The Royal Jelly

Stephen MandelToday Mayor Stephen Mandel announced he would not seek a fourth term as Mayor of this great City. Like many, I am grateful and a bit in awe of what he has accomplished. What he accomplished is well known, how he accomplished it however, is the story we should all learn from.

In a time where politics seems to be a polarizing endeavor, he bucked the trend by building a community and council that rallied behind him. He did that with tremendous confidence in himself and his community. The man has presence and the man is a great leader. In the words of another great Edmontonian, Dr. Bob Westbury, Mayor Mandel possessed something he calls the “Royal Jelly”.

What is that Royal Jelly?

To me, it’s the ability to command a room through never wavering confidence, presence and a drive to find consensus. He consistently called out a short-term vision for what it is, and rarely “suffered fools”.  Willing to take a position against those thinking that good is good enough, Mayor Mandel was happy to work tirelessly in the back rooms, often sharing the work-load through a number citizen-led taskforces, and always building consensus, especially with his council. The Mayor has a great vision, but that was never enough; he worked tirelessly with his supporters to implement it.

In the past month, I had the pleasure to be in a meeting chaired by the Mayor, and witnessed the magic of his leadership. He took time to compliment and yield the floor to each of his council peers. He is clearly a friend of most everyone he works with, and he is pleased to share a good idea and the limelight with those he trusts. It is reciprocated in the obvious support he found on the many tough decisions this council made to further our city.

In today’s moving speech, the Mayor took the time to recognize those who helped him succeed. It was obvious that he feels his success was because of the support of others, and especially the support he received from his council, citizen-leaders, Premier Ed Stelmach and his Chief of Staff, Patricia Misutka.

As we embark on a new era for Edmonton politics, I can only hope he has left behind a successor who possesses some of that Royal Jelly. It’s a nearly impossible combination of presence, patience, persistence, experience and acumen.

Perhaps no one candidate has that perfect combination, just yet, but we can hope that someone has been watching… and learning.

Make Something Edmonton

It’s amazing. This City, that I love. We have an identity, what we think of ourselves, that is proud, self-deprecating, humble, yet helpful. We mock ourselves, we curse the snow… yet we stay here, build things and help each other thrive. It’s both part of our anthropological DNA and our current economic reality. Our image, which might be described as what others think of us, has always been a challenge. This gap… between what we know we are, and what others think we are.. is worth filling. It will deliver new citizens and workers to our city, it will draw visitors, and probably above all else, it will keep perpetuating the social and economic growth of our city.

So when the Mayor decided to take a stand, and finally find a way to tell our story, he had the guts to try something different. Council supported his leadership, and myself and Amy Shostack were asked to create a citizen-led initiative that could help improve our image. The typical process, hiring an agency and focus-grouping a vanilla brand, well that wasn’t for us.

So.. we landed on a story we already knew was true about this place. Local storyteller, Todd Babiak, had already started researching and writing about our identity. When he pushed past the river-valley platitudes… he found the answer to why we were here. We come here, or we stay here, because it’s easy to build something from nothing. It’s easy to connect with someone in the community and find volunteers, mentors and facilitators to activate your idea. I can’t list them all.. but the examples are endless. The Heritage Classic, the Commonwealth Games, the Fringe Festival, PCL, Bioware.. even my company, Yardstick. All born of an idea from a few citizens… and then made significant with help from others.

There is no aristocracy here. We help each other succeed. And then… if it was grown here.. we take ownership of it. Which leads me back to the Make Something Edmonton initiative. This is OUR identity and it’s true. Which is why when we challenge Edmontonians to just MAKE SOMETHING, we get a positive feedback and response of action.

But it’s not just fluff… it’s a practical path to image building. Because we won’t spend the typical Millions in creating a tagline and bumper stickers, distilled by advertising agencies into vanilla meaninglessness; we will spend less to get something that is true. Since we have started the Make Something Edmonton idea, we have already levered nearly 1500 volunteer hours. And we have only just begun. Over the next few months, our call to action will inspire and recognize people who are doing things. Major things like raising millions from the citizenry to artistically light the high-level bridge, to tiny things, like a cul-de-sac just finding a way to get outside and get to know each other.

