Alberta’s 50 Most Influential People
If you haven’t already cottoned on to the idea that Alberta is an economic, political and cultural power-house, our 12th annual Most Influential list might finally have you convinced
by Michael McCullough, Tracy Hyatt, Natasha Mekhail and Lindsey Norris
More than a catalogue of oil and gas CEOs, this year’s list is populated with modern Medicis, human rights protectors and rising tech stars. These 50 people reflect Alberta’s broader economy and a noticeable shift in thinking about economic sustainability happening in Alberta, and beyond our borders. The changing of the old guard to the new is afoot.
Add another jewel to Guy Turcotte’s crown of picturesque mountain properties. In April, the chair, president and CEO of Calgary-based Stone Creek Resorts unveiled his company’s plans for a $1.5-billion resort village in Canmore. Three years in the making, The Village at Silvertip will feature 1,300 accommodation units, 100,000 square feet of retail space, about a dozen restaurants, destination spa and a conference and learning centre, spread out over 60 acres.
First Nations Chief
The choice between bringing economic prosperity to his people or protecting their health and environment is a no-brainer for Allan Adam, chief of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation. On the heels of a health study that linked high levels of environmental contaminants to cancer rates in the area, chief Adam called for a moratorium on new oilsands projects. Adam’s environmental fears were realized months later when 500 ducks died at a tailings pond in the tar sands.
OIL AND GAS Voice
What a year to be in oil. The royalty review, barrels topping $120, environmental backlash – and ducks! – were just part of the drama. And who takes the flak for the industry? Pierre Alvarez. Did the president of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers get any sleep at night? No wonder he announced in May he would be stepping down from the post he’s held for the past nine years. Here are some notable quotes from the CAPP’s (talking) head.
On the royalty review report, Oct. 2, 2007: “The panel lowballed costs faced by industry by billions of dollars and shrank the revenues paid to government by industry, again by billions of dollars.”
On instituting an end-user carbon tax, March 12, 2008: “If you’re going to get to climate change targets, you’ve got to hit every single consumer’s consumption.”
On oil-soaked ducks discovered in a Fort McMurray tailings pond, May 6, 2008: “The industry as a whole has recognized that with the size of the sector, the media attention is going to continue to grow, the public questions about industry activity are going to continue and they need to respond by being more transparent, more open and more available.”
Steven who? Despite grossing more than $10 million and snatching his third PGA victory in 2007, few Albertans know the name Steven Ames. The Calgary resident has slowly climbed the PGA ranks, jumping 27 spots since 2005 to 24th place in the official world rankings. Only 12 events into the 2008 season, Ames has already made a defining impact with four top 10 finishes, beating out golf heavyweights Vijay Singh, Ernie Els and Phil Mickelson. Steven Ames, that’s who.
Two years ago, Joe Anglin lived a quiet life as a 52-year-old father, businessman and former U.S. police officer living in Rimbey.Then his neighbours dragged him into a community meeting about AltaLink LP’s proposed 500-kV transmission line from Edmonton to Calgary. Anglin, a former lineman and energy expert, didn’t like what he heard. Ever since then his life has been short-circuited by the province’s bizarre electrical and regulatory politics.
Today he is known throughout rural Alberta as a pit bull, an electrical reformer, a Green Party politician and rural advocate par excellence. As leader of the 800-member Lavesta Area Group, Anglin effectively derailed a multibillion-dollar electrical project by patiently exposing the industry’s consistent disregard for due process. At the same time, he unwittingly revealed the use of spies by the Energy and Utilities Board that resulted in a dramatic shakeup of the agency as well as the firing of several employees. Early in 2008, he ran as the Green Party candidate in the ultraconservative riding of Lacombe-Ponoka, winning 23% of the popular vote without an advertising budget.
