Saturday, June 27, 2009

Calgary grooves to Big Easy vibe

The 30th Calgary Jazz Festival (aka C-Jazz) opened this week with a New Orleans style gala at the Jack Singer Concert Hall. Roxanne Potvin gave a rollicking first act in the hall’s main foyer, where a substantial crowd lined up at the bar and mingled around cocktail tables. Others watched from the upper levels, leaning over the balustrade and shaking in time to the music.

A private reception hosted by TransCanada offered Louisiana style hot snacks and Mardi Gras beads, seen most notably on Alberta Minister of Culture and Community Spirit Lindsay Blackett who delivered a lengthy but enthusiastic introduction to the evening’s main acts.

After a good dose of Potvin’s rockabilly/soul stylings and a few cold Big Rock beers in the lobby, guests made their way into the concert hall. Drinks were permitted inside the theatre for the occasion. Blackett then introduced The Dirty Dozen Brass Band and headliner Allen Toussaint.

“If you look across North America,” Blackett said, in reference to the festival’s thirtieth anniversary, “We have the best jazz festival in all of North America.”

The audience was loud, happy, and lightening quick in their reaction to the band. Straight from New Orleans, the Dirty Dozen had the audience on their feet, dancing and clapping to renditions of When the Saints Come Marching In and My Feet Can’t Fail Me Now.

Toussaint provided a slower groove, incorporating his classic Sweet Touch of Love (made famous again, he said, by a recent commercial for body spray featuring “a chocolate boy … very interesting”) and songs from his new album The Bright Mississippi such as the haunting Egyptian Fantasy, and the Thelonious Monk song from which the album takes its name. The 71 year old composer, pianist, and singer has not lost his touch; audience members marveled over his deft fingering and flourish.

The jazz festival continues until Sunday, June 28 when it finishes with a free outside concert in Olympic Plaza. Performers throughout the week include the renowned saxophonist Branford Marsalis, Calgary’s own Cumako, the legendary Halifax-based percussionist Jerry Granelli, King Sunny Ade and the African Beats, and PianOrquestra, a Brazilian group of five musicians playing one piano.

Guests at the opening gala included: Anne Green, director of WordFest, Ian Menzies, president of Meta4 Music Management, Syd Bosch, president of Nuvo Hotel and Suites, Laura Shewchuk, president of Urban Energy Executive Concierge, Michael Green, co-artistic director of the High Performance Rodeo Festival, Erica Mattson of Calgary Arts Development, and pianist Andrea Petrity.

Published in National Post, June 27 2009

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Insider's Guide to Canada: Prairie Power Couple

Flanked by the Rocky Mountains, the corridor between Edmonton and Calgary is known as The Western Tiger, an area lush with ranchlands, dramatic skyscapes, and frequent petroleum tanks symbolic of the region’s booming economic growth. A scenic drive, maybe, but for Ann Lewis-Luppino and husband Tony Luppino it’s the three hour commute they face on a weekly basis. And they know all its secrets.

“But you must go into the mountains,” Ann says breathlessly, “We love to visit Banff and Jasper - there’s no place like it in the world.”

“And Dirt Willy’s,” Tony adds wryly, “About forty kilometers outside Edmonton you drive off the highway onto a dirt road and stay in your car - this is important - stay in your car and honk the horn. I guess it’s because of the dogs. Then Dirt Willy comes out, and the dogs become quite friendly, and you can buy all kinds of fowl right from his farm; pheasants, quails, turkey, whatever you like. He’ll clean and dress it for you, and there you go - you’ve bought your bird right from Dirt Willy!”

