it has if Willie had not given his active support and encouragement.

Last but by no means least, a word about the love of Willie’s life, Barbara (Barb). Hailing from hardy farming stock on the Saskatchewan prairie, Barb is a talented educator, craftsperson and seamstress. She got to know Willie through the lens of provincial politics, just over 30 years ago. They are both, first and foremost, family people – and secondly – devoted hockey fans. A few years ago, my wife Jane and I attended a World Junior Hockey Tournament game with them in Toronto over Christmas. Barb and Willie kept the party rolling, attending every Team Canada game in Toronto, and then doing the road trip to Montreal to polish off the series. Barb continues to play hockey in Edmonton. Willie also leaves behind his 97-year-old mother, Inger, and sister, Anne Jane, who both live in Saskatoon, and sister Barbara (Peter Gerber) who lives in Grand Blanc, Michigan.

So Willie, many thanks for the times we spent together. Thanks for inspiring so many of us.

* Bob Heggie is the Chief Operating Officer of the Alberta Utilities Commission.

** Mark Rodger is a Partner at Borden Ladner Gervais in Toronto.