Now he’s getting ready to fight the whole transmission battle all over again as AltaLink resubmits its proposal. Anglin believes that the province does need to upgrade its transmission but doesn’t believe it should be done at taxpayers’ expense. He also favours direct-current lines, a novel technology that loses less energy than alternating current lines and that can be easily buried underground. “But we can’t find a venue to discuss it,” he laments. He describes the province’s latest order-in-council removing the requirement for environmental impact assessments on huge transmission lines as unbelievably primitive. “So we are going to build megaprojects without knowing their impacts or without reading about more environmentally friendly alternatives.” What the province now lacks, says Anglin, is any real energy vision in Alberta’s interest and that of its children. “Right now everything is about how fast we can develop our resources for the benefit of a few. I believe we should ask how to develop our resources for the benefit of the many.” Anglin’s populist message is now making political connections across the province.
– Andrew Nikiforuk
In his 2007 book The Economics of Happiness, economist Mark Anielski suggests we stop thinking of gross domestic product as the only tool we use to measure wealth. Instead, he puts forth a new framework, one that considers quality of life, too. Anielski, who is also an adjunct professor at the University of Alberta and CEO of Edmonton-based Anielski Management Inc., points out that despite constant economic growth, North Americans’ happiness levels continue to decline. As Alberta enjoys one of its richest periods in history, it’s a distinction we would do well to remember.
Among the province’s growing number of modern Medicis, Said Arrata could very well be the one with the deepest pockets. In 2007, The CEO of Centurion Energy International Inc. (acquired last year by Dana Gas) cut a cheque to the Calgary Opera, saving it from near bankruptcy. Though the amount has never been reported, it’s said to be large enough to cover the organization’s operating expenses for next eight years. In 2006, the Globe and Mail named Arrata the 56th best-paid CEO in Canada.
Stefan Bachu, Bill Gunter
& David Keith
When the Nobel Foundation bestowed the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize jointly on green evangelist Al Gore and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a little Nobel stardust sprinkled on Alberta. Among the 700-plus report contributors recognized as laureates by the panel were three scientists working for different organizations in the province, all convinced of the reality of man-made climate change and all working on ways to tackle it. Stefan Bachu is a senior scientist studying carbon capture and storage at the Energy Resources Conservation Board. Bill Gunter is a distinguished scientist in energy technologies at Alberta Research Council who is currently working on a sequestration pilot pro-ject with ARC Energy Trust in Redwater. And David Keith is the Canada Research Chair in Energy and the Environment at the U of C, looking at subjects ranging from carbon capture to wind power and alternative fuels.
Fort McMurray can brag about its oilsands, but if all goes as planned, the town of Rimbey will have its day in the sun for producing an even richer resource – biofuel. Dale Barr, the town’s mayor, scored points last year for spearheading efforts to develop a 27-million-litre-per-year, $30-million biofuel plant that would use straw from agricultural operations and municipal waste as ethanol feedstock. The project would divert thousands of tonnes of waste material from the landfill. Barr is also the chair of the Central Alberta Economic Partnership, a consortium of 39 municipalities working to attract investment and labour to the region.
Credit Union Head
Last year Steve Blakely snagged the president and CEO positions at Servus Credit Union. This year he played a key role in creating the third-largest credit union in Canada, merging Servus with Lloydminster-based Common Wealth Credit Union and Red Deer’s Community Savings. His main challenge now will be how to manage 1,925 employees, 400,000 members, 92 branches and $9.4 billion in assets.
Last summer marked the third year that the Rexall Indy had been held in Alberta. And though the auto race attracts 167,000 fans and pumps over $25 million into the Edmonton economy each year, the event’s investment group was apparently losing money. To the rescue came Northlands and its chair Jerry Bouma, who in January announced that ownership of the three-day event had been transferred to the Edmonton fairground operator. Given Bouma’s profit-spinning track record, the future of the Grand Prix is no longer in danger of spinning out of control. Bouma is also one of nine members of the city’s Arena Feasibility Committee, who determined that a new downtown arena made more sense than a Rexall Place facelift.