Shopping for dinner at Dirt Willy Game Bird Farm and Hatchery is all part of the weekend routine, along with hiking in neighbouring Elk Island National Park where bison, moose and other wildlife roam freely. Closer to home - well, one of their homes - in Edmonton, the couple tred lightly down the stairs of their condominium, across the bridge, and into the River Valley parklands where a vast open space and hundreds of riverside trails allow their pet dog Cara to wander happily off-leash. The area encompasses twenty-two parks along with major attractions like the Muttart Conservatory, four unforgettable glass pyramids housing an impressive range of international plant-life, and Edmonton’s Valley Zoo. It’s a spot to spend 3 hours or an entire Saturday, they say. In the evening, when there is no festival or holiday to keep them from a romantic, firework-gazing rooftop picnic, they head to the Fairmont MacDonald Hotel (Jasper Avenue and 100th Street) for a comfortable but upscale meal on the garden patio.

Both Ann, president of the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra, and Tony, former executive director of the Art Gallery of Alberta in Edmonton, have busy schedules during the week, filled with visiting artists, black tie functions, gallery openings, and concerts, all on top of regular day-to-day office work in their separate cities. Newly married, they were introduced by Edmonton’s Mayor Stephen Mandel years ago when Ann worked for the Alberta Ballet, travelling between the two cities solo. Now, they are each comfortable in either space and their favorite spots in both towns have merged into one giant ball of enthusiasm for the province.

In Calgary, Ann prepares for each season with a trip to Ooh La La clothing boutique (1575 7th Street SW), a hidden gem located close to both the bustling 17th Avenue district and the quiet, tree-lined streets of Mount Royal, the city’s wealthiest neighbourhood. Chris Wells, owner of Ooh La La, is a close friend and trusted advisor.

“Chris is the best person to dress someone,” Ann explains, “Because if something doesn’t look good on you she’ll say ‘Take that off!’” She holds up a Moschino jacket, made of gold silk and a few ruffles, while the woman in question frowns.

“It matches your dress perfectly,” Chris says thoughtfully, “But I’m not sure about the colour for you.” Her expert eyes scan the store, taking in the numerous items she’s freshly picked off the runways of Milan and New York. Many of them have not even been priced for retail sale yet. Chris picks up a cream coloured skirt with a Kandinsky-esque pattern of orange circles and the two confer quietly. They’ve agreed. It’s perfect for the office and a concert, says Ann.

When not shopping, working, or attending concerts and galas, Ann frequently plays hostess to guest musicians from around the world. She eats with them at Teatro Restaurant, Catch Restaurant and Oyster Bar, and Centini Restaurant and Lounge, all located within a block of the CPO’s concert space and on the cusp of Stephen Avenue, a pedestrian-friendly walkway of shops and eateries. She takes them to see the finest in local galleries at Trepanier Baer and Doug Udell. And finally, she advises them to tuck in at the trendy Hotel Arts, the popular Hyatt Regency, or the historic, luxurious Fairmont Palliser Hotel.

One her favorite places to eat in Calgary is The Living Room, where contemporary fusion cuisine is served in a sleek-but-cozy environment. The restaurant is located along 17th Avenue, just a few blocks south of the downtown core, and therefore saved for more intimate occasions with girlfriends, family guests, or rare ‘he and she’ time when Tony is in the city.

Back in Edmonton, Tony also has two routines: one solo and one reserved for couple/weekend time. A collector of rare books and lover of all things literary, he can spend hours alone in the Rutherford and Bruce Peel Special Collections Libraries at the University of Alberta (112th Street NW and 89th Avenue NW, near University Station), reading art magazines and touring the old book collections. Appetite whetted he often strolls to Audrey’s Bookstore (Jasper Avenue and 107th Avenue) where knowledgeable staff can find anything you’re looking for and authors frequently pop in for a public reading. He eats lunch at Zenari’s on First (10117 101 Street NW), where the quick, casual service and perfect paninis and pasta (“I’m fussy about pasta,” he says firmly, “And theirs is good.”) satisfy the lone traveler. Professional and personal interest alike propels him again and again to his favorite galleries: Bear Claw Gallery for contemporary Aboriginal art (10403 124th Street), Peter Robertson Gallery (10183 112 street), and Agnes Bugera Gallery (12310 Jasper Avenue), also home to a collection of Canadian contemporary works. These are just a few of the attractions available to those in Edmonton’s “gallery district” ( along 124th Street in the heart of the downtown core.

