Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Alberta Business Back PC Candidates

Two interesting Edmonton Journal articles on which Alberta companies back PC leadership candidates. Dinning of course has the backing of the majority of big corporations in the province. But Mark Norris, had the backing of his bosses and their corporation, The Edmoton Oilers.

One of the articles is by the Journals Business reporter the other by the Journals Sports reporter. Not the usual political reporting. But then again in Alberta politics is both, big business and a professional sport.

No secret who backs Dinning business

As detailed in a 2005 Journal profile, Dinning's corporate ties are far broader than those of any other candidate.

Besides a lengthy stint as a senior exec at TransAlta, the widely perceived front-runner served on the boards of Shaw Communications, Finning International, Parkland Income Fund and Western Financial, among many others.

What's more, as chairman of the Canadian Clean Power Coalition, Dinning rubbed elbows with the brass at Atco, Epcor, Luscar and TransAlta.

His backers include such powerful execs as Finning CEO Doug Whitehead, Shaw founder J.R. Shaw, TransAlta boss Steve Snyder, PCL boss Ross Grieve, Stantec CEO Tony Franceschini, and Parkland founder Jack Donald.

Not only did The Globe and Mail -- the preferred daily read of the nation's corporate elite -- endorse Dinning in a recent editorial, its Calgary-based business columnist, Deborah Yedlin, also gave the ex-Alberta treasurer two thumbs up.

While Edmonton's Mark Norris, Alberta's former economic development minister, also boasts some key corporate backers -- including Calgary tycoon Murray Edwards -- the buzz on the street indicates that most of the big-money crowd backs Dinning.

In fact, only one company -- Agrium -- offered any specifics, noting that its chairman, longtime Dinning acquaintance Frank Proto, has contributed $250 to the candidate's campaign.

Two firms -- Telus and EnCana -- said they coughed up $5,000 apiece for each of the eight candidates. Meanwhile, 14 other firms, including Imperial Oil, Agrium, Epcor, Syncrude and ATB Financial, said their own in-house policies forbid any financial contributions to individual politicians.

Only three firms -- WestJet, Agrium and PCL -- specifically confirmed who their CEOs are personally supporting (Dinning, in each case). But it's well-known that other senior execs whose firms were polled are also in the Dinning camp.

Mark Norris and the Edmonton Oilers

The chair of the Oilers ownership group, Cal Nichols, was also the driving force behind GLG Consulting Ltd. Formed in Dec., 2004, it was a unique corporate mechanism that essentially morphed into the financial backing and campaign team for Mark Norris, who went down in flames as a first ballot also-ran Saturday. GLG employed Norris, a former MLA who lost his seat in the 2004 election, as its president at $10,000 per month until last May when he resigned. GLG's 130-odd shareholders included Nichols and at least nine other members of the Oilers ownership group, as well as Edmonton Rush lacrosse team owners Craig Anstead and Bruce Urban.

On Saturday, Nichols had a team of about 20 people manning the phones at his west-end Gasland offices, urging people to brave the chill and vote for Norris. But he was a distant sixth, well behind Calgarians Jim Dinning and Ted Morton and Edmonton-area MLA Ed Stelmach, who will duke it out on a second ballot next weekend.

So the line between Norris and Oilers owners like Nichols, Ron Hodgson, Gary Gregg and Ed Bean is indeed a straight one.

And if a sports fan wants to discern the value of friends in high places, he need only ask the Eskimos, who have always enjoyed a cozy relationship with the Conservative party, owing to the fact former premiers Peter Lougheed and Don Getty are Eskimo alumni. So too is current lieutenant-governor Norman Kwong.

Do you think it's a coincidence that Eskimos CEO Rick LeLacheur mused aloud about new seats for Commonwealth Stadium mere weeks before the provincial government announced a commitment of $9.5 million to do the job? Me neither. The Eskimos are connected the way the Oilers can only dream about.

But in their quest to increase Edmonton's political voice in the provincial arena, Nichols and the rest of GLG's shareholders simply backed the wrong horse.

Yep I said that too.


Conservative Leadership Race

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