Filling the Pointy End

Monday was a great day for the Edmonton Region. After three weeks of rumors swirling around the city, Edmonton International Airport (YEG) was delighted to announce a new non-stop flight to Amsterdam (AMS) beginning May 5th 2015, operated by KLM Royal Dutch Airlines.

This is good news.

Tremendous work goes into securing direct flights for the region, spearheaded by CEO Tom Ruth and his team at EIA in tight coordination with Mayor Don Iveson’s office, the Edmonton Chamber of Commerce, the Province of Alberta, Travel Alberta, Leduc County and our Edmonton Tourism and Enterprise Edmonton teams at EEDC.

Common Objective. Unified Voice.

Businesses can move people, goods and ideas faster to markets around the globe as a result of direct air access, and tourists can flow back and forth between destinations. Amsterdam was identified by Edmontonians as one of the most effective hubs into Europe, Africa and the Middle East … and it was delivered for your benefit.

Now, it is your turn.

There are three parts to every airplane – the pointy end (business class), the back end (economy class) and the underbelly (cargo) – all of which combine to determine the yield (return) on each flight. I never gave this too much thought, until I started understanding what it takes to secure new routes … and most importantly, what it takes to keep the routes we work so hard to secure.

And, our businesses have a big role to play.

If we don’t fill the pointy end of the plane … the business class … and we don’t ship our products from Edmonton International Airport … the cargo … then direct flights will be near impossible to maintain by travelers simply going to Expedia and clicking on the cheapest fare.

So, here’s what I’m asking you to do this week in your business:

– Explore whether you are trucking products to other airports before they head overseas;
– Explore whether you have a “fly economy” policy on international flights; and
– Explore whether you have a “direct flights first” policy that helps support your community.

This is a simple, but profoundly important request, folks. I respect that we are still living in the residue of extreme frugalness due to certain people abusing public funds … but we actually need to step up our commitment to these new direct flights in order to continue to build an economy of competitiveness and prosperity.

Play your part. You have an important role.

Thank you.

Are We Smart Enough?

Complacency is a dangerous disease. It’s forever affected General Motors, Kodak, Microsoft and Blockbuster. And it is a widespread addiction amongst Alberta companies.


Because things are good. Why change? Why invest? Why try harder … when you can just sit back and enjoy the prosperity that comes from underlying economic growth?

Look at your own organization. Look at yourself. What are you investing in today that will allow you to reap dividends in 2-3 years or 5-7 years?

These are important questions, and they are the questions every Albertan should be asking every day. They are the questions that we will explore at E-Town ( next week, and it is important that you invite yourself to the conversation. Here’s why (true stories from the past week):

Me: Is your team coming to e-town this year?
CEO: It looks fabulous, but we’re too busy working too hard.
Me: Is working harder your competitive advantage?
CEO: Ummm … shut up.

Employee: I’d like to attend e-town this year. It only costs only $399.
Boss: What will you learn?
Employee: Technology, leadership and creativity trends affecting our business.
Boss: I don’t think those are our priorities right now.

Do these stories sound familiar? Are we simply trying to win by working harder? Or is it time we start thinking about competing by being smarter than your competition? One of our speakers, Estelle Metayer, focuses solely on this topic, and I’m probably looking forward to her session the most.


Because it strikes at the heart of our economic future. And you can’t afford to miss it.

Register yourself and your employees at

Thank you.

Arrogance + Hypocrisy

When I was growing up, I spent many afternoons drinking Turkish tea with one of my mentors – a great doctor and Muslim leader from our community – who gave me lasting gifts with every conversation. We always discussed politics and religion and leadership … the very stuff we are told never to talk about … until the pot of tea was emptied … and then we would brew another pot and talk some more.

Mostly, I just listened.

“What is the worst combination of sins?” I remember asking.

After great contemplation, a long sip of tea … and then another … the wise elder leaned forward and whispered two words: “Arrogance and Hypocrisy.”

Long sip …

Five years ago, filmmaker and environmentalist James Cameron came to Ft. McMurray to observe the oil sands and made some public comments that came from a place of ignorance and ambition … another ruthless combination. Knowing little about the history, the geology or the science, the Hollywood director flew in on his private jet and aggrandized the unearthly degradation that was fueling the very things that heated his expansive home, built his movie studios and powered his luxurious choices of transportation … arrogance plus hypocrisy at its finest.

Some five years later, the oil sands now attracts withering celebrity icons on their personal “quests for relevance.” Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Neil Young, Robert Redford, Daryl Hanna (how she is deserving to be on any list?) have all graced us with their presence, their pontifications, and their self-importance … serving out the dangerous cocktail … a double shot of arrogance with a twist of hypocrisy.

But sometimes the world surprises you.