In the evenings, Tony seeks out excellent wine lists and comfortable atmosphere. “The one thing that drives me crazy about Edmonton is how early all of the restaurants close,” he says incredulously, “The city still needs to develop those places for grown-ups who want to stay out after 11:00 pm. People over 30, over 40, over 50 do stay out that late, you know.”

There are a couple of restaurants that suffice, he admits. The Hat Resto-Pub offers gourmet burgers and a good selection of scotch, beer, and other libations, and is open from lunch time to late night snack time. Originally a greasy spoon, this chic newly renovated eatery was opened in 1912 as The Silk Hat making it the oldest pub in the city. Other favorites are: The Hardware Grill, Sorrentino’s Restaurant for its extraordinarily friendly staff, extensive wine list and fine Italian cuisine, Wildflower Grill because “they do that high cuisine fusion thing exactly right” and boasts a sommelier who can match any meal with a perfect, inexpensive wine, and Tony’s Pizza Palace - a place “in the middle of nowhere, but with the only truly New York style pizza in Edmonton” he says … and it’s open until midnight on Fridays.

Since resigning from the Art Gallery of Alberta on May 27, Tony is in full-out moving mode, saying goodbye to his favorite haunts and trying to bring as much of them as he can to his new home with Ann in Calgary. Together they are regulars at Tu Gallery (10718 - 124 Street), filled with one-of-a-kind furniture and sculptures, and Dwell Modern Furnishings (10549 124 Street), where much of the Italian high design lighting has become a part of their d├ęcor.

Whether in Calgary or Edmonton, the Luppinos like to eat well, often hosting dinner parties that run much later than most restaurants are open. They’ve just discovered a fabulous place for local produce and fine Canadian cheeses at Blush Lane Organic Market, just off 17th Ave and 85th St SW in Calgary. While Mercato Gourmet Foods will usually provide anything else they need, Tony admits he’s going to miss his go-to markets in Edmonton.

The Italian Centre Shop on 95th Street in Edmonton is the only place to buy fresh produce he says. “It doesn’t look perfect, but when you roast those peppers or eat those fresh tomatoes, the taste is incredible.” Loyal to the original location in Little Italy, Tony says the new store on 104a Street is also charming, and is home to a tempting bakery. “Everything is fresh,” he says, “Fresh when it’s in season in Italy, I mean, that’s when they bring it over to Alberta. The fruits, vegetable, salamis … I don’t even know how to say it in English. It’s the Italian way.”

As the warmth of the summer months begin to soothe their hectic schedules, the power couple look forward to more time outside, and together. The Calgary Folk Festival in Prince’s Island Park July 23-26 is high on Ann’s list, along with the Calgary Jazz Festival, which begins this week.

Meanwhile, their careers are always on the radar. A mere month ago Ann and Tony hosted the Mountains, Music & Masterpieces weekend at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. Forty of their fellow art and music lovers gathered for seminars on Beethoven and the Group of Seven between indulgent, beautiful meals overlooking the spectacular emerald waters. Their restless minds have already begun planning the next event, perhaps to be held in the autumn, perhaps with a literary theme. Until then, their enthusiasm for arts and culture continue to reign in the heart of the city.

Published in National Post, June 20 2009

International Student Energy Summit

Vicente Fox, former president of Mexico, delivered a rousing keynote address in Calgary last week at the International Student Energy Summit (ISES). He declared a need for “re-energizing” NAFTA and for wholesale fiscal reform in his home country. He encouraged and applauded the leadership of those in the room, and talked about political decision making as an exercise in applying ethics. His remarks were well delivered and engaging, but not surprising.