If there’s one person working to usher in Alberta’s cultural naissance, it’s Lance Carlson. In his role as president and CEO of the Alberta College of Art and Design, he has gone above and beyond the call of duty, including the wider community in gatherings like the Stirring Culture series and the president’s Smart Night. This year, these discussions have attracted some of the great cultural thinkers of our time, people like Malcolm Gladwell, author of The Tipping Point and Blink, as well as Richard Florida, who penned The Rise of the Creative Class.
Saviour of the Arts
When Syncrude decided this winter to stop sponsoring cultural events, it came as a blow to the arts community. The oilsands giant’s annual Next Generation Arts Festival had launched the careers of a number of young Edmonton artists, writers and performers. For the community, it held a much-anticipated place on the summer festival calendar. It seemed all was lost until Epcor stepped up to the plate. In March, Denise Carpenter announced that the utility provider would be the new presenting sponsor of NextFest.
As senior vice-president of public and government affairs, Carpenter heads an integrated department that aligns corporate relations, government relations and corporate marketing. But what sets her apart is her commitment to the arts. She currently serves as vice-chair of the Alberta College of Art and Design’s board of governors, and has been past board chair of the Edmonton Space Sciences Foundation and president of the Edmonton Business Council for the Visual Arts.
That recognition of the arts’ special place in the community saved one of Edmonton’s treasured festivals. As she is quoted as saying, “Any time we can do anything to promote our city internationally and to inspire the people who live here, we should do it.”
Success is (mostly) about who you know, and Jim Conroy has to have one of the fattest Rolodexes in the province. BusinessWeek singled out the Calgary chair and founding partner of Conroy Ross Partners, as one of The World’s 50 Most Influential Headhunters in March. In recent years, Conroy has served as global chair and executive director of IIC Partners, a global network of independent executive search firms.
The honorary chairman of Calgary investment boutique Mawer Investment Management Ltd. managed to beat out all of Bay Street and beyond to be named Canada’s Manager of the Year by Morningstar Research Inc. last November. The Mawer World Investment Fund, which Cooper-Key has managed for more than 20 years, has outperformed all the country’s international equity funds for 15 years running.
This Calgary PR man was little known until he became Premier Ed Stelmach’s campaign manager last June and engineered a stunning victory in the 2008 provincial election. Dawson, a partner with Spotlight Strategies, actually has a long political resumé at both the federal and provincial levels (see “The New Kingmakers”).
Ruler of the Skies
Under WestJet CEO and president Sean Durfy’s guidance, the little airline that could continued down its precocious trajectory to rival Air Canada. Some things to keep Montie Brewer up at night: WestJet announced a seasonal non-stop service between Calgary and Newark International Airport, part of Durfy’s strategy to add one or two U.S. business destinations a year. And even with record fuel prices and labour shortages, WestJet offset its soaring costs by flying fuller flights. Last year the company posted record high load factors of more than 80%, a trend that continued into the early part of ’08. Still, it was all too good to last; even the rising star of the Canadian airways broke down and added a fuel surcharge this May.
Edmonton defence attorney Dennis Edney is guaranteed to generate a stir for taking on high-profile causes that no one else wants to touch. Last year, he made international headlines as a defence lawyer for Omar Khadr, who was 15 when he was indefinitely detained by the U.S. military in Guantanamo Bay. Edney’s terrorism caseload also includes defence for a member of the Toronto 17 – a group that allegedly plotted to behead Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
Just as Gwyn Morgan will be remembered for bringing together two firms to create one of Canada’s largest-cap companies, Randy Eresman may become known for breaking it into two again – a “pure-play” natural gas and an oilsands company – a move lauded by investors if not everybody else. Amid the uproar over last year’s Royalty Review, none of the arguments by the oil and gas industry spoke so loudly as Eresman’s pledge to redirect $1 billion of exploration spending out of province. Even if that struck you as self-interested posturing at the expense of ordinary Albertans, remember it was EnCana, with the shirtsleeves-style Eresman at the helm, that got the ball rolling to relocate the National Portrait Gallery to Calgary, a cultural prize for all Albertans to enjoy if there ever was (or will be) one.
