Calgary. The city of Petrobucks and plenty of them. Gleaming skyscrapers. Headquarters of the booming Canadian oil biz. Over a million people with thousands of new arrivals every year. Estate homes worthy of barons and earls. Its companies scour the world in search of the elusive black stuff. And plenty of power too - the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister are Calgary MPs. And class . . . . . well, you can't have everything.
Late yesterday afternoon I had occasion to attend a key opening ritual of the Calgary Stampede - The President's Reception, held at the Round-up Center on the Stampede Grounds located not far from the City Center. The Round-up Center is a typical convention center with a high ceiling and a partionable large hall. The Reception was hosted by the current President of the Calgary Exhibition and Stampede Board, the portly and affable epitome of civic boosterism, local businessman George Brookman. About 500 of Calgary's business and political elite comprised the invitees. Being Calgary, it was pretty much a sea of Conservatives, with rarely seen, small outcroppings of the beseiged and long-suffering Grits - perhaps 50 or so in the crowd.
The slain political carcass of Jim Dinning, the Dragon to Special Ed's St. George, was there. In fact, Dinning showed some signs of life - no doubt somewhat resuscitated by his conqueror's dismal performance as Premier. Ralph's eminence gris, Rod Love was there. Love, who rose from a lowly waiter to the supreme power wielder on behalf of his patron and friend the Mayor and then the Premier, has shorn his formidable and fearsome looking facial hair. He now looks like the prosperous and respectable Tory uber-super-lobbyist that he has become.
The venerable and colorful Art Smith was there. The former Alderman, Tory MP and MLA, and World War II bomber command pilot hero, now nearing 90 is still spry enough to belly up to the bar. Smith obviously continues to enjoy the political game, together with the company of his army of friends and Tory comrades-in-arms.
Bush's pal Steve Harper and his wife were there, as was his Deputy Jim Prentice and his spouse, both Conservative heavyweights being fawned over by their multitude of fans and boosters as befits such a Calgary establishment crowd. Indian Chiefs and Elders, some Stampede volunteers, and many prominent citizens were sprinkled throughout the hall.
As the cowtown glitterati sipped wine and milled about the hall, surrounding a few round tables at which were seated some of the honored guests, Brookman took to the podium. He introduced the very worthy theme of the Stampede - the battle against breast cancer - as well as some video presentations. Then came his jovial and spirited introduction of guests. Reading from a teleprompter, he went through the list - Harper, Prentice, new Deputy Premier of Alberta Ron Stevens, Mayor Bronconnier, Indian Chiefs and Leaders, Stampede Board Executives, and so on. The list was long.
Also in the audience was the Leader of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition in the House of Commons, Liberal Party of Canada Leader Stephane Dion. There too, was the Leader of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition in the Alberta Legislature, Alberta Liberal Party Leader Kevin Taft. In addition, Jack Layton, Toronto MP and Leader of the New Democratic Party of Canada was present.
The President ended the program with not a peep in recognition of these important Canadians from the podium.
I then led Dion up to the side of the stage and introduced him to Brookman. He was immediately apologetic at not introducing him to the crowd and claimed that the reason for his exclusion was that his introduction was not in his script. Simple improvisation, I suppose, was too much of a challenge for him. He wished Dion well during his stay in Calgary.
The episode shows just how ingrained the Conservatives are into the soul of most of Calgary's movers and shakers. These events are organized by Conservatives for Conservatives. Others who are not Conservatives are there because they are merely tolerated by Conservatives and should not expect recognition - protocol or good manners, be damned! Not even if they occupy the second most important government role in their respective legislatures - Leader of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition.
Let's say the shoe was on the other foot. If the Prime Minister happened to be a Liberal - as is the usual situation in Canada, and will shortly be again - and the Leader of the Opposition was a Conservative, it is unfathomable that in such a Calgary crowd the Conservative Opposition Leader would not be recognized. That just would not happen.
So there you have it. Calgary - Is it a world class city, or world crass city? For the moment, judging by the behaviour of its establishment, it has a way to go to be truly 'world class.'