What was unexpected though, were the hard-nosed questions in response from audience members. Students from Mexico, Columbia, and Alberta, Canada stood at the microphone and asked how can fiscal reform be achieved, what particular strategies can be applied by foreign investors to create business opportunities without sparking the lingering resentments of those accustomed to Western exploitation, how democracy and free markets can become compatible in Latin America, and whether it was fair for carbon emission standards to apply equally in the developing and developed world. Fox immediately became an artful dodger, speaking in eloquent generalizations.

Yet the lunch was still a highlight for many of the 300 plus student and young professional delegates who gathered from around the world for the three day conference. A dinner and social at Ranchman’s Cookhouse had many of them ‘mingling’ late into the evening on day two; a gala dinner with keynote speaker Jeremy Rifkin, president of The Foundation on Economic Trends, gathered everyone together on Friday night.

Among the other speakers were: Dr. David Layzell, executive director of the Institute for Sustainable Energy Environment and Economy (ISEEE), Dr. Pierce Riemer, secretary general of the World Petroleum Council, Dr. Michael Klare, author of "Resource Wars" and "Blood and Oil: The Dangers and Consequences of America's Growing Petroleum Dependency", Dr. Gustav Grob, executive secretary of the International Sustainable Energy Organization, and Sabrina Sullivan of Deloitte Consulting LLP.

A panel on the future of the oil sands took place on Friday morning, featuring Bill McFarlane, past president of the Canadian Heavy Oil Association, Matt Fox, senior vice president of Oil Sands at Conoco Philips Canada, author Andrew Nikiforuk, Jennifer Grant, policy analyst for Pembina Institute, Calvin Duane, manager of regulatory and environmental affairs at Canadian Natural Resources Limited, and Wishart Robson, senior advisor for safety and climate change at Nexen Inc.

“This the world’s largest energy project and the world’s largest engineering project,” said Nikiforuk of the oil sands, “We have failed to manage our part of the value chain, and as former Premier Peter Lougheed says, we have failed to capture our fair share.”

Not surprisingly, industry representation disagreed. “Industry sees themselves as on the front lines, providing a highly desirable resource which supports the rest of Canada with billions of dollars,” said Duane, “Yet we are besieged on every side.”

As with the end of each session, a student organizer of the conference provided a summary of the panel discussion. “That was probably the best panel I’ve ever heard,” she said, “I got like fifteen text messages while you were speaking and I was like, this is awesome!”

Published in National Post, June 20 2009

Friday, June 19, 2009

A Well-Oiled Meeting of Minds

Government and business leaders from around the world descended on Calgary last week for the Gas and Oil Exposition, or GO Expo. Approximately twenty thousand delegates attended three days of seminars and networking events, all under the theme of technology suitable for “profitable and sustainable hydrocarbon development.” Among the speakers were: Peter Mansbridge of the CBC, who moderated the opening panel discussion, Dr. Soheil Asgarpour, president of Petroleum Technology Alliance Canada, David Collyer, president of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, Qubad Talabani, a representative of the Kurdistan Regional Government, and Matthew McCulloch of the Pembina Institute.

A reception for international delegations was held on Tuesday, hosted by Calgary Economic Development. More than two hundred guests mingled amid artwork and vintage motorcycles at Artevo Art Gallery, a beautiful, three level renovated heritage building featuring exposed brick walls, wood ceilings, and warm lighting. John Hankins, vice president of international trade and development for Calgary Economic Development made the introductory remarks. Mel Knight, Alberta’s Minister of Energy, was the keynote speaker, introduced by Paul Beique, vice president of capital markets for Vermilion Energy Trust.

In a time of high environmental sensitivity, low deal flow, and rapidly fluctuating oil prices, conferences like this can take a gloomy tone. Happily, though, the feeling among guests and speakers alike was positive.

“Alberta has a competitive royalty regime,” Knight stated enthusiastically, noting the other factors that make the province a sound choice for international investment. “We have a stable government,” he said, joking, “It might not always seem like I’m stable, but it’s true.”