This is our identity.. and although that will never end, an image and brand will emerge. But I am not worried about that right now. We will learn that.. it will emerge. And it will be authentic, because we value that more than we value anything else.

If you want to learn more about Make Something Edmonton, please visit the website of projects underway. If you want to start a project, and want to raise awareness, money or find collaborators, get started.

If you want to further understand what I am talking about, enjoy this video about the initiative, and an example of a great made in Edmonton project:

A Make Something Edmonton project… a beautiful and simple way to connect the community. CommuniTEA.


Full Circle

Since I was 9 years old (seriously), I have for the most part been independent. At that age, living in a low-rental apartment just north of the “new” Heritage Mall, I used my bike to see the World. Beyond riding it through the inside of an “under construction” Heritage Mall, I would ride as far as I had the confidence to ride, and that included as far east as the Saratoga Restaurant on Calgary Trail, with my friend whose name is lost from me now.

The Saratoga,  an 85 year old institution, was at that time, a real “truck stop”. As 9 year olds, my friend and I would bother truck drivers for the opportunity to polish their wheels, for a dollar in compensation… or “donation”. It’s one of my earliest memories of how I earned any kind of money. I specifically recall one time we asked a truck driver if he would let us wash his rig for $5… he laughed at us and probably told us to “get lost”. We lacked the pride to be offended and rode off, looking for the newest adventure.

We were poor, living with my single mom and for a period around that time without electricity in our apartment. Caused by a “billing problem” that only my mom at the time could properly describe. As I think about it, I learned the value of hard work from my mother, who her whole life has had little choice but to work hard, for us kids.

Tonight, my oldest daughter, a bright and humble young-lady, came home from her first shift at the Saratoga restaurant. Her exposure to it has been from the time’s in the last 15-years, when I would take my own family. She clearly was listening when I told these stories of my impoverished youth, or noticed as I relished in my upbringing directly through the restaurant’s own humble ambiance. I know, because when I challenged her to find a job that would pay her more than her current weekend barista salary; she thought of the breakfast patrons and their tips, at the Saratoga.

So, its not lost on me: My daughter, who is 10 years older now than I was when I first loitered the parking lot of the Saratoga, is now working as their newest employee. I am in awe of two three things.

1) Although I have moved at least 20 times in my life, and climbed at least two difficult career ladders, I am right back living within only a few kilometres of the Saratoga Restaurant

2) I have a bright and balanced daughter, nearly 19 years of age, who is starting her own journey and carrying her own weight. Earning a fair wage, while working hard towards a degree in History, at the University of Alberta

3) I am old

How I judge success in my children is directly linked to my experience. That in it’s own right is unfair. But for me, I am the luckiest guy in the World. I have a daughter who is succeeding on a set of criteria which I value; being someone who is not afraid of  hard work in a humble setting.  But also on her terms….as someone who found her own way…as no one in our family even knew until yesterday, this was in her plan.

Edmonton’s ‘Sacred Cow’: How Vital is a New Arena to the City’s Transformation?

When it comes to the Edmonton Arena debate, I admit I have not been thinking about it as a zero-sum game. I admire so many opinions on either side of the discussion, and although I have been mostly supportive of it as a project that can contribute to transforming the City, I don’t blindly accept Edmonton needs this above all else; or if we need the Oilers organization at all, to reach our full potential. In fact, considering the constant state of confusion that is negotiation with the Katz Group, the city is transforming nicely in spite of professional hockey.

Luckily our city leadership has made tough decisions on important things for the future of the city. Investments in the airport lands, LRT expansion, homelessness & safety initiatives and stunning cultural facilities; all so we don’t end up living in a visionless vacuum if or when the Seattle Oilers become a reality.
I wanted the arena more than I didn’t want it. I’ve been clearly on the pro-arena side of the discussion. Convincing myself that there was no dissonance in both wanting it and wanting everything else needed to be that “shining city on a hill”.

Lately I am starting to sense a shift in my personal and “the people’s” consciousness on how much of a priority this project should have among the others in a transforming City. Professional hockey, the biggest sacred cow in this town, to be under even the smallest amount of scrutiny from it’s citizens, ironically inspires me to think we might be really getting somewhere.

