Business council members (left to right) Ron Mannix (Chairman, Coril Holdings), Adam Legge (President, Business Council of Alberta), Dawn Farrell (President and Chief Executive Officer, TransAlta Corporation), Hal Kvisle (Chairman, Finning International, Chairman, ARC Resources, Corporate Director, Cenovus), Nancy Southern (Chair and Chief Executive Officer, ATCO Group) and Mac Van Wielingen (Founder of ARC Financial and President and Founder Viewpoint Group) at the Fairmont Hotel Macdonald in Edmonton on June 26, 2019.
Larry Wong / POSTMEDIA NETWORK
So many heavy issues are pounding Alberta’s economy these days it often feels like we’re stuck inside a car during a hailstorm.Problems keep hammering against the roof with a thud: high unemployment, falling investment, pipeline woes, carbon constraints, low commodity prices, difficult federal legislation and, in the latest turn, China suspending meat imports from this country.As oilpatch legend Jim Gray said earlier this week: “We are kind of losing our mojo.”Gray wasn’t saying it in a despairing way, but acknowledging we need to reverse course and get our confidence back.An opinion poll shows the depths of the funk.One in four Albertans surveyed earlier this spring believe the economy is getting worse, according to the poll conducted by Janet Brown Opinion Research. Just 23 per cent think it’s starting to recover, down from 45 per cent in the spring of 2018, according to the poll conducted in late April and early May.When asked about their own household situation, only 17 per cent of the 900 Albertans surveyed said it was better compared to a year ago; fully one-third said it’s worse.So what can be done to get our momentum and mojo back?That question is one of the reasons a high-powered group of chief executive officers and entrepreneurs is launching a new organization — the Business Council of Alberta — on Thursday, unveiling a non-profit entity that strives to build a more prosperous province.The council’s founders include ATCO chief executive Nancy Southern, TransAlta Corp. CEO Dawn Farrell, ARC Financial founder Mac Van Wielingen and Coril Holdings founder and chair emeritus Ron Mannix.Oilpatch veteran Hal Kvisle, the former CEO of TransCanada Corp. and current chair of ARC Resources, will serve as the council’s chairman.“What we wanted to create was an organization that had senior leaders, not just from multiple industries in Alberta, but from across Alberta geographically,” Kvisle said in an interview.“Our over-riding objective is to improve prosperity for all Albertans … not just economic prosperity, not just companies getting richer, but employees doing better, improvements on the social side of things and, of course, very careful attention to the environment.”
Hal Kvisle on September 30, 2016 at the Banff Springs Hotel.
Adam Legge, former president of the Calgary Chamber of Commerce, is the council’s founding president as the group kicks off with an announcement Thursday.The Business Council of Alberta has more than 40 senior executives and companies already on board and aspires to grow its membership to include the top 10 firms in each of the 10 largest industries in the province.Among its initial members are Enbridge, WestJet, Shaw Communications, Nutrien, Boardwalk REIT and Suncor Energy.“These are leaders of companies that live and work in Alberta, many of them, like me, having been born and brought up here,” said Dave Filipchuk, CEO of Edmonton-based PCL Construction and a council member.“We have thousands of employees, and we have benefited — those of us who have been in business and are older — from the prosperity of the Alberta of the past and honestly aspire to have that back.”Legge said the organization will be different from other think-tanks or business organizations, representing an array of industries, digging into a limited number of policy issues and adopting a longer-term view towards improving Alberta.The group will release a paper this week that looks at creating sustainable success in the province, including an examination of ESG (environmental, social and governance) issues. The council intends to develop a new prosperity index and wants to establish a task force on skills and training.“At our core, we will be a public policy and research organization that is focused on some of the long-term projects of shared prosperity for Alberta,” he said.“We are going to find the spots we feel aren’t necessarily being tackled” by others.
Adam Legge, former president and CEO of the Calgary Chamber of Commerce.
Gavin Young /
There are similar business councils in the country, both at the national level and in provinces like British Columbia and Manitoba.Business Council of Canada CEO Goldy Hyder was in Edmonton on Wednesday and while there’s no formal affiliation with the Alberta group, he said there is “a partnership … at a time of great urgency.”“There is an urgency to a lot of the problems that are being felt in Alberta,” said Hyder, a native Calgarian.There can be little doubt on that point.Investment in the energy industry is falling and concerns about federal legislation such as Bill C-69 have created consternation in the province and beyond.Farrell, who is also on the national council’s board, said the group needs to tackle issues head on and work to rebuild confidence in the province.“I just felt it’s critically important in Alberta at this time for business to stand up and take responsibility for what’s got to be done here to really put the economy back where it needs to be,” said TransAlta’s CEO.“Alberta has always been the most optimistic place. Albertans need to get back to that place.”Turning around attitudes, like bringing back investment, won’t happen immediately.Like trying to steer a ship, the key is to get pointed in the right direction and keep a firm eye on the course ahead.Let’s hope the journey back has finally begun.Chris Varcoe is a Calgary Herald firstname.lastname@example.org