Last week I was in Montreal and had the opportunity to hear James Cameron being interviewed by George Stroumboulopoulos. I braced myself when the question from the audience inquired about his latest environmental crusade. However, after five years of fact-based research and a boat-load of humility, this is how James Cameron answered the question:

“What I have learned is that 19.5% of greenhouse gases (GHGs) and greenhouse effect is caused by animal agriculture, which is more than the entire transportation sectors put together … all cars, trucks, planes, ships … everywhere. So with a simple food choice, we can basically switch off global warming. Now, what are the chances of people suddenly deciding not to eat meat and dairy? Probably pretty slim. But it is possible … as opposed to it is not possible to switch the entire energy and transportation grid to alternatives in one day.” James Cameron then went on with great humility to acknowledge some of his own past hypocrisies in his use of energy products and how his crusade has shifted from one of finger-pointing and condemnation to one of leadership through personal action.

James Cameron sipped some Turkish tea.

Now, I’m sure James Cameron would still like us to reduce our energy footprint. But what I was impressed with is ability to sit quietly and reflect, and to recognize that the supply of energy is not the problem in a world with insatiable human demand. Human demand is the root cause, and that knows no geography.

“What if the billions of dollars spent on environmental activism was spent on education and marketing – the changing of human behavior?” I ask.

Hmmm …. that’s a question that requires another pot of Turkish tea.

We have a Labour Shortage Problem, Not a TFW Problem

Twice a week, I used to drive Highway #2 back and forth to Calgary, making my usual stops for McDonald’s coffee on the way down in the morning and Booster Juice on the way back. It was 2007, the economy was booming and we were at full employment. And then one day my trip home was interrupted by the following sign in a very familiar window:

“We’re sorry, but due to a lack of available staff this Booster Juice store will be closing at 3pm.”

Welcome to Alberta, circa 2007.

Fast-forward to 2014 where, having weathered the global financial storm, Alberta is back in the saddle. Full employment, rapid growth, and the same labour shortage problem that has defined the 21st century for our province, and for the Edmonton Region. Except this time around, employers in the food service industry have learned how to access the Federal Temporary Foreign Worker (TFW) Program, in order to get the labour supply they so desperately need.

Looking around today, these business leaders are clearly managing economic growth with much more grace and professionalism than they did seven years ago. That is, until last week when Federal Employment Minister Jason Kenny unexpectedly put a freeze on all new and pending TFW applications in the food service sector.

I fully understand Minister Kenny’s frustration with the arrogance and hypocrisy shown by the Canadian CEO of McDonald’s and I support the need to penalize the handful of companies that are abusers of the program. However, an industry-wide freeze has put the growth of countless small and medium-sized businesses in Edmonton at risk. These are the entrepreneurs, job creators and taxpayers of our city and country. We need Minister Kenny to help reduce this risk, and seize the unique opportunity before him.

Based on the feedback we received from restaurant, hospitality and entertainment leaders over the past three days, the political and economic conditions are primed for Minister Kenny to demonstrate the strong leadership that this issue requires. This can be done through the following approach:

• Ensure the freeze accelerates the review of the TFW program . Don’t allow naysayers to slow down the review. Where there are problems, let us fix them quickly, together, and get things back on the rails. Set a public commitment to have the review completed by a specific date, where the results will be made public and changes communicated;

• Reinforce that abusers of the TFW program will be investigated, audited and, if found guilty, harshly punished. Employers who mistreat their employees should never been given the opportunity to do so again;

• Acknowledge that unemployment is not equally distributed across the country and that the TFWs fill an important labour shortage problem in the Alberta economy which drives economic growth and prosperity for the nation;

• Leverage the discussion on the TFW program as a platform to activate underemployed areas of our country. Let’s address the critical reforms needed to programs such as Employment Insurance – reforms that will enable more inter-provincial migration and the employment of Canadians from across the country; and

• Commit to maintaining a stable policy environment in order to allow our entrepreneurs, business owners and municipal leaders to properly plan and make investments, without the ever-present risk of changing rules and regulations.

I could have spent this blog discrediting the C.D. Howe Institute’s commentary that unfairly attributes increases in unemployment with the TFW program. I could have spent this blog discrediting the Alberta Federation of Labour’s stance that our economy can prevail without an external labour supply. I could have spent this blog talking about the poor timing of this announcement in advance of the summer tourism season where temporary workers are needed most and when TFW families come to visit. And I could have spent this blog talking about our demographics and our inability to repopulate this country without programs that stimulate immigration of new taxpaying Canadians.

But I think what is more important is that Minister Kenny address the significant barriers to inter-provincial migration which get Canadians working, the realities associated with the booming Alberta economy and the challenges to Alberta’s sustainable contribution to the federal system if it does not have access to a global labour marketplace.

It is time to start unifying our nation around economic imperatives.

Minister Kenny’s leadership is needed now.