We’ve met the shepherds of the sacred cow. They have maps already drawn of a post-hockey Edmonton. On those maps, especially the international ones, there is no Edmonton. We’ll have become an asterisks or footnote to the “Heart of the New West” – Calgary. But in today’s modern World, the Internet delivers to our doorstep everyday examples of great communities where people can thrive and it doesn’t cost $200 a ticket. Let alone rip your heart out every 5-6 years in caustic labour negotiations or arena funding debates.

Today I was very moved by this New York Times article about a civic program that is so big and visionary in nature, it’s hard not to compare it to a $450 million investment in infrastructure; then wonder what the community return on investment might be from each.

The Kalamazoo Promise

“Back in November 2005, when this year’s graduates were in sixth grade, the superintendent of Kalamazoo’s public schools, Janice M. Brown, shocked the community by announcing that unnamed donors were pledging to pay the tuition at Michigan’s public colleges, universities and community colleges for every student who graduated from the district’s high schools. All of a sudden, students who had little hope of higher education saw college in their future….

… It’s primarily meant to boost Kalamazoo’s economy. The few restrictions — among them, children must reside in the Kalamazoo public-school district and graduate…from one of its high schools — seem designed to encourage families to stay and work in the region for a long time….
Other communities invest in things like arenas or offer tax incentives for businesses or revitalize their waterfronts,” says Michelle Miller-Adams, a political scientist at the W. E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research, which is located in the city. “The Kalamazoo Promise tries to develop the local economy with a long-term investment in human capital that is intended to change the town from the bottom up.” In this regard, the Promise can be seen as an exorbitant ante, staked by private funds, that calls to Kalamazoo’s better angels. It stokes hometown pride, prods citizens to engage and pulls businesses and their leaders into the public sphere.”

Kalamazoo had transformation forced upon it. We may not feel we need to think about these things now, but $50 oil or the loss of an NHL franchise should have us all thinking about our own transformation.

So where does this put me now? I am right back on the fence, with a growing group of citizens, who think the Katz Group needs to communicate exactly how they fit into a greater community. They’ll do that by making me trust their owner cares as much for the non-hockey fan than they do their direct customers and shareholder. I’d never ask for something so seemingly “social” from a business, operating under a privately funded model. But the Oilers are not that. They are asking for us to make a $350 million investment, so they can “remain profitable”. They don’t deserve to function entirely in secret. It’s especially bad, at least from my personal outsider’s perspective, that they seem to prefer negotiating tactics taken from a used-car lot, a couple generations of sophistication ago.

If they can’t get that right, then maybe we need to take start thinking about our own “Edmonton’s Promise”.

Edmonton – Room for Big Ideas

Super Saturday indeed… Edmonton you rocked my world yesterday. Being downtown was an inspiration for anyone craving ideas, diversity, community and that “happy vibe” which makes good-cities great.

Lately I have been quite thirsty for some inspiration. Without new ideas and mental exercise I get cranky, bored, and if you ask my immediate family and friends, transform into an intolerable prick. Well luckily for me, and those close to me, the organizers of TEDx Edmonton caught me and opened a fire-hose of inspiration at me… bloating me with new ideas, words, sights and an appreciation for our local art scene.

It can’t be overstated. These amazing organizers, the founders and visionaries behind Startup Edmonton, should be taking a well-deserved bow. Ken Bautista, Sam Jenkins, Cam Linke, and Tiffany Linke-Boyko…. Thank you.

Ideas are interesting. They hold special powers which can be purposed, re-purposed and activated.

  • Ideas are fun to share, helping bring communities and constituencies together
  • Ideas can be the feedstock for entrepreneurs to commercialize
  • Ideas can entertain – words, music, design, dance
  • Ideas can dissolve intolerance and foster equality
  • Ideas can save lives

I think when it comes to ideas and idea people; Edmonton seems to be punching well above its weight-class.

This made me think about our image as a City, which is a topic I tend to think a lot about. For whatever reason, on the image front, Edmonton suffers from a slight inferiority complex. Amongst ourselves, we are proud and knowing. Confident. But ask us to project that image, to sell our community to the World and we mumble at best. Afraid to stand-up and sing our praises, as if there is a big-mouthed bully standing above us, laughing and embarrassing us back into our place. (The bully might wear a cowboy hat). Well…. If I may be so bold… fuck ‘em.

