Calgary·Opinion

George Brookman on Albertans' growing anger, and Calgary's future

"It is ridiculous that we are not building pipelines to the East and West Coasts. The vast majority of Canadians know that it is short-sighted and poorly thought out, but at least part of the reason for that is Alberta’s own lack of selling itself over the past twenty plus years. We got fat, we got lazy and we quit selling,” George Brookman on what Alberta needs to do next.

Many Albertans feel under attack by high-profile people, like the mayors of Montreal and Vancouver

A Calgary business leader says Alberta needs to focus more on selling what it has to offer, to the country and the rest of the world. (David Bell/CBC)

"Nothing Ever Happens Until Somebody Sells Something."

Those words were spoken to me by my Dad when I was a very young little guy and they were repeated over and over as I grew. Today, both of my own daughters have heard them so often they will say "yes, yes Dad, we know."

Whether you want to get a date, convince your parents to buy a puppy, sell a house or a car, promote a fund raiser or convince your children about the merits of secondary education, the simple truth is that you are always selling.

Occasionally, however, we all forget that, and over the past fifteen or twenty years, "Alberta" forgot that totally.

We forgot how important it was to show the rest of Canada the benefits of the oilsands, of our inexpensive and accessible energy supply so needed in a cold climate like ours. We did not do enough to sell the amazing advances being made in the use of clean hydro carbon energy. We forgot to tell the rest of Canada about the advantages that we were providing to all Canadians and that, in fact, Albertans are probably about the most environmentally-focused people in the nation if not the world, or about the amounts Alberta was contributing to the national tax base.

Let's face it, we as a province, got a bit fat and happy and not just a little bit arrogant.

Nonetheless the reality for all Canadians is to realize just how important a strong Alberta is to all provinces.

Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre is speaks to reporters February 24, 2016 at the legislature in Quebec City. Coderre has opposed projects like the Energy East pipeline. (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press)

On Alberta anger

Attacking Alberta, blocking the Alberta opportunity, in the end, hurts the economies of all provinces and ultimately all Canadians.

Many Albertans are frustrated and angry. They feel under attack by groups and individuals like the mayors of Montreal and Vancouver and even some First Nations groups.

Alberta shared its wealth across the nation and now feels unappreciated.

Candidly, no matter how well intentioned, no matter how high minded Alberta's critics might be, they are simply wrong and our leaders must speak up.

Pipelines are the safest way to deliver bitumen. Full stop!

Yet, Albertans have earned some of this scorn.

We often acted like someone who had won the lottery, and then tried to tell their neighbours how smart they were. It is time to get over that on both sides.

A demonstrator is taken away by a police officer after disrupting the National Energy Board public hearing into the proposed $15.7-billion Energy East pipeline project proposed by TransCanada Monday, August 29, 2016 in Montreal. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

Thousands of hard-working Canadians are being hurt by these allegations and opposition.

All of Canada is now and will continue to see economic decline without the increased export of our energy bonanza. The voices of the few are damaging not only the lives of many, but are making Canadians look like a nation without a common vision.

We need to act like winners

We must stop hanging our heads and looking at our boots and instead be proud of what we have, what we are and what we can do for the people of the world. The world wants what we have and we need to get out and sell it, both the ideas and the products themselves.

It is never too late to change things, but it is not going to be easy.

Let's pretend that the world wants to design a city, a great city, that people want to live in and be a part of. Let's start with public safety, fresh water, great education, great health care, proximity to the mountains, with an ambitious, young and well-educated population.

Calgary has it all!!

Our city is a city that oozes optimism, that seizes on opportunities like the Calgary Stampede and the Olympic games or a development like the East Village and then turns them into something that the entire world envies. A city that has offered huge chances for prosperity to its citizens but has never forgotten the homeless, the addicted and the underprivileged.

Calgary is, in fact, an amazing place to live.

We have accomplished all of that by working together, by creating a common vision, by creating a brand that makes people smile and by selling every citizen on the merit and the opportunities that all of this has provided. In other words we have acted like winners and together we have created amazing things.

Our core industry is reeling, our best and brightest are under employed and our big dreams of the future have been replaced by negative thoughts and hand wringing at every level.

Now is the time we need to get out and sell, our city and our province. We need to tell the world about the incredible opportunities that we offer in business, in the arts, at the university, in our hospitals and in so many other ways.

We need to market and sell all that we are, and that includes the incredible energy industry.

Bravely defending Alberta

Brave, visionary leadership is needed at all levels. From our city council to our provincial Leaders and on to the federal government.

It is ridiculous that we are not building pipelines to the East and West Coasts. The vast majority of Canadians know that it is short-sighted and poorly thought out, but at least part of the reason for that is Alberta's own lack of selling itself over the past twenty plus years.

We got fat, we got lazy and we quit selling.

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley fields questions at the summer meeting of Canada's premiers in St. John's on Thursday, July 16, 2015. Notley says she wants at least one new pipeline built that will carry the province's oil to new markets. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

Our current premier is speaking up for the pipelines and for industry, but her efforts are falling largely on deaf ears. Someone has referred to it as the "Tyranny of the Minority."

Why can't Calgary, in the very centre of the Treaty Seven Nations, become the place where the problems of our First Nations Peoples are not only addressed and discussed, but actually solved?

This is just one more opportunity for our city to be seen as a leader in this country instead of just the place that houses all of the oil companies.

Let's sell ourselves again

"You can become anything you want to be" are words that we have all heard since our childhood.

The problem is not becoming what we want to be, the problem is making the decision of what we want to be. For me, I want Calgary to be a city that is vibrant, growing, a city that is clean and exciting and provides opportunities at every level for all of its citizens.

I want Calgary to be the envy of every citizen of every nation around the world. We will not get there by hoping, we will get there by having a clear strategy, a common goal and a recognition that we have more than almost any other city in the world. But it will not be all that it can be if we don't get out there and sell it.

The words are as true today as they were when I was a child "Nothing Happens Until Somebody Sells Something!"


Calgary at a Crossroads is CBC Calgary's special focus on life in our city during the downturn. A look at Calgary's culture, identity and what it means to be Calgarian. Read more stories from the series at Calgary at a Crossroads.

About the Author

George Brookman is the CEO of West Canadian Industries and recipient of a Distinguished Business Leader Award from the U of C's Haskayne School of Business. Brookman is also the past president of the Calgary Stampede Board, and a regular on The Calgary Eyeopener's 'Unconventional Panel'.

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