MySpace? My wha’? Facebook? So over it. If you have a teenager, chances are they’ve drifted from other social networking sites to Nexopia.com. Since its launch six years ago, more than 1.2 million 14- to 20-year-olds have made the switch. Oh, and did we mention founder Ewalds started developing Nexopia.com while he was still in an Edmonton high school? Early this year the site received a multimillion- dollar injection from Hubert Burda Media, one of Germany’s largest media companies, which was, like, so cool.
Spurred on by an experimental compound that slowed the advancement of his wife’s multiple sclerosis, Mr. Lube founder Clifford Giese started a company around it. Fast forward nine years to December 2007. Giese, chair of BioMS Medical Corp., signs one of the largest deals in Canadian pharmaceutical history: a global licensing and development agreement with drug giant Eli Lilly and Company worth nearly $500 million, the biggest break for Alberta’s biotech industry, well, ever.
Oil and Gas Investor
There were a lot of questions surrounding last year’s announcement that the province planned to restructure its investment operations into an arm’s-length corporation. The biggest unanswered question was who would oversee the Alberta Investment Management Corporation (AIMCo) and its assets of $75 billion. Four months later, Albertans breathed a collective sigh of relief when Tristone Capital chair, CEO and president, George Gosbee, was appointed to the vice-chair role. Within months of taking the post, Gosbee scratched out a major task off his to-do list — the hiring of a CEO. To Leo de Bever, a former Bank of Canada chief forecaster, falls the job of managing the fifth-largest management fund in Canada.
After the Alberta Energy and Utilities Board was split last year into separate agencies – overseeing electrical and pipeline infrastructure on the one hand and fossil fuel developments on the other – the government picked Willie Grieve, a telecommunications lawyer, to chair the new Alberta Utilities Commission and Dan McFadyen, an energy bureaucrat, to do the same at the Energy Resources Conservation Board. To Grieve falls the task of restoring credibility to a regulator tarnished by last year’s spy scandal (private investigators hired by the EUB were caught infiltrating a meeting of dissident landowners), not to mention adjudicating the future of an electrical industry whose capacity is falling behind fast-growing demand (see “Choked”). In terms of pure workload, however, the bigger job is McFadyen’s as he becomes responsible for oilsands and other oil and gas projects in an era of three-figure oil prices.
Call Arlen Salte a prodigal son. Like the biblical character who left home only to get up to God-knows-what, so did Salte, son of a Lutheran minister, long before becoming founder and executive director of Sherwood Park-based Break Forth Ministries. “I lived a pretty dark and messed-up life,” he has admitted (without the sordid details). And though the pastor, killed in the car crash that originally sent Salte astray, couldn’t keep with the parable and welcome home his wayward son, the faith Salte once abandoned greeted him instead – with arms wide open.
Around 15,000 Christian ministers and congregants from all over the world spent $100 to $200 apiece last January for Break Forth 2008, the annual conference Salte’s organization has held in downtown Edmonton for over a decade. With a doctorate in practical ministry, he hopes to bridge a gap. “There has been tremendous frustration towards some of the mainline churches from lay people,” Salte has said. “They want contemporary expression and modern communication in their worship services.”
Besides growing the ministry from 212 participants in 1997 to what’s now the nation’s biggest Christian conference, take the 250,000 records Salte has sold as Canada’s most popular solo Christian recording artist as further proof of his knack for reaching out to the devout. With Break Forth – which, by his guess, boosts the local economy by about $4 million a year – Salte packs Edmonton’s Shaw Conference Centre by booking Grammy-calibre Christian rock bands, speakers like Tony Campolo, who was Bill Clinton’s spiritual adviser through the Monica Lewinsky debacle, and workshops for reinvigorating the shepherd-flock dynamic. And even though Break Forth events have also found markets in America and Europe, Salte seems content to abide with Edmonton, a “spiritually alive town,” and, apparently, a solid enough rock upon which to build more than just faith. – Scott Messenger
(see Stefan Bachu)
We’re guessing Bill Hunter wasn’t invited to a lot of oilpatch Stampede parties this year, but the former forest industry executive and chair of last year’s Royalty Review Panel earned a lot of admirers among the general public after declaring that Albertans deserve a greater share of oil and gas revenues. Though somewhat watered down, the panel’s recommendations still form the basis of the new royalty regime to be introduced in 2009.