It’s time that we grab the common themes of this community and come up with a brand. Spread our image by selling what we are. Big thinkers. Idea People: who see the value in our Diversity, the value in our University, the value in our Eclectic Nature, the value in our sense of Community, the value in our Local Businesses… and on and on.

Edmonton – Room for Big Ideas

This I came up with in 5 minutes after yesterday’s inspiration between TEDx and the Pride Parade. It makes me think of three things that I feel makes Edmonton great:

  • Tolerance and diversity
  • Vision, innovation and growth
  • Wide open spaces, as part of our lifestyle (River Valley, Churchill square, etc)

I have no idea if it would stand-up to a room of focus groups, or highly paid marketing consultants. But I know it’s authentic and consistent with our community. That’s the key. Whatever we choose as a brand, we need it to be able to fit us. If Austin can leverage Keep Austin Weird, into a globally recognized brand, celebrating its local business, art, music and fertile minds… surely we can come up with something that reflects our nature. Maybe it’s our tolerance for new ideas…. or maybe it’s our richness of community, but hell we need to pick something!

It’s time to start putting this together. Start moving forward. Start our storytelling.

SIDE NOTE: two entire other topics, which are related, and I will find time to write about:

–       How “Capital X, Klondike Days, whatever we call that piece of rotting summer fair shitneeds to DIE. It needs to be replaced, and re-issued in a way that celebrates our brand. Take it away from Northland and give it to a group with some vision.

–       How Edmonton has room for one more summer “festival”, a summer-long series of IDEA Events, with global thinkers coming to Edmonton from very specific areas. Who knows, maybe innovation in heart-health, public accounting, fiction writing, homelessness, open-data… pick any theme… imagine 8 of these per summer, one for every week, where our City sponsors a nobel-prize type award and the travel costs for speakers. (props to my friend Peter Silverstone, EEDC Board Chair, for this idea, which I feel dearly needs exploring)

What to do with a baseball Stadium?

Today was HORRIBLE news for our family, as the Edmonton Capitals announced the inevitable; announcing the suspension of their 2012 season, from the dying North American Baseball League.

I could blog all night about how much we loved watching baseball at Telus Field, and I would be complimentary of the Edmonton Oilers for an amazing job in running the team and making nights & days at Telus Field a great family entertainment product. If the Oilers can’t make a team in this league fly, frankly no owner can. (I DO wonder if with a first rate owner like the Oilers involved, Edmonton couldn’t take another run at a Triple A league team; but I digress).

So as I sit here, wishing for baseball, and wondering about how our great community can withstand such a hole in it’s summer schedule, I day-dream about something else we could do with the Telus Field. Here is my crazy idea:

A 100 team Slow-pitch tournament. A corporate challenge if you will.

  • 100 Teams
  • Played out over the May – September baseball season
  • $1000 per team entry (proceeds to the United Way)
  • City donates the field (less whatever they make in Beer and Hot Dog Sales)
  • $1.00 per person entry ticket (proceeds to the United Way)
  • A “March-Madness” style tournament where the 100 teams play down into a “City Championship”
  • CRAZY uniforms, and mascots encouraged
  • Throw in some local celebrity teams as wild-card games on a couple weekend evenings with concerts & fireworks
  • FUN encouraged, and over $150,000 raised for the United Way

It’s crazy, would be fun and the Oilers could do the administration / logistics of the tournament. BECAUSE WE ARE LENDING THEM A COUPLE HUNDRED MILLION for a new arena 😉

Why not Edmonton? Why not Oilers?

Dolphins and daughters.

The movie, The Cove, is a brilliant documentary telling the story of the much entrenched, yet universally hated, Japanese dolphin slaughter industry.  Of those who’ve watched it, most people, at least temporarily, feel the urge to storm the Japanese embassies in protest, or donate their very existence to the preservation of Dolphins in their only natural habitat…..the wild.

Dolphins are smart, beautiful and whimsical. Humans, perhaps out of envy, perhaps deservedly, look up to dolphins. This is why the film tells of the “best” dolphins avoiding slaughter and being shipped to far-off dolphin parks, where humans can marvel at them, and for $119 USD, swim with them. Kiss them.

