Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Saskatoon: A new heart for the old west?

Canada West Foundation, a forty-year old think tank headquartered in Calgary, has opened a new office in what their senior economist has called “the top-performing province in the country” - Saskatchewan.

At a dinner in Saskatoon’s Delta Bessborough hotel, Premier Brad Wall and local mayor Dean Atchinson were joined by high profile guests from the Western provinces including former Attorney General for British Columbia Geoff Plant, former Saskatchewan Minister of Finance Janice MacKinnon, former Manitoba MLA and current president of the Business Council of Manitoba James Carr, former Alberta MLA and current chairman of The Western Financial Group Jim Dinning, Member of Parliament for Blackstrap Lynne Yelich, and Cameco Corporation’s Gary Merasty.

Calgary-based PetroBakken (a PetroBank company) was a lead sponsor of the event. Two weeks ago, in the small town of Kerrobert Saskatchewan, the company unveiled a homegrown technology called “Toe-to-Heel-Air-Injection” or THAI, designed to recover heavy oil in an efficient and sustainable way. The province’s Premier and Minister of Energy were on hand for the project’s announcement, which they claim will make major strides in extracting the estimated twenty billion barrels of heavy oil under the province, while preserving other valuable resources like water and natural gas.

Saskatoon berry wine was poured while Jim Gray, outgoing chair of Canada West Foundation, provided the opening remarks. “Think of the great assets of this province,” he said, “We have energy, food, and water. Then think inside of that triangle: We have technology, we have innovation, we have the people, and we have the quality of life. That’s your future, in Saskatchewan. It’s a marvelous future, and well deserved.”

The premier was introduced by CEO of Petrobank Energy John D. Wright. Guests from Alberta - already fearful of a shrinking competitive advantage at home - squirmed in their seats as Wright praised the “excellent leadership” and economic strength of Saskatchewan.

“I want to share with you that Petrobakken, and our parent company PetroBank, see Saskatchewan as the province for investment in Canada,” Wright said, “From the communities in which we work to the halls of the legislature; we’ve been welcomed with open arms. There couldn’t be a better place to do business in our experience. We will invest all that we can into this province.”

Wall picked up the praise, even adding fuel to the fire with a slide show depicting the Calgary Stampeders taking hits from the Saskatchewan Roughriders. Slogans like “You don’t stand a chance” over pictures of the football teams appeared on a large screen. Taking a more serious tone, the premier talked at length about the disparity between economic power in Western Canada and political power centralized in the East. Calling upon the National Energy Program, the musings of John A. MacDonald, and the notion of ‘easy money in the oil patch’, Wall framed his comments with “the disconnect; the lack of understanding between fellow citizens in the same country.”

“Some would say you’re not paranoid if they really are out to get you,” Wall said.

Charged with provoking debate and testing “national policies against regional aspirations,” Canada West Foundation certainly had good fodder for its opening in Saskatchewan. The premier went on to talk about the limits on a cap-and-trade scheme in the province - “We know we have to pay our share,” he said, adding the money must be re-invested in environmental technology in order to be “on in Saskatchewan” - and the growing alliances between the Prairie provinces in Canada and those in The United States.

Jack Vicq, former associate dean for University of Saskatchewan, will head up the new office in Saskatoon.

Published in National Post, November 14, 2009

A Sunday at the Opera: Manon opens Calgary's season

Calgary Opera gave its patrons a sneak-peak of its season-opener last Sunday, as the cast of Manon performed recital-style in The Petroleum Club. The first of three “opera brunches”, the event allowed guests to feast on an expansive buffet before company members took the stage one at a time to sing a song of their choosing. On the menu were: eggs two ways, Belgian waffles, toast, three types of salad, fruit (strawberries, raspberries and lots of melon), bacon, sausage, potatoes, grilled veggies, brownies, cookies, cakes, croissants and more. Tickets were $65 per person.

Bob McPhee, the CEO widely credited with keeping Calgary Opera financially stable through uncertain times, acted as master of ceremonies, first introducing accompanist Gordon Gerrard. In September, Gerrard was awarded the Enbridge Arts Award for Emerging Artist at the Mayor’s Evening for Business and the Arts, an event which McPhee co-chaired with Jim Stanford, former CEO of Petro-Canada .

M.C. McPhee also welcomed special guests in the audience: artistic director of Edmonton Opera Brian Deedrick was in attendance, having been appointed the stage director for Manon, as well as vocal coach Michael McMahon, resident conductor of the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra Mélanie Léonard, and former Toronto Star music and dance critic William Littler.

Matthew Cassils, a baritone from Montréal and a new member of the Emerging Artist Development Program, opened the show. Then came the widely celebrated Peter McGillivray, who sang “Avant de quitter ces lieux” from Faust. Michelle Minke, Lauren Phillips, and Michel Corbeil all gave charming performances. The two stars of Manon, however, certainly stole the show.

American tenor Richard Troxell has joined the cast as des Grieux, the handsome and impetuous horseman who falls in love with Manon at first sight (and in the first act), and compels her to dodge life in the nunnery in favour of eloping to Paris. At the brunch, Troxell opened with an amusing story of bear-sighting in Alberta before launching into a heart-breaking version of “Oh, Danny Boy” - proving he could sing Happy Birthday and have an audience in tears. Nathalie Paulin, who plays Manon, sang “La Vie en Rose” while pulling McMahon from the audience for a brief dance. Paulin and Troxell have both performed with l’Opéra de Montréal (Troxell as Pinkerton in Madama Butterfly Poulin as Mélisande in Debussy’s Pélléas et Mélisande), in addition to appearances around the world. For the finale, the singers performed a duet from Carmen, leaving no doubt their version of lovers in Manon will be phenomenal.

Calgary Opera’s Manon begins November 21; the next opera brunch will be held in January with the cast of Mark Adamo’s Little Women.