Falling oil prices have presented some challenges for Santa in finding appropriate presents. This year’s gift list duly recognizes those who made a difference in 2014 and didn’t give up in the face of mounting adversity while not shying away from teaching a few individuals a lesson or two.
So, without further ado, here’s to those deserving of holiday gifts, naughty and nice:
To Russ Girling and Al Monaco: Signed copies of the Groundhog Day film courtesy of Bill Murray. The two CEOs, of TransCanada and Enbridge, respectively, end 2014 no closer to getting shovels in the ground than they were this time last year. Enbridge did receive the federal cabinet’s blessing for its Northern Gateway project in the summer. TransCanada, on the other hand, yet again heard U.S. President Barack Obama, at his year-end press conference, say Keystone XL project would only benefit Canadian producers.
For Leo de Bever: A gold star. The Alberta Investment Management Corp. chief executive leaves on a high note, having grown assets under management to $84 billion since taking the reins in 2008. He arrived just before the financial crisis of 2008, intent on bringing AIMCo into the current century on everything from governance to risk management. He did just that — and added value by looking for it where others did not.
To David Collyer: A detox program to bring everything back into balance. The almost-retired Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers president has lived on planes, in hotel rooms and on his Blackberry since taking the job in 2008. Collyer has worked tirelessly to change the dialogue about Canada’s energy sector — both inside and outside Canada — in the past six years. While CAPP still gets criticized on the communication front, it did not have a strong communications function when Collyer came on board.
For Hal Kvisle: A new tractor for his farm. The soon-to-be former CEO of Talisman will have more time to spend on his farm. Despite vowing never to lead a public company after leaving TransCanada, Kvisle stepped into the leadership role at Talisman after John Manzoni was shown the door and did what was necessary: sold the company to an entity with deeper pockets and the ability to see beyond the challenges in the North Sea, and got more from Repsol than many expected.
For Carl Icahn: A corner where he can lick his wounds and a copy of Aesop’s Fables. Icahn was full of bluster when he made his investment in Talisman Energy, but didn’t do enough work to truly understand the company and its challenges. He might be rid of the bug to invest in energy companies having lost $286 million on his Talisman investment.
For Stephen Harper: A trip to the grocery store where he can read the ‘best by’ labels and maybe realize his shelf life as prime minister has expired. This became clear when he refused to meet with Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne. How can Harper refuse to meet with the premier of the most populous province in the country, but make time for New Jersey Governor Chris Christie?
To Danielle Smith: — Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, to learn more about the motivation of Brutus to betray Caesar. Since Smith has effectively killed her own political future — despite how she presents her decision — Santa is also leaving nine hours of career-counselling sessions, one hour for each Wild Rose caucus member who crossed the floor and will be unlikely to survive a PC nomination process.
For Greg Clark: A new pair of running shoes. The unprecedented collapse of the Wild Rose creates a huge opportunity for the Alberta Party leader. Come January 1, Clark has to hit the ground running as it’s not out of the question Premier Jim Prentice could call an early election.
To Premier Jim Prentice: A copy of The Art of War by Sun Tzu. Not that he really needs it, having effectively eviscerated his competition on the right side of the political spectrum. What Prentice achieved in the closing weeks of December is something many a political leader has dreamed of doing, but never achieved. Keep your friends close and your enemies closer?
The premier also receives tutorials from tax experts and economists, including the U of C’s Jack Mintz, his own chief of staff, Mike Percy, the former dean at the U of A’s School of Business and McGill University’s Chris Ragan, co-author of the introductory economics textbook used by university students across the country. These tutorials will help Prentice understand why a value-added tax is important for Alberta.
For Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi: His very own genie, who could enable Nenshi to wish away recalcitrant councillors who oppose moving the city into the current century; the voting down of secondary suites the most recent example.
For U.S. President Barack Obama: His own personal Pinocchio. Obama has been on American airwaves of late talking about the Keystone XL pipeline project that he says would only benefit Canadian producers. He forgets the benefit to the Gulf Coast refining complex — which employs thousands of Americans — of having a reliable stream of heavy crude to keep those facilities running profitably.
To Premiers Phillipe Couillard and Kathleen Wynn: Lessons in Canadian constitutional history courtesy of Peter Meekison, former deputy minister of Intergovernmental Affairs to former Alberta premier Peter Lougheed. Both Couillard and Wynne have a perfect opportunity to play the federalist card Prime Minister Stephen Harper is unwilling to do. By standing up and saying they’re supportive of the Energy East pipeline because it’s good for Canada they could elevate the energy dialogue to the national stage and send a strong message to Ottawa.
For B.C. Premier Christy Clark: A private meeting with Encana CEO Doug Suttles. There is no chance all 18 proposed liquefied natural gas projects will go ahead; the betting is one or two at most. Clark therefore must think about diversifying her portfolio to include oil — in the form of pipelines through her province to the West Coast. Encana learned the hard way the risks of being entirely exposed to one commodity and it’s Suttles who is gradually bringing the company’s asset mix into balance.
To the Burnaby Mountain protesters: A dictionary to look up the definition of ‘hypocrisy.’ Some protesting Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline expansion reportedly complained about a lack of parking at the protest site. If they lived what they protested, they would have walked, taken public transit or their bicycles to the protest.
For John Chen: A copy of the children’s book The Little Engine that Could. The Blackberry CEO is not giving up on his goal of making the company relevant again. Whether it was striking a software deal with Samsung, introducing the popular Blackberry Passport or bringing back the Blackberry Classic — for which there is a waiting list — not only does he ‘think he can’ make Blackberry relevant, the odds are looking better all the time that he will succeed.
For the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries: A meeting with former Alberta premier Ed Stelmach to gain an understanding of the law of unintended consequences. Destabilization in the Middle East and within other members of OPEC as a result of low oil prices and the resulting challenge of meeting budgetary requirements has the potential to sew the seeds of further discord and upheaval in the region, which is the last thing anyone wants.
To Doug Suttles: The oilpatch’s Rookie of the Year Award. Encana was facing third down and 10 at this time last year. But Suttles has surprised many observers while engineering a come-from-behind victory in the past 12 months. Not only did Encana make two acquisitions in 2014 aimed at adding more liquids to its asset base, it also timed the market perfectly with its spinoff of PraireSky Royalty Corp., which pulled in $3.3 billion between June and September. Encana is the only company this month to announce it’s raising its 2015 capital expenditure plans.
For the Calgary Stampeders: Silversmithing lessons so they can fix the Grey Cup the next time they win it. Santa also has something special for Dave Sapunjis. The former Stamps’ receiver had 10 jerseys made up with 54 on the back — the number worn by the late John Forzani — in advance of the Grey Cup — and made sure coach John Hufnagel was wearing one when he accepted the trophy from CFL Commissioner Mark Cohon.
To Mark Cohon: The outgoing CFL commissioner gets his ‘own ticket’ for the next chapter in his professional career. Cohon worked tirelessly to make the CFL relevant — and capped his stint with the return of a franchise to Ottawa. While the Redblacks had a dismal season — and no one really gets the name — the league is back to full strength and in a position to get even stronger.
Between tectonic shifts on the political front in Alberta, B.C. and Quebec, along with the dramatic slide in oil prices that left the energy sector reeling in the dying weeks of the year, Santa is expecting his work next year will be even more involved. He’s hoping, however, that unlike 2014, there will be positive movement on the pipeline files in 2015.
Deborah Yedlin is a Calgary Herald columnist