Saturday, March 27, 2010

Reuters Chief Lauds Canadian Caution

The newly minted global editor-at-large of Reuters, and former managing editor of The Financial Times, Chrystia Freeland, was the guest of honour at this month’s Salon Speaker Series. The invite-only function happens four or five times a year in Teatro Restaurant.

Her talk focused on risk and the global economy. She praised Canada’s cautious regulatory regime (prompting some guests to leave the restaurant in a huff), and spoke at length about the psyche of Americans.

“Ottawa sees itself as a policeman,” she said, “Rather than a farmer of the free market.”

“Canada is not top of mind in the U.S. but it could or should be more so in the near future,” she said, pointing to ‘economic stabilizers’ that are under-valued south of the border.

An Albertan herself, Freeland brought a folksy, pragmatic tone to the dinner. She opened with a story about her grand-mother. Before departing to Harvard University to study Russian history, Freeland asked her grand-mother for advice. Having lived through two world wars and the great depression, her grand-mother was less than enthusiastic about her choice to study history. You need a practical skill, she advised, that will always be in need ... the world is unpredictable.

Unpredictable, indeed. Freeland began by assessing U.S. resistance to extended health care services. It was baffling, she said, that for thousands of people who would not even be affected by this change, it would become such a divisive issue. It is the end of the American era, she said, despite the fervent belief of most Americans that they have a God-given right to rule the planet. She pointed to the necessity of international experience in the workforce, and the lack thereof in the previous generation of executives.

Freeland also spent a great deal of time talking about Europe. The EU is wholly preoccupied with worry over Greece, she said. At a recent meeting in the Arctic, she said, Canadian Minister Jim Flaherty, along with the American and Japanese delegate, took a tour of igloos while the EU
representatives huddled together in a corner talking about Greece. But the idea that this most recent crises is the fault of Goldman Sachs, she says, is ludicrous. “It’s the Greek government’s fault.”

Turning back to the United States, she said, “Even for a Canadian Tory, Obama is not what you’d call big government.’

Although there were a few people in the crowd re-thinking their subscription to FT, the response overall was positive. The speech came after a three-course meal of gnocchi l’amatriciana, arctic char with caramelized endive, and a selection of small pastries.

Among the guests were Geoff Pradella, vice president of the Calgary Chamber of Commerce, Tony Luppino, former executive director of the Art Gallery of Alberta, Randy Pettipas, president of Global Public Affairs, attorney and patron of the arts Greg Forrest, McCarthy
T├ętrault's Director of clients and markets Lindsay Fikowski, former bureau chief for the Financial Post Claudia Cattaneo, John Cordeau Q.C. of Bennet Jones and his sister Elizabeth Cordeau-Chatelain of Total.

Published in National Post, March 27 2010
Photo by Adrian Shellard

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Re-designing Disaster: Calgary Unites for Haiti

In Calgary last month, tens of thousands of dollars were raised for the earthquake shattered country. A concert at Jack Singer Concert Hall on March 10 raised $40,000 alone, for the Le Foyer de Filles Chretiennes Orphanage. It was a joint effort between Calgary and the City of Windsor. Local bands The Dudes, Woodpigeon, and The Polyjesters, played alongside the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra, DJ Rob Faust, and Curiously Canadian Improv Theatre among others. CBC’s David Gray hosted the event.

At the city’s third PechaKucha night, themed “rebuild”, guests gathered at the Glenbow Museum to share ideas and inspirations. The event raised over $3,000 (donated to Architecture for Humanity) and connected via live satellite technology a group in Tokyo hosting a similar event. PechaKucha is a style of event invented in Japan by architects who wanted to share their ideas and portfolios in a timely fashion. At any given gathering, a speaker will present twenty slides, or photographs, and talk about each one for twenty seconds. That gives each presenter exactly 6.6 minutes to get their ideas across.

PechaKucha Rebuild attracted a diverse group of speakers. Catherine Hamel, a professor of architecture in the environmental design faculty at the University of Calgary, delivered a moving and poetic narrative which slide gracefully over the heart wrenching photos of her partner, Lawrence Eisler.

