The Crossing at Ghost River provided the perfect environment for our social with the Alberta Conference Alumni. This one of a kind meeting and conference facility set in the foot hills gave us the opportunity to deepen existing friendships and form new bonds with those who attended previous conferences. We shared our thoughts and feelings concerning conferences past and present over great food, generating a common spirit that can only result from experiences shared.
Although it was difficult to leave the comfort of Ghost River, the early start to Day 9 was softened by the much needed coffee and muffins provided by our hosts. After a relatively brief bus ride (if there is such a thing in Alberta) we arrived at First Energy in Calgary to meeting with CEO, Jim Davidson.
First Energy has turned a profit in every quarter since the company started in 1993 which is impressive given the volatile economic circumstances over this period. Since inception the firm has conducted 1,158 financings representing 91 billion dollars in transactions. First Energy is the leading underwriter of oil and gas ventures in Canada and in 2008 the company opened a second branch in London taking advantage of available talent and the opportunity to reduce costs while accessing new markets. An example of the innovation that characterizes First Energy can been seen in the strategy that they pioneered which included hiring technical experts and teaching them the brokerage business; thereby creating an instantly credible basis for relationships within the oil and gas industry.
The western basin is providing fewer new discoveries; however, this has been offset by better extraction technologies which allow previously inaccessible reservoirs to be tapped. The improved technologies combined with the quality of Canadian human capital ensure that oil and gas ventures remain sustainable despite the increasing challenges associated with extraction.
First Energy has taken the lead in the industry in creating alignment through community donations. 2.5% of profit from each venture is donated to local charity thereby contributing to sustainability within the NP sector of Calgary while cementing the relationship between First Energy and their clients. This practice is now endemic in Calgary.
In addition to the enhanced relationship developed via the donation strategy, First Energy has leveraged its human capital in a way that allows them to be experts, essentially the brokers are analysts that can answer questions that brokers at other firms cannot. This strategy is supported by a flat and open management model conducive to collaboration and it serves as testimony to quality leadership in action.
Upon leaving the corporate environment at First Energy AB group moved on to the Aakram Jomaa Islamic Centre, a beautiful facility serving many of the 70,000 Muslims who call Calgary home. Imam Fayaz Tilly provided an introduction to Islam as he outlined the five pillars of faith: God; Angels; Holy Books; Pilgrimage; and Ramadan. The Muslim notion that the best way to preserve faith and traditions is through oral presentation is interesting when viewed through the sustainability lens. Imam Tilly also pointed out that the Muslim faith has 1.4 billion followers worldwide and is growing at a greater rate than the general population largely due to the fact that Muslim families are traditionally larger. Also, Imam Fayaz outlined his personal opinion concerning the rights of women stating that women and men are equal before God. His leadership within the Muslim community is obvious and is reinforced in the fundamental constructs that characterize Islam. The group noted that vibrant school located a short distance from the Mosque. Imam Fayaz noted that he is Canadian and that a key way to move forward with other communities is to have more interaction similar to that of the visit from the GGCLC Alberta study group.
The groups next stop in Calgary was the Canadian Red Cross where we met with Tom Sampson who is the Deputy Chief of the Calgary Emergency Management Agency. Deputy Chief Sampson was one of the first responders to Slave Lake in May 2011 where he served as the Commander of the Emergency Operation Centre. Members of AB group were shaken by the video from Slave Lake which showed scenes of people fleeing their homes as they raced from flames driven by 100 km/h winds. The video also showed the aftermath which was somewhat limited by the extraordinary efforts of the fire fighters and other emergency responders. Volunteers from surrounding communities provided support and accommodations for the evacuees and resources from across the Province were mobilized.
The NGO’s involved in the response, notably the Red Cross, were instrumental in providing relief to the victims but also to serving the logistical requirements associated with a large recovery effort. The response to this disaster, which occurred faster than anyone could have predicted, is credited with the fact that there were no fatalities resulting from the fire. The one fatality was a helicopter pilot who encountered difficulty during a water pick up. Deputy Chief Sampson went on to say that there was much to learn from the experience in Slave Lake, which will contribute to the improvement of planning for disasters. He also commented on the closure of the federal program, which previously allowed for the collaboration of emergency response professionals.
The group next moved on to the Calgary Urban Project Society (CUPS). This non-profit agency has been in existence for 20 years serving the low income population of Calgary. The sustainability of a community can be gauged by how it serves its most vulnerable citizens. CUPS provides services in 3 key areas: child development and education; affordable housing; and health care. Recently, CUPS took a leap forward in securing its future by leveraging the influential human capital of the Board of Directors via a fundraising campaign. CUPS raised enough money to move to a larger renovated space which will allow for enhanced service delivery and program expansion. The AB group noted that as in many provinces the effectiveness of the public money in the system in Alberta is limited by disconnected public policies.
Finally, the group enjoyed a leisurely stroll on a beautiful Albertan afternoon as they made their way to the Glencoe Club to meet with Dan Brown, COO for Surge Energy Inc and Murray Smith, former Energy Minister of Alberta. The food was extraordinary, matched only by the surroundings. The discussion revolved around the more technical aspects of the oil and gas industry and the implications on development and sustainability as the group took advantage of the expertise in the room. Our guests also dispelled some of the myths that we hear whenever energy or oil sands are mentioned, giving us plentiful talking points that we can use in future discussions. In addition to the need to resolve land claim issues where resource development is concerned two key points emanating from the discussion were: 1) the need to balance the energy sources in Canada to limit risk and 2) the notion that what happens in Alberta’s energy industry has national implications. For example, labour recruitment practices in Alberta have economic consequences in other parts of the country as skilled labour follows the money. In the end, the following quote from Mr. Smith summed up the discussion:
“The resource belongs to Alberta. The opportunity belongs to Canada.”
Stay tuned. We’re not done yet….