Alex Janvier likened the feeling of winning the Governor General’s Award for Visual and Media Arts to scoring a goal for the Montreal Canadiens. This year, he was one of eight artists to collect the $25,000 prize. The 73-year-old Cold Lake painter was never much of a hockey player, but he definitely knows how to handle a brush. Janvier’s dreamy abstract paintings blending aboriginal and modern art styles have set him apart as a Canadian artist for the ages.
As if being the city’s richest man didn’t wield enough influence. Now billionaire recluse Daryl Katz holds even more power – certainly more name recognition – after purchasing the Edmonton Oilers Hockey Club. The $200-million deal between Katz and the Edmonton Investors Group also comes with the promise that Katz, president and CEO of drugstore retailer Katz Group, pitch in $100 million towards the construction of a new downtown sports arena in Edmonton.
(See Stefan Bachu)
Business Person of the Year
Any signs of post-Royalty Review blues have pretty much vanished from the face of James Kinnear, chair, president and CEO of Pengrowth Energy Trust. One of the first to adopt the trust model, Kinnear has built an almost impenetrable energy trust, valued at $5 billion. Alberta’s 2007 Business Person of the Year most recently donated $10 million to the Banff Centre for the construction of the Kinnear Centre for Creativity and Innovation.
If it weren’t for her pounding the pavement relentlessly to raise money for good causes, the ledger books of many not-for-profit organizations might be spilling red ink. Past chair of the Capital Care Foundation, board member of the Edmonton Opera, director of the Alberta Cancer Foundation, Dianne Kipnes dons more hats than a rodeo queen. This spring, she was handpicked to join the National Arts Centre Foundation, a board made up of leading Canadians
who believe passionately in supporting performing arts in Canada. Earlier this year through her family foundation, the Dianne and Irving Kipnes Foundation, Kipnes pledged $500,000 to the Winnipeg-based Canadian Museum of Human Rights, which, when completed, will be the first national museum built in Canada in 40 years. Kipnes is also a clinical psychologist and social worker in Edmonton.
Human Rights Worker
It seems inconceivable in this day and age that governments could commit or condone genocide against their own people. And yet within our own recent memory, we have witnessed the horrors revealed in places like Rwanda, Cambodia, Bosnia and Darfur. But even countries that condemn these atrocities find their hands tied when the time comes to act, powerless against nations that are, in the end, autonomous. But now an Albertan might be part of the solution. In February, Andy Knight was appointed executive director of the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect. The University of Alberta political science professor and armed conflict expert will study mechanisms that could allow the international community to intervene when sovereign nations commit crimes against humanity. The centre, formed this year, has the support of the United Nations, the backing of five international non-governmental organizations and the financial support of nine countries, including Canada and Rwanda.
Named chair of the Edmonton Chamber of Commerce, appointed to the city’s Arena Feasibility Committee and no doubt pumped to be working for a new Oilers boss, Patrick LaForge was a shoe-in candidate for this year’s list. This spring, LaForge, CEO and president of the Edmonton Oilers Hockey Club, and the rest of the committee members recommended that the city build a new $450-million sports arena and entertainment complex downtown. If the city goes for it, LaForge’s decision will give a much-needed push to the economic revitalization of Edmonton’s core.
Imperial Oil CEO
Big oil has a new face and he showed it barely a month after succeeding Tim Hearn as Imperial Oil’s CEO and chair on April 1, publicly apologizing for the death of hundreds of ducks at an oilsands tailings pond Imperial partly owns. It was a bit jarring coming from the head of Canada’s largest energy company, which hitherto tended to mind its own business and preferred that everybody else mind theirs. Like his predecessors, March is a product of parent company Exxon Mobil’s executive stable, having previously run downstream operations in Europe, the Middle East and Louisiana. But the Middleport, N.Y., native’s debut hints at an evolving leadership style at the company and in the oilpatch generally.