I watched the film this year with my family. The women cried and I beamed my manly rage of protest, my disgust in us… all of us humans. “Our social consciousness seems to be battling, and winning, against Darwin’s theories of evolution”….. I silently raged from my very comfortable, wealthy white-man pulpit, known as the leather recliner.  Certainly we humans are better than this.

I confess to you, I am not.

I’ll start with the defense, and the crime will become obvious. I am want for nothing. I have wealth, health, a beautiful and loving spouse, and two daughters whom mean as much to me as oxygen. And not oxygen in it’s basic, keep you alive form, but that rarified hospital delivered oxygen, which practically gives you life.

So, I confess, I felt no option this morning but to treat my girls to the opportunity of swimming with the beautiful and whimsical caged dolphins of the Bahia Principe Resort. The girls laughed, smiled and marveled at such a decibel, I have neither regret nor guilty conscience. Truth is, when it really comes down to it, I’d probably slaughter a truckload of dolphins for them if it were necessary, assuming dolphins were portioned by the truckload. Thankfully it isn’t and they are not.

You could argue that the only principled stand on “captive dolphin experiences” is to boycott, shame, protest and embarrass them out of existence. That is perfectly reasonable and I would respect and listen to that.

I know, and would argue with you, that my girls might have been just as happy or happier to join me in protest instead. Creating an even stronger bond between father and daughter, one based on principled ideals and the best of humanity.

But we caved.  We took the easy hit of happiness. $119 USD gave them instant gratification from the chance to experience what only a small percentage of humans get to do. $157 got the HD-DVD and 163 professionally shot images. (The dolphins are in the pool, but the sharks are trying to sell you pictures afterward).

I am no further along the evolutionary process than I was yesterday, and quite possibly I have gone backwards. But as I reflect on the big and small guilt, mistakes and missed opportunities which accumulate in one’s life… I am glad to have a family to share all of them with. Even if we are not perfect… we are not perfect together. Which I suppose is why you need a family in the first place.

Happy New Year… hug your kids, and donate to save the dolphins.

A little bit Country, a little bit Rock and Roll.

Anyone who has visited here, or follows me in any social media capacity (or even Real Life for the true originals), knows that I am one super-proud father. When I think in those terms though, I almost always mean that I am proud of my daughters.  Sure, every kid is a genius, an expert in their chosen sport, pursuit or passion. So I won’t belabor the obvious. But my kids are fantastic.

However tonight, I came to a somewhat selfish realization that for at least one thing, I am very proud of MYSELF as a father; let me share with you the reason why.

I have two children. Both girls, one 18 and the other 13. They each are individual in their nature and demeanor, but it was this one topic, which intrigued me tonight.


One daughter is religious and openly practicing religion by attending church weekly, participating in “prayer discussion” and learning about the bible and Christianity. She seems to gravitate to larger groups, loves team sports, and gains energy from consensus and a feeling of belonging. She is a caretaker, and is always the first to try and find a common ground when the family is fighting (especially her parents).

The other is a non-believer by any standard, skeptical of organized religions, and although spiritual in some natural ways, has little time for any man-defined version of a “God”. But she loves the premise of humanity and us caring for those who are disadvantaged. She values equality, freedom and has a highly tuned sense of social consciousness.  A future human rights lawyer; her dad hopes.

Jill and I have influenced neither in the area of religion; but I see bits of each of us in both of them. We have never attended a church service with our children, refuse to enforce any particular religious tradition or ideas on them, and yet strongly encourage open thinking.

Somehow we have a bible-thumper and atheist (maybe agnostic) in our midst. In the category of religion, we ended up with independent thinking, if not polar-opposite children. For this, I am proud.

My children know what I DO value. Authenticity, self-confidence, respect for diversity, and a wholesale demand for honesty with oneself– coupled with the demeanor to stand up for those things.

The fact that they can openly practice different beliefs, in our same one-house, means we are doing something right.

For that I am very proud.

Is this the change Alberta wants?

The most recent Wildrose Alliance email newsletter just hit my inbox. (As spam goes, I must admit it entertains me a bit more than the tiring pleas of a multimillionaire from Nigeria.. or the potential of a Mrs. LaBossiere the 2nd from Russia.)