Jim Avery, vice-president of Sprung Structures, talked about his company’s innovative response to emergency shelter needs. His family-run business opened in 1887 as a manufacturer of chuck wagon covers, tepees and other Western-style coverings. Today, Sprung Structures provides unique and easy engineered structures which can be erected within hours and withstand the elements. Avery showed pictures of the structures at work in Cuba, New Orleans, and right here in Calgary.

Anila Umar, a youth counsellor and diversity trainer, talked about refugees who rebuild their lives in Canada; Olivier Mills of CAWST – the Centre for Affordable Water Sanitation and Technology – spoke about the relationship between organizations like his own and local, indigenous associations on the ground. He also pointed to women in any given community as the breadwinners and leaders.

Johann Kyser, a masters student in the faculty of environmental design at U of C, spoke about the power of sustainable design to transform and rebuild communities, beyond the physical infrastructure, and pointed to the parallels between the resiliency of a design and that a community. His focus was on socio-economic change, and creative, holistic approaches to it. His was the final presentation of the night. His last words were, “As we’ve seen by tonight’s presenters, even in the most dire of circumstances, human creativity and passion prevail”

Published in National Post on March 20, 2010

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Cocktails for a Cause: Alberta Theatre Projects and Calgary Health Trust

In a year of economic uncertainty, charity might seem like a hard sell. Not so in Calgary. The latest example of philanthropy in this town was at the Telus Convention Centre, where “celebrities” mingled with the common folk to raise money for Alberta Theatre Projects.

This was the seventeenth year for the Lawson Lundell Celebrity Hors d’Oeuvres cocktail party. It featured a silent auction, where money was raised for the Enbridge Playwrights Festival. The festival sponsors emerging theatre talent and produces new plays which are workshopped and premiered in Calgary. This year’s line-up included How Do I Love Thee by Florence Gibson Mac Donald of Toronto’s Nightwood Theatre and Abraham Lincoln Goes to the Theatre by Montreal’s Larry Tremblay, who is in residence at Lark Play Development Centre in New York.

The 2010 winners of the Emerging Playwright Award were Toronto’s Erin Shields and Maev Beaty for their show Montparnasse, an intriguing look at Parisian literary circles in the 1920’s. The award was granted at a separate cocktail function earlier in the month, at the Hyatt Regency Hotel.

At the Celebrity Hors D’Oeuvres function, several of Calgary’s upscale restaurants created mouth-watering morsels which were then sold for $2.00 each. The hook was in the serving. Well-known Calgarians wandered around the oddly shaped room (it was held in a rectangular foyer-type space outside the main conference hall). In their hands were trays of perfectly assembled, bite-sized appetizers and deserts. The celebrities included a Don Cherry look-alike, City Alderman Brian Pincott, charismatic CBC Radio hosts David Gray and Danielle Nerman along with charming side-kick Jenny Howe, also of CBC’s The Homestretch, Michael Bigattini, sommelier of Willow Park Wines & Spirits, designer Alykhan Velji, and City TV's Jill Belland.

Calgary’s Apheresis Clinic at the Foothills Medical Centre also got a boost this season, thanks to a gala fundraiser hosted by Calgary Health Trust and Vendemmia Wines. This clinic provides highly specialized procedures for blood cell separation and bone marrow testing, particularly important to cancer patients, as well as research, staff education, and out-patient services.

The Great Italian Wine Encounter brought first class wine-makers to the Fairmont Palliser Hotel. An incredible spread of food, including fine cheeses, chocolate, lobster risotto and rack of lamb, were paired with extraordinary – and rare – wine tastings. Among some of the more impressive were Trinoro di Trinoro, a perfectly balanced, full mix of cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon and merlot. It was represented in person by Elena Capobiano of Tuscany.

Published in National Post on March 6, 2010

Friday, March 12, 2010

Alberta at the Olympics

Amidst the legions of patriotic groups wandering around downtownVancouver last week, there was one province cheering as loud as therest of them. That was Alberta.