With everything that he knows about building the largest tech company in Alberta, David Martin, co-founder of Smart Technologies, could write a book about the lack of investment funding available to the industry. Instead, the recently appointed chair of the Alberta Value-Added and Technology Commercialization Task Force penned a government report that calls for the creation of a $100-million fund that will eventually grow to $300 million in venture capital.
(see Willie Grieve)
As a world-renowned fiscal and tax policy expert, Jack Mintz’s return to his home province last year was seen as a much-needed stopper in the brain drain. Mintz’s prime task was to chair the School of Policy Studies at the University of Calgary. But what really earned him a place in the 2008 spotlight was chairing the committee on Alberta’s $16-billion savings account, the Heritage Fund. With the slash-and-burn days of Ralph Klein’s government long gone, provincial spending had swelled more than 60% over five years. And recent Heritage Fund deposits had largely been an afterthought – whatever money was left over. The report’s conclusion, not surprisingly, was to develop a consistent savings plan or risk being unprepared for an economic downturn. “Alberta can’t forever live off its natural resources,” he said.
Her January board appointment to Alberta Ingenuity will give Arlene Ponting more clout in science circles than ever before. The longtime CEO of the Science Alberta Foundation has helped make science education and literacy cool, overseeing a 161% increase in revenue and increased market reach by 323% in Alberta since heading the not-for-profit organization.
Since he was first elected in 2004, Jim Prentice has climbed the political ladder two rungs at a time. In 2006, he became Alberta’s senior federal cabinet representative as the minister of Indian and northern affairs. In August 2007, he was appointed minister of industry. He supports the controversial Mackenzie Valley pipeline project and was instrumental in preventing the maker of the Canadarm from being sold to an American arms-maker. Potentially good news for Canadian cellphone users and new telecom entrants, in June Prentice began auctioning off the wireless spectrum.
First there were 17 health regions, then there were nine and now there is one. It was a shocker to everyone that the premier’s first major reform, post-election, was to centralize Alberta’s health-care system. But given the very public and embarrassing airing of imbalanced funding after
the budget dropped this March, an effective and efficient solution was inevitably nigh. And so in May, less than two weeks after Charlotte Robb walked away as CEO of DynaLife Dx, she was installed as the interim CEO of the $30-billion health board, Alberta Health Services, which also includes the Alberta Mental Health Board, the Alberta Cancer Board and the Alberta Alcohol and Drug Abuse Commission. Robb, a former Business Development Bank of Canada senior executive and former chair of Edmonton Economic Development, is well qualified to see the board though its challenging continuity plans.
When Sol Rolingher dreams, he dreams big. How big? The chair of the Edmonton-based River Valley Alliance, and partner at Duncan & Craig law firm, has come up with a $605-million plan to link the entire North Saskatchewan river park system through the capital region. If his dreams become reality, and they just might now that the province has earmarked $50 million and the City of Edmonton has promised $100 million over 10 years to redevelop the valley, park users could bike, walk or ski 88 kilometres, all the way from Devon to Fort Saskatchewan. The proposed 18,000 arces will be larger than New York’s Central Park, London’s Hyde Park and Vancouver’s Stanley Park combined.
The University of Alberta’s first female president led the academic institution into its centennial year. With such recent coups as the opening of the National Institute for Nanotechnology and the Alberta Diabetes Institute, Indira Samarasekera appears to be at the helm of a world-class institution. And she must be good because last fiscal year she took in nearly $600,000 in salary and benefits, making her the highest-paid post-secondary president in Canada.
Among the 70 top ideas of 2007 as chosen by the New York Times was University of Alberta Computing Science chair Jonathan Schaeffer’s solution to checkers. After running a computer for 18 years, Schaeffer and his team identified 39 trillion possible outcomes to the ancient game. He is one of Canada’s foremost authorities on artificial intelligence.
