stats
globeinteractive.com: Making the Business of Life Easier

   Finance globeinvestor   Careers globecareers.workopolis Subscribe to The Globe
The Globe and Mail /globeandmail.com
Home | Business | National | Int'l | Sports | Columnists | The Arts | Tech | Travel | TV | Wheels
space


Search

space
  This site         Tips

  
space
  The Web Google
space
   space



space

  Where to Find It


Breaking News
  Home Page

  Report on Business

  Sports

  Technology

space
Subscribe to The Globe

Shop at our Globe Store


Print Edition
  Front Page

  Report on Business

  National

  International

  Sports

  Arts & Entertainment

  Editorials

  Columnists

   Headline Index

 Other Sections
  Appointments

  Births & Deaths

  Books

  Classifieds

  Comment

  Education

  Environment

  Facts & Arguments

  Focus

  Health

  Obituaries

  Real Estate

  Review

  Science

  Style

  Technology

  Travel

  Wheels

 Leisure
  Cartoon

  Crosswords

  Food & Dining

  Golf

  Horoscopes

  Movies

  Online Personals

  TV Listings/News

 Specials & Series
  All Reports...

space

Services
   Where to Find It
 A quick guide to what's available on the site

 Newspaper
  Advertise

  Corrections

  Customer Service

  Help & Contact Us

  Reprints

  Subscriptions

 Web Site
  Advertise

  E-Mail Newsletters

  Free Headlines

  Globe Store New

  Help & Contact Us

  Make Us Home

  Mobile New

  Press Room

  Privacy Policy

  Terms & Conditions


GiveLife.ca

    

PRINT EDITION
CEO WHO GREW WESTCOAST ENERGY WAS A PASSIONATE FORCE
space
The Montreal native's varied career path saw him progress from Winnipeg lawyer to federal government adviser to corporate leader
space
By CAILYNN KLINGBEIL
Special to The Globe and Mail
  
  

Email this article Print this article
Thursday, May 9, 2019 – Page B20

In a lifetime of varied roles - as a young Crown attorney, a government adviser, an energy company CEO, and, most recently, as Papa to eight beloved grandchildren - Michael E. J. Phelps was always a passionate force, full of enthusiasm for the task at hand.

Mr. Phelps, who died on April 20 in Vancouver at the age of 71 after a brief illness, possessed relentless curiosity that fuelled his many interests. A Winnipeg lawyer, he went on to work in Ottawa, serving as executive assistant to the minister of energy when the national energy program was implemented.

Mr. Phelps later moved with his young family to Vancouver to work in the private sector, and under his leadership Westcoast Energy grew from $2-billion in assets to more than $10-billion. After the company's acquisition, he served on numerous corporate boards including Marathon Oil, CIBC and Canadian Pacific Railway, and was named an officer of the Order of Canada in 2001.

"He was a passionate pursuer, whether it was in business or in life," said Greg Ebel, chairman of Enbridge's board of directors, of which Mr. Phelps was a member.

"He didn't dabble in much," said Julia Phelps, the middle of his three daughters. "He was always all in."

Michael Everett Joseph Phelps was born on June 27, 1947, in Montreal to Arthur and Hendrina (née Van de Roer) Phelps. He moved with his family, including two brothers and a sister, to Winnipeg when he was 13, and soon another sister was born.

The young Mr. Phelps excelled at school, driven by an intellectual curiosity that never left him. He skipped two grades and graduated high school when he was 16.

He was always a voracious reader - a quality that nearly everyone who describes Mr. Phelps mentions.

In high school, he started dating Joy Slimmon, whom he met at the age of 13 when his family moved next door to her family.

She was drawn to his honesty, cleverness and kind heart. The couple married at 23 and had three daughters: Erica, Julia and Lindsay.

While Mr. Phelps's first career choice was to be a pilot, his eyesight wasn't good enough. He considered medicine, but after shadowing a doctor and nearly passing out, he decided to be a lawyer.

Following a bachelor of arts at the University of Winnipeg, a bachelor of laws at the University of Manitoba and a master of laws at the London School of Economics, Mr. Phelps became a Crown attorney in Winnipeg, then worked in private practice at Christie Turner DeGraves.

He was recruited to work in Ottawa for the federal Justice Department and served as senior adviser to the minister of justice. In 1980, when Pierre Trudeau's Liberals returned to power, Mr.

Phelps became executive assistant to the former minister of energy, Marc Lalonde.

Mr. Phelps was Mr. Lalonde's right-hand man when the reviled national energy program was implemented. It was a challenging time, but Mr. Phelps "always kept his cool and was a good go-between with the people of Alberta, the politicians in Alberta," Mr. Lalonde said. Mr. Lalonde and his former assistant became lasting friends. "He was a man of total integrity and good judgment," Mr.

Lalonde said.

In Ottawa, Mr. Phelps also formed a friendship with David MacNaughton, now Canada's ambassador to the United States. Mr.MacNaughton remembers Mr.Phelps as being passionate - about public policy, about his family, about his friends.

"I always found that if I was going through a tough time or I had challenges in front of me ... I could always call him and he would always listen. And there aren't many people like that," Mr.MacNaughton said.

Mr. Phelps was also extraordinarily well informed, Mr. MacNaughton recalled, which led to great conversations. "In a world today where we seem to have lost the civility of public discourse, he was always open to other ideas," Mr. MacNaughton said. "He was good friends with people who were members of other parties and had different views, and would actively debate with him."

In 1982, Mr. Phelps brought his government experience to the energy sector. He moved to Vancouver with his wife and their three young daughters, joining Westcoast Transmission as special adviser to the president.

