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Pekarsky & Co. February 2016 Newsletter – There’s No Place Like Home

March 4, 2019

Dear Friends and Colleagues,


Remember my sign-off in last month’s newsletter?  A call to join us in our pursuit of some ‘old school optimism?’ Oh, we’re trying. Trust me. Trying in the same way a lobster in a boiling pot of water tries to tell himself he’s soaking in an infinity pool at a Sandals resort.  But it ain’t easy.


Even for serial optimists like us, it’s hard to stay positive in the face of such an onslaught of negative news: headlines about not only those items beyond our control, but also those within it. We are facing a triple threat of uncontrollable macro-economic forces, at-times unhelpful political leadership and the unsavoury task, for some at least, of advocating for getting our oil and gas to market in the face of determined, though at times distorted, opposition. All of it leaving one to think we are on the side of selling cigarettes to children or investment scams to the elderly.


Here’s a small sampling of January’s press clippings:



It’s not that Albertans are looking for a handout, nor is our particular small business looking for a telethon. We’re simply asking those who are able to control the things we can control to do a better job controlling them. We are not asking, as some are, “Why is Canada being such a schmuck?” but we are curious as to why we seem determined to choke the very thing that so many across the province and country depend upon. “While our governments are being do-goody apologists-in-chief,” one article rants, “Washington has furthermore committed to helping Kenya raise $18 billion for a 900-kilometre pipeline that will roll through endangered species habitats in the Great Rift Valley to the Indian Ocean. It’s only an environmental issue it seems, when it’s a Canadian pipeline.” She said it, not me. But I do think it sometimes. Quietly. When no one is watching.


Why would the very Member of Parliament representing the very riding in which downtown corporate Calgary works and lives, who, by the way, is a good friend and great guy, not support an opposition motion seeking agreement on the following points:



I realize this is a not-very-well-veiled political stunt full of tripwires that will, no doubt, be spun to suggest that not supporting it is tantamount to being pro-unemployment. Still, I see no reference to young children and nicotine or old people and Nigerian princes referencing their bank accounts.  Yes, it was a clever, but not-so-clever, ploy to smoke out and call out those who are real Albertans from those who aren’t. It’s not, of course, quite that simple, but it also shouldn’t be hard if you live and work in this part of the world to stand up and, with pride and no fear of ridicule or reprisal, in as thoughtful and reasoned a manner as possible, to say so. As this brilliant piece so eloquently put it, “we don’t expect rescue, but we expect respect.”


Mary Moran, CEO of Calgary Economic Development, put it thoughtfully and reasonably in her excellent rebuttal to the Death of Alberta narrative: “[W]hile we aren’t waiting for solutions from Ottawa (or even Edmonton), we do need our elected politicians at all levels to stand up to create an environment that supports Canada’s energy sector – conventional and renewables alike. Frankly, the conversation for all Canadians needs to move beyond renewables OR conventional to renewables AND conventional.”  This was a message re-iterated by Robert Johnston, CEO and Director, Global Energy & Natural Resources for Eurasia Group, at a fascinating presentation he delivered recently to the Calgary Chamber of Commerce.


Though we realize that the notion of moving our resources from point A to point B by virtually any means will offend a portion of the population (no doubt reading this on their solar-powered computer made from grass clippings) there is irrefutable evidence that transporting hydrocarbons by pipeline is exponentially safer than by rail.  As unsettling as our local leaders not getting behind that proposition, is the unanimous support of raw sewage dumping Montreal-area mayors against Energy East.  Unanimous?  Hey, I married into a French-Canadian family; there’s no such thing as unanimous agreement on anything! Was Lac Megantic a pipeline or a train? Was that a pipeline dangling off the Bonnybrook Bridge at the height of the June 2013 floods?   Did I miss the part where pipelines became evil and rail became safe?  Or is it simply because the train tracks got there first? But if that’s the case where was the horse-drawn carriage lobby when the Wright Brothers were around?


Provincially, what passes as good news these days—a nerve-rattling and time-consuming royalty review that results in very little change— is akin to concluding a year-long investigation into whether or not there are monsters under your child’s bed, allowing them to go to sleep every night wondering if there are or are not, only to then conclude after months of sleep deprivation and frayed nerves that there are, in fact, no monsters under their bed. Or, at least, the monsters are the same ones that were there before and will remain there for 10 more years so, you know, carry on and sweet dreams.  Point is, we live in a house that has monsters under the bed, and as Mayor Nenshi recently put it, “[W]e are a resource economy. Our biggest export is still energy and I do not see a path where that does not continue to be the case.”  Boo.


I’ll tell you one pipeline that isn’t having any issues getting its product to market.  That’s the pipeline of talent from Alberta to points elsewhere.  Having just returned from four days in Toronto meeting with countless firms and companies in relation to our pending move there (more on that later), their genuine empathy for what they read in The Globe and Mail (I tell them ‘don’t believe everything you read in The Globe and Mail, it’s much worse’), is mixed with a hint of excitement about what talent might be picked at from the carcass of corporate Calgary: like that Barenaked Ladies lyric, “trying hard not to smile, though I feel bad.”  Or, as is more likely the case, they could be the points East that are our Ellis Island, warmly welcoming our tired, our poor, our huddled masses.  Either way, the Energy East pipeline is alive and well.  And our Prime Minister would be thrilled to learn that the energy we’re exporting isn’t the resource type but that resourcefulness we’re now famous for.  We should be far more concerned about exporting our talent eastward than futilely seeking the social licence to send our hydrocarbons there, for the price of commodities will return faster than the people who leave here will.


Crustacean though we may be, we’re still swimming and we’re still working very hard with our clients to keep the best possible talent within our borders and actually be a net importer of good people to the west.  But as our friends and clients in the pipeline business know, reversing the flow on any pipeline ain’t easy.  Maybe we should bring people here by rail?  That seems more palatable. And bring them here, we are. In fact, the past month alone has seen our Edmonton office kick off a cross-country search for the Edmonton Citadel Theatre’s new Artistic Director (a role we were honoured to take on as Bob Baker stepped down after 17 years), a CEO search for Chrysalis Society and a Project Accountant for Tiger Calcium. It’s news we are glad to share and proof that, yes, Alberta is a bubble—in good times and bad. Aritha Van Herk, though speaking specifically of Calgary, in this recent article manages to far more eloquently capture the essence of what makes Albertans, and dare we say most Canadians, look beyond the doom and gloom of recent headlines: 


“Calgary doesn’t believe that the boom will come, and then it doesn’t believe that the boom will end, although both boom and bust are inevitable — a cycle that has wheeled through this city at least 10 times. We thrive on upheavals, pipe dreams and celestial imaginings, over-extension and excess, believe the stories that circulate with the chinook wind, the temperature rising and falling, the river’s beautiful and reckless rustle underneath the whoosh of tires.”  What she said.


As Mary Moran points out, other parts of the Alberta economy are growing and Albertans actually started over 40,000 businesses in 2015.  Of course, we’ll soon raise the minimum wage, crushing most of them.  A friend of mine who owns an ice cream shop will need to add $1.30/scoop just to cover the wage increase he’ll be paying his employees.  Good thing a tub of ice cream is worth considerably more than a barrel of oil these days.


In closing, I realize there are political manoeuvrings and macro considerations well above my pay grade but as someone on the frontlines of the war for talent, both trying to help our clients continue to attract and retain the best and brightest, all while staying optimistic and staying put here in Alberta, in the face of unrelenting economic, political and media negativity, there are days I just want to wake up back in Kansas. Still, there’s no place like home.