Brett Wilson says he will donate $100,000 to the Calgary Public Library on one condition — the city must first change its bylaws to allow for the ride-hailing service Uber.
The outspoken Calgary entrepreneur, who has taken up the cause of legalizing Uber in the city as a bit of a personal crusade, announced his unusual potential gift at an awards gala where he was being recognized for his "irascible and cheeky" approach to public life.
Wilson was the 2015 recipient of the Bob Edwards Award, an annual honour meant to recognize individuals who embody the provocateur principles of the award's namesake, who edited the punchy weekly newspaper The Eye Opener out of High River and Calgary in the early 20th century.
The newspaper became the namesake for the CBC radio show, The Calgary Eyeopener, where Wilson joined host David Gray on Friday morning to explain his offer.
Wilson said he has no financial stake in Uber and has not been offered anything by the company or asked for anything in return for his advocacy.
"So why do I do it? I believe that ride-sharing technologies like Uber are good for the city," he said.
"It's a product and a service that's available in every major city in North America and it's a shame that we, as Calgary, haven't embraced it and figured out how to make it work here."
Past recipients of the Bob Edwards Award include the likes of author Mordecai Richler, politician Preston Manning, comedian Mary Walsh, broadcaster Knowlton Nash, and musician Matthew Good.
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The Calgary Library Foundation, which handed out the award, said Wilson was selected as the 2015 recipient for turning his financial success into a public presence that can't be ignored.
"He is a prominent innovator and provocateur who goes beyond the definition of an entrepreneur — he's an ultrapreneur," the foundation said in its award announcement.
An ultrapreneur, the foundation added, is "an individual who goes beyond their initial undertaking and moves toward their life purpose to improve the world around them."
News of Wilson's $100,000 conditional offer made the rounds online, largely fuelled by Wilson himself, who is active on social media.
Reaction was mixed, with some people applauding the move while others described the move as "sleazy" and criticized Wilson for making donations "with strings attached."
Asked online why he would link the seemingly separate issues of Uber and Calgary libraries, Wilson replied tersely: "Because I can." He added a winking-face emoticon.
Despite the cheeky tone, the entrepreneur reassured skeptics he was serious about the money.
"I said it," he tweeted in response to one query. "My word is a contract."
Wilson perhaps foreshadowed his move in a video tweeted by Brent Buechler, vice-president of the Calgary Library Foundation, before the award gala that described Wilson as "Uber excited" to be the 2015 recipient.
"As a provocateur, I can't tell you how much I am looking forward to having the stage," Wilson says in the video.
"The event's pretty well sold out, so I'm not trying to sell tickets. All I'm saying is: We're going to have a lot of fun."