He moved up the corporate ladder and, in 1987, at 40, became president and chief executive officer of the newly named Westcoast Energy, which was transforming from a gas-pipeline operator to a broader energy company.

"I was fortunate," Mr. Phelps told The Globe and Mail in an interview in 2000. "The crash [in petroleum prices] meant restructuring for the industry, and opportunities were there to be seized by a whole new crew."

Despite a demanding job, he put his family first, according to Julia. "He made sure we knew that if we needed him, we would always have him," said Julia, a New York-based executive with media and entertainment company Viacom.

"Joy and his three daughters were everything," said Mr. Ebel, who knew Mr. Phelps for nearly 30 years. "I don't ever remember a conversation not starting with whatever the girls and Joy were up to, and then you would get to the business."

In business, Mr. Phelps was good at easing tense situations.

"He was a great fan of history, so he could pull out a Churchill quote or something else in those regards, and could make people laugh in difficult times," Mr. Ebel said.

Mr. Phelps spearheaded Westcoast Energy's acquisition by Duke Energy in 2001; the transaction closed the following year, valued at about US$8-billion. He remained on the board of Duke Energy, which spun off its naturalgas business as Spectra Energy, a company acquired by Enbridge in 2017.

Mr. Phelps's enthusiasm for the energy sector was rooted in the industry's impact. "He was passionate about doing everything he could to advance Canada, and energy was a fundamental building block of that," Mr. Ebel said.

For his next career, Mr. Phelps founded and served as chairman of Dornoch Capital, a private investment company, from 2002 until his death.

Julia says she believes her father's varied career path was driven by a mix of interest and opportunity. When she turned to him for job advice during university, he told her how he was open to interesting things that got him excited, which always led to more opportunities. It helped, too, that so many different things captured his attention: business, history, travel, golf, skiing and, recently, Africa. "He went like six times in the last nine years, just because he became so fascinated with learning about the wildlife, the people, the culture, everything," she said.

When Mr. Phelps served as chairman of the Vancouver General Hospital and UBC Hospital Foundation, it was another chance to immerse himself in new topics, this time brain research.

A proud Canadian, he was particularly keen to chair the Wise Persons' Committee in 2003, a panel convened by the federal government to review Canada's system of securities regulations, and to serve on the board of the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games (VANOC).

Most recently, however, Mr.Phelps devoted himself to his grandchildren, who range from ages 1 to 13. With grandchildren came a new audience to share his myriad interests. He instilled in all of them a love of books, history, travel, good food (especially oysters) and anything narrated by David Attenborough.

Mr. Phelps travelled with his oldest three grandsons to Europe and Africa, and also shared an obsession for watches. He loved visiting museums with his grandson and granddaughter, who live in New York; the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum and the American Museum of Natural History were favourites. And with his youngest three grandsons, who lived nearby, he did everything from reading bedtime stories to picking them up from daycare and school.

Julia said she never would have described her father as patient, until he became "Papa" to his grandchildren.

"He had the most patience for them, just throwing snowballs, looking for fish, picking fruit, whatever it was," she said. "He would go for hours and do really nothing, but it was everything to him."

Mr. Phelps leaves his wife, Joy; three daughters and sons-in-law; eight grandchildren; a brother and two sisters; as well as extended family.

Associated Graphic

Michael E. J. Phelps pursued many different careers, but his daughter Julia said he always made time for family. He devoted much of his later years to instilling a love of books, history, travel and good food in his eight grandchildren.

JOHN LEHMANN/THE GLOBE AND MAIL


Huh? How did I get here?
Return to Main John_MacLachlan_Gray Page
Subscribe to
The Globe and Mail
 

Email this article Print this article

space  Advertisement
space

Need CPR for your RSP? Check your portfolio’s pulse and lower yours by improving the overall health of your investments. Click here.

Advertisement

7-Day Site Search
    

Breaking News



Today's Weather


Inside

Rick Salutin
Merrily marching
off to war
Roy MacGregor
Duct tape might hold
when panic strikes


Editorial
Where Manley is going with his first budget




space

Columnists



For a columnist's most recent stories, click on their name below.

 National


Roy MacGregor arrow
This Country
space
Jeffrey Simpson arrow
The Nation
space
Margaret Wente arrow
Counterpoint
space
Hugh Winsor  arrow
The Power Game
space
 Business


Rob Carrick arrow
Personal Finance
space
Drew Fagan arrow
The Big Picture
space
Mathew Ingram arrow
space
Brent Jang arrow
Business West
space
Brian Milner arrow
Taking Stock
space
Eric Reguly arrow
To The Point
space
Andrew Willis arrow
Streetwise
space
 Sports


Stephen Brunt arrow
The Game
space
Eric Duhatschek arrow
space
Allan Maki arrow
space
William Houston arrow
Truth & Rumours
space
Lorne Rubenstein arrow
Golf
space
 The Arts


John Doyle arrow
Television
space
John MacLachlan Gray arrow
Gray's Anatomy
space
David Macfarlane arrow
Cheap Seats
space
Johanna Schneller arrow
Moviegoer
space
 Comment


Murray Campbell arrow
Ontario Politics
space
Lysiane Gagnon arrow
Inside Quebec
space
Marcus Gee arrow
The World
space
William Johnson arrow
Pit Bill
space
Paul Knox arrow
Worldbeat
space
Heather Mallick arrow
As If
space
Leah McLaren arrow
Generation Why
space
Rex Murphy arrow
Japes of Wrath
space
Rick Salutin arrow
On The Other Hand
space
Paul Sullivan arrow
The West
space
William Thorsell arrow
space





Home | Business | National | Int'l | Sports | Columnists | The Arts | Tech | Travel | TV | Wheels
space

© 2003 Bell Globemedia Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Help & Contact Us | Back to the top of this page