If in 10 years Edmontonians barely recognize parts of their city, they can thank George Schluessel for changing the city’s look and feel. Schluessel, the CEO of Calgary-based ProCura, gained more stature last year when the first phase of his $1-billion urban infill development was completed on the site of the old Heritage Mall in Edmonton. The arrival of restaurants, medical offices, 86,000 sq. ft. of commercial space and about 300 residents who will move into Century Park’s first mixed-residential complex by the end of the year, has been a much-needed boost to the suburban neighbourhood. The numerous residential and commercial properties in Schluessel’s portfolio are a notable change to Calgary and Edmonton’s skyline.
Yes, the Glenbow is a museum, but there’s no reason it shouldn’t be known for its visual arts collection too, a task that falls squarely on the shoulders of the museum’s new CEO and president, Jeffrey Spalding. Since taking the helm of the Calgary institution in December, Spalding has collected more than 200 works of art pegged at $1 million. Known as the hottest turnaround act in the Canadian art world, Spalding increased revenue by 125% at his previous post, the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia. He is also the president of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts.
Premier of Alberta
If Ed Stelmach was the bumbler depicted by political pundits, then he bumbled like a fox in the run-up to last March’s provincial election, which restored the Progressive Conservative hegemony of old. Evidently there is a place, a big one, for middle-of-the-road red toryism in post-Klein, mid-energy boom Alberta, and “Steady Eddie” knows that better than anyone (see “The New Kingmakers,” p. 51).
The former mayor of Red Deer joined the Alberta Heritage Foundation for Medical Research board in 2000 and became chair five years later. Under her sway the foundation introduced the Polaris Awards, $20 million in recruitment dollars aimed at attracting top international talent to Alberta’s universities. The award “will truly transform the Alberta health research landscape,” Surkan told reporters at the award’s unveiling last year. Previously Heritage Foundation funding packages topped out at $1.4 million.
Ralph Thrall, Jr.
A working ranch is hardly the place you expect to find deep thinking and debate of the big issues facing Alberta and the world. But two or three times a year, more than a dozen of Alberta’s leading minds gather at the McIntyre Ranch south of Lethbridge in a kind of backcountry salon. The founder and host of the McIntyre Collegium, as it is known, is Ralph Thrall, Jr., reigning patriarch of the Thrall family that has owned this starkly beautiful, 55,000-acre property for more than 60 years and kept it in an almost pristine state through exemplary range management, native grass conservation and avoidance of overgrazing. Beginning in 1975, around the time Thrall took over the ranch from his late father, Ralph Sr., he invited friends and distinguished acquaintances to the retreat. Fellows of the Collegium now include Court of Queen’s Bench judge John Agrios, lawyer and venture capitalist Aaron Shtabsky, Northlands past president Glen Lavold, Biosphere Technologies president Erick Schmidt and 2006 Progressive Conservative leadership candidate Jim Dinning. Those of us outside this circle might never have known about its existence if it weren’t for the group’s decision last year to publish a white paper presented at one of the gatherings by nuclear expert Cosmos Voutsinos on the subject of nuclear power in the oilsands.
Auditor of the Auditor
Which bean counter do you believe? As part of his annual review last year, current Auditor General Fred Dunn found that by failing to follow its own internal review mandate, the provincial energy ministry left $1 billion in royalties uncollected. But when the Stelmach government asked former AG Peter Valentine and KMPG to review the ministry operations, he found no evidence of the above. The government, not surprisingly, adopted Valentine’s version of things.
Don Wheaton has long been known for one Edmonton landmark, the Don Wheaton Chevrolet Oldsmobile Ltd. dealership on Whyte Avenue. Today, he’s increasingly known for another, the Don Wheaton Family YMCA that, with its opening last winter, placed one of the first pieces into the puzzle that is the revitalization of Edmonton’s downtown. Wheaton, whose business interests now extend to several Alberta communities and include a financial arm, donated $2 million to the Y’s capital plan in 2003.