Spotlight on alumni
Christine Healy, a Memorial graduate who is among this year’s Top 40 Under 40, is the province’s top negotiator and a commercial adviser to the government. Her job is to make sure that her team secures maximum revenue from the province’s various deals with oil and gas companies. She is also a lover of music and passionate supporter of the Shallaway Choir. She recently talked to our contributor Bojan Fürst.
BF: Did you grow up here and go to university here?
CH: I grew up here, but when I was in high school I received a scholarship for Pearson College. Newfoundland sends a student each year. It’s a United World College [in B.C.], 100 students from 75 countries and everybody is on full scholarship. It’s a really interesting international experience. Instead of Grade 12, I never graduated high school it turns out. You do Grade 12 in the first year of university. I was out there for two years. It really opened up my worldview. You are in the community of 75 countries represented and you have to figure out how to get along with everybody else. I was exposed to economics there for the first tome and I loved economics. I finished there and I went to Queen’s for a year. While I was there, my grandmother with whom I was really close, was diagnosed with cancer and I was really missing home. And I’ve been talking to my friends who were at Memorial and they were having such a phenomenal time. So I transferred to economics program at Memorial. And it was tremendous. At the time, it was a pretty small group and because of that people were really engaged and spent a lot of time thinking about things and it was sort of like that Pearson experience all over again. I got an economics degree, but it was pretty clear to me as I was approaching the end of it that it was probably not my calling. I was really passionate about the issues and ideas, so I thought law would be a good match for that.
BF: And from there?
CH: I finished law school. Went to work for a federal judge in Ottawa at the federal Court of Appeal. Being a clerk at the court was a great experience too because you get to see the judicial process from the inside. It was an excellent experience. I spent a year at the court. I thought, long term, that I might come back to Newfoundland. There was a lot of oil and gas activity here and I thought it would be good to gain some experience in that. So, I went out to Calgary and worked for a firm there for a while and then I decided to come back. I worked for a private firm and now I have been with the government for five years.
BF: Can you describe for me your role with the government?
CH: My title is commercial advisor, which sounds very non-descriptive. I lead the government side of the negotiation team. We have a negotiation team from NALCOR and the Department of Natural Resources and also Department of Justice and other departments of the government. There is a gentleman Jim Keating, who is on the Board of Regents at Memorial, and we co-lead that team. Jim and I participated in the negotiation team led by Ed Martin for the Hebron deal. After that handshake, it has to be turned into books and books of agreements that actually document what everybody’s agreed to. And of course details are difficult and when you’re talking about lots of money, small details can make a big difference. You know, it’s very exciting to be part of that. We had such a long history of the ball not bouncing our way and I think in the next five years we have a real opportunity because the ball is bouncing our way. Now it’s all about what we’re going to do when we get the ball. People are more optimistic and that’s really exciting. People always wanted to be optimistic, but we had a lot of circumstances that had gone against us. People are excited about being in Newfoundland. People want to come to Newfoundland. The arts community is very vibrant and now the business community is vibrant. We have been known for our arts community and now we are becoming known for our business community. That is tremendous. In my job I have the good fortune to have some positive impact on that and that is really motivating.
BF: The numbers, the actual dollar amounts are so large that they are basically abstract. What goes through you mind when you sit across the table from the other team?
CH: We do a lot of analysis before we sit down at the table. The one thing I learned is that negotiation is all about preparation and we do a lot of preparation, which is not very glamorous. There is almost an infinite number of solutions to a problem, but many of those solutions are not really acceptable to you. My colleagues across the table from the oil companies are extremely talented and very prepared and very disciplined and their discipline is reflected in the fact that they don’t want to leave money on the table. If you are leaving it there, they will be happy to take it. You have to get in a similar mindset yourself. There is no way that they should be more disciplined then we are. And if anything, we have more in the game. Because it impacts every one of us so directly. You don’t get to do this over. With Hebron, we were in some very heavy duty negotiations for four months and 18+ hour days. We were away from our families. It’s hard to keep people motivated. I’ll admit I created a cheat-sheet at the back of my book. Mine is probably different from anyone else’s, but it’s a list of things that we as a community of people in Newfoundland would like to do if we had unlimited funds. It can be a hospital or an MRI, but it can be something really small too. My list bears no relation to reality, but it keeps me anchored and motivated. When you look at what great works some community groups do with very small amounts of money – I can’t be lazy about a small amount of money because it can do great things. You are always motivated because it is a big deal here. We have a lot of work to do and this is a very exciting time to be in the government and address some of the issues we now can address.