I have always been impressed with their rapid and topical communications on day-to-day events, even if sometimes they do seem to be reaching a bit. But today I was struck with the particularly negative / abrasive tone to their message. I am not a big fan of complete negativity. I love satire, I like tounge-in-cheek, but I really don’t like a baseball bat of meanness on every message. My hunch, which is completely unprofessional, is that Albertans will reject this type of politics. We may be fiercely independent, risk-taking cowboys and cowgirls here in Alberta; but we still subscribe to some good old-fashioned western manners.

Here’s an excerpt from the most recent email to Alliance supporters:

Dear friends,

They did it again.

For years, the PC Party has drifted farther and farther from Albertans’ core values – and they’ve become just as arrogant and scornful of democracy and conservative principles as the federal Liberals ever were.  But this fall, they had one last chance to get back on track. (Underline added by me…. you gotta love the reference to the Federal Liberals. Like that gun still has bullets).

Instead, they chose Alison Redford as their leader.  The PCs were hoping that by picking her, Albertans would be lulled back to sleep and go back to supporting their worn-out, 40-year dynasty.  But boy, were they wrong!  Redford has had one of the shortest political honeymoons I can think of.  Her claim to be an “agent of change” has been exposed as a sham, as she hides from accountability by trying to cancel the fall sitting of the Legislature and refusing to say when the next election will be. (emphasis is theirs).

That’s why today, we launched our first TV ad campaign, spotlighting some of the many ways the Redford government continues to fail Alberta.   It lets people know that now there is a better way, with new leadership and a new government: a Wildrose government.

Beyond the nastiness in the newsletter, we are informed of some new Television Advertising about to hit the airwaves…. now I am really starting to feel like I am in Texas… and the guns are blazing for the Governor’s mansion.


And finally… what I love best…. Danielle Smith’s last line in the video “Albertans are tired of politicians who will do anything for power“. If that were true, then I really look forward to hearing more from the fiscal hawk Alliance on why their party is hell bent on buying an airport in the middle of our City, which loses nearly $90M a year in opportunity cost revenue for the City of Edmonton. Since we can be assured that this was not simply doing politics for power, the justification of a nearly Billion $$ policy initiative without member endorsement, must be strong indeed.

I can’t wait to hear all about it. Assuming they can justify buying an airport…. maybe they’ll take our old bridge too?


Whyte Ave – Jasper Ave – Churchill Sq. Trolley

Edmonton Streetcar

Edmonton Streetcar

I was driving around downtown today and admit was thinking about the great things we have done, and some of the even greater things we have on tap for Edmonton’s downtown. Then I drove over the High Level Bridge and marveled at the people out in Garneau, and finally along Whyte Avenue. It came to me how much of a shame it was that these all vibrant locations were not really that easy to visit together without getting into your car and driving from one to the other. Sure an active person could easily do them all on a bicycle, but that’s much less likely to happen when it comes to tourists and regular fat guys like me.

So I started to dream a little about the possibility of extending the High Level Streetcar into a year-round transportation link between the three. Like San Fransisco’s trolley system, I wonder aloud if we could spend some money and create a nostalgic yet functional extension of the existing system. Imagine with me for a second what it might mean for our city if we had the following:

–  An expanded station behind the Stathcona Farmers Market where at least a 2-car system could function and turn-around.

–  A station at the base of the High-Level bridge in Garneau, where passengers could disembark for the Garneau area

–  A stop at the existing station behind 109th street near the Legislature

–  Extend the track from 109th street running along the centre of Jasper Avenue

–  Add a stop at 104th street and Jasper

–  Extend the track east along Jasper to 99th street with a turn northbound on 99th Street (close the street north to Churchill)

–  A station at Churchill and 99th street with a “turnaround” on the east border of Churchill in front of the AGA

    I know it seems like a big investment, and maybe it’s simply too difficult to pull off. But maybe not, and perhaps it would add a significant local and tourist amenity that would compliment several great existing Edmonton landmarks, like Whyte Avenue (Market), Garneau, The Legislature, Capital Blvd, 104th street, and Churchill Sq.

    Why not dream?

    Here is a VERY amateur plan I created in 5 minutes using my screen capture software.

    The Edmonton Connector

    The Edmonton Connector