His remarks arrive at the same time Premier Ed Stelmach’s office has been rumoured in national media outlets to prefer Ignatieff to their own conservative leader because of his fervent support for oil sands developments.

Attracting investment and promoting the financial sector in general was high on the priority list for many of the evening’s guests, including Michael Mezei, president of Mawer Investment Management Ltd. The difficult economic climate is no reason to shy away from discussions on leadership and partnerships, he said. Saad Bashir, business development manager for energy at Calgary Economic Development, agrees.

“This is not the year when a lot of purchasing is going to happen,” Bashir says, “But this is the year for making relationships. So next year when the economy is running smoothly again, these international companies and Calgary companies are going to be able to do business. The relationships will be in place.”

Relationship building was certainly in effect as guests lingered well into the evening, some returning to the Marriott Hotel bar for further discussions and libations.

Also in attendance were: Lois Mitchell, chair of the Calgary Chamber of Commerce, Stephan Wasylko, minister counselor for commercial affairs at the Embassy of the United States of America, Kevin Redmond, president of Entech Energy Group, Alexandre Garcia, consul general of France, Lei Jianzhong of the consul of economic and commercial section for The People’s Republic of China, Bill Boyce, regional director at 3M Canada, and Alireza Rafiee of the Australian Trade Commission.

Published in the National Post June 13, 2009

Monday, June 8, 2009

Canada West Foundation Talks Energy

Canada West Foundation hosted its Board of Directors’ dinner last week at Hotel Arts. The theme - “Western Canada’s Energy Future” - was the topic of discussion for a post-meal panel including Tom Huffaker, vice-president of policy and environment for CAPP and former US Consul-General, Murray Edwards, vice chairman of Canadian Natural Resources Ltd, and Gordon Kerr, president and CEO of EnerPlus Resources Fund. The program was moderated by fiery business columnist Deborah Yedlin of The Calgary Herald. A three course meal was served, including roasted butternut squash soup and a duo of Alberta beef tenderloin and braised short rib.

Yedlin’s opening remarks focused on the increasing demand for low carbon energy, its corresponding market trends, and the need to combat a prevailing “ineffective public policy” in the oil and gas sector, particular in times of economic downturn. The participants, some smiling glumly at the mention of climate change debate and proposed cap-and-trade systems, took questions from the moderator and the audience. All echoed the need for more robust policy and predictable royalty frameworks - the current regime being one subject to frequent review and adjustment.

The first question was on the current feasibility of carbon capture and storage projects in the oil sands. Despite the onslaught of federal and province funding for such technology in recent months, the majority of projects selected to receive it have decline the support. Huffaker noted the fine balance needed between market and governance mechanisms to propel big change. Edwards explained the “long term progress” made in the oil sands developments - “This is a marathon, not a sprint,” he said - and spoke at length about proprietary technologies at work in his own development, which capture the carbon emitted when sand and bitumen are separated and push it back into the ground, “closing the loop” and shrinking the toxic tailings.

“That would have been a good story in the face of all those dead ducks,” quipped Yedlin.

Conversation flowed easily and ranged from the economic and environmental to the political and the financial. AIMCO, the institution by which the provincial government invests its public money, was a “classic example of a good idea with poor execution,” said Kerr. The people - and executives - of Alberta needed a clearer understanding of how, why and when those investments were being made, he explained.

Other guests included Alderman Joe Connolly, Adam Legge of Calgary Economic Development, Judy Hoag of Global Public Affairs, Art Korpach of CIBC, and Dr. David Swann, leader of the Alberta Liberal Caucus.

A few weeks earlier, the Gaining Ground Summit featured more discussions on the future of energy. Peter Tertzakian, an energy analyst and chief economist with Arc Financial, talked about the inevitable shift in consumer behaviour and the rapid technological changes taking place already to increase energy efficiency.

Published in National Post June 6, 2009