The province of Alberta, along with their creative agency brand.LIVEand arms-length organization Travel Alberta, hosted a series oftargeted events around the city of Vancouver and in Whistler. The efforts cost the province over $6 million dollars this year alone, in addition to $14 million which has been spent over the past three years.

The ‘Alberta Station’ was once a rarely-used train station in arun-down part of town, but it has good bones. The marketing team transformed it into an open, loft-like space where enormous windows afforded cocktail party views of the entire downtown and the high ceiling allowed spotlights to fall upon a dance floor. A giant glowing sign with Alberta’s brand on it was visible from the streets aroundand the skytrain above, where thousands of visitors and locals weretravelling every day.

It was there, in Alberta Station, that a reception for “Sports Heroes” and Jean-Grande Maitre took place last Sunday night. Grand-Maitre, artistic director of Alberta Ballet, wasin town as the official choreographer for the opening and closingceremonies, as well as the nightly victory ceremonies where medalswere awarded daily.

Inside Alberta Station hung larger-than-life paintings of Canadian athletes, commissioned by the Canadian Sport Centre in Calgary. At the‘sport hero’ reception were Lindsay Blackett, provincial Minister of Culture and Community Spirit, Maelle Ricker, the first Canadian womanto win a gold medal in the 2010 Olympics, fashion designer Paul Hardy and supermodel Heather Marks, president of Calgary Arts Development Dr. Terry Rock and his family, former chair of the Calgary Chamber ofCommerce Lois Mitchell and her husband - who is the former commissioner of the CFL - Doug Mitchell, Patrick Jarvic of VANOC and many others.

Alberta didn’t stop at the station; another outreach vehicle was thetrain itself. The Rocky Mountaineer luxury train has four passengercars, several dining cars, and two bar cars. On it, at 5:00 am everyday, were members of the Alberta government, representatives from Travel Alberta and The Calgary Stampede, assorted industry partnerslike Karo Group, the creative branding company taking over TravelAlberta outreach activities this Spring, and other members of the media and various industries. That included everyone from United Kingdom tour groups, who bring visitors to Alberta each year, to Tokyo television producers, to the president of the Anaheim Mighty Ducks.

The Alberta train took a three hour journey, parallel to the highway and the coast, from Vancouver to Whistler. On board, guests were treated to Alberta cuisine, local music and white cowboy hats. Once at Whistler, ski events were not far away. The Whistler Golf Club was also transformed into the ‘Alberta Hospitality Centre’ where guests were treated to Edmonton popcorn, Banff sponge toffee, Calgary chocolate and Calgary Stampede – branded trail mix. On the return journey, guests enjoyed a host bar, champagne toast to the athletes, samples of Alberta cuisine including beef skewers and lamb burger sliders.

There are approximately 70 seats available on each car; general tickets were sold to industry leaders for $500 per person.

Back in Vancouver, Alberta had some prime real estate for its outreach activity. Each province and each country had a ‘house’ at the Olympics. Soci House, for example, which hosts the Russian athletes, government and industry officials, is normally the Vancouver ScienceWorld. Today, there are five to six hour line-ups to enter the domed structure. Alberta House is on the corner of Robson and Beatty, acrossthe street from BC Place where thousands of spectators pour out every evening. The street front of Alberta House is an outdoor heated patio where Alberta artists from jazz to hip-hop performed.

According to Blackett, this is not the Alberta most people would expect to see represented on the world’s stage. Indeed, while Alberta band RezOfficial played on Monday night – following a big win by Team Canada against Germany, and cheers for Calgary Flame Iginla – one spectator asked, “They have hip hop in Alberta? I thought it was going to be all twang guitar.” Another reveller on the plaza seemed unsure of which house he was actually in.

So is all this marketing activity working? Perhaps the best answer is from that of a Swedish man on Alberta’s plaza. When asked what he thought or knew of Alberta, the man replied ‘Spirit to achieve. Freedom to create' - Alberta's official tagline.

Published in National Post, February 27 2010

Monday, March 1, 2010

CBC Radio: Alberta at the Olympics

Listen to my piece on CBC Radio - Calgary

about this province's investment in the Winter Olympics.

Posties at The Oscars

I'm in a screenshot with Conrad Black!