Crude Observations

Did I mention…

I know I said I was going to reduce the blog to once every two weeks during the summer and rest assured, I plan on doing that, but for now I am still going strong. Expect that next week you won’t hear from me, and maybe not the week after. Why you ask? Well, yours truly is taking his family on a much-needed extended vacation. Here’s hoping it can at least be relaxing.


I say that because the last little while has been anything but relaxing. Whether it’s our energy markets being completely schizophrenic between the physical and paper side (hint – we are in a massive energy deficit and prices have been cratering which of course makes no sense) or inflation running out of control (ahem, it’s about energy) or interest rate hikes or heat waves or Russia’s invasion of Ukraine or Trump or, more locally, dual Conservative party leadership races (both United and not) the last month or so is definitely not for the faint of heart.


Layer into that the end of the school year, summer camps and the frenzy that is the Calgary Stampede (have I mentioned my daughter is in the Young Canadians?) and you can well appreciate why a vacation, from work, from blog, from summer even is in the cards for this nuclear unit.


I am hoping that the time away will recharge the old batteries (see, even I run on renewable energy!) and give me some time to formulate thoughts on the great topics of the day including the aforementioned leadership races for the heart and soul of the Conservative movement in Canada and Alberta. Also, the future of the energy market. The potentially soon to be arriving in your inbox recession. Prices. Stock markets. Pipelines. LNG.


Lots of good stuff.


But for now, I am going to leave you with an annual tradition like no other – an ode to the Calgary Stampede – warts and all. Did I mention my daughter is in the Young Canadians and the Grandstand Show?


Let me say first off that I am happy that the Stampede is back and feels almost normal. Some people, of course don’t share those views and that’s OK too.


I understand there are many people running around saying the sky is going to fall and that we are going to get a raging 124th wave of Omicron variant or its line-dancing cousin the BA 4.5 variant, but you know what? We were going to get that anyway as soon as we go indoors for any appreciable time. Like much of the world (except China), most of us have moved on. We understand COVID and the risks and the mitigating actions to take. We’ve hidden away, isolated and gotten jabbed. We are all ready to break out and party. I’m vaccinated. My family is. By and large everyone I know is. My extended family is. The Uber driver is. The waiter is. The fry guy is. It’s time to get on with it.


The other cohort who is against Stampede is the social justice warrior class who feel that the Stampede organization is some mega-connected political influence machine for the governing UCP and CPC, kind of like the Koch-funded Heritage Foundation in the United States.


Sorry folks. Hate to dispel that myth. The Stampede is a not-for-profit that puts on the “Greatest Show on Earth”. It is run by dedicated staff that do tremendous things in the community year-round and serve as a rallying point for people in the city, province and country. A friend just got awarded a volunteer award for the work she does and I can tell you – she ain’t a UCP puppet and shill.


The Stampede is dependent on multiple levels of government for support and thus need to be apolitical. They may have a disproportionate number of conservative types on their board because that’s the demographic of the Calgary business community, but that is counter-balanced by staff and board representation from city council. They may have some outsized influence in the city, but that’s because they own a big shwack of land, smack dab in prime city real estate and, well, did I mention the Greatest Show on Earth?


That said, politicians do fundraise around it. But what politician wouldn’t? High profile event, lots of people, flip some pancakes, 10 second soundbite, move on. It’s a politician’s dream. And everyone does it. Even Trudeau. Look – politics is a voluntary sport. If you don’t like it, don’t play.


But the main story for me around Stampede?  The workers. The community. The organizers. The grass-roots and the volunteers. The celebration for the city and the boost for the economy. For 10 days, there is a giant spotlight on Calgary that not even a hockey player moving to Columbus for less money can dim.


I’m biased of course, but not blind. Biased because my daughter in the Young Canadians and the Grandstand Show. She left competitive dance three years ago to do this and went through the COVID cancellation in 2020 and last year’s modified show. But she persevered. The Stampede persevered. And as a result of her efforts, the Young Canadians’ efforts, the Stampede’s efforts, our efforts and your effort by getting vaccinated soon enough so that the economy and the province could open up the show is back on in spectacular fashion.


And this past week I got to see the results of that (twice so far, one more to come). I got to watch my daughter on the stage, living her dream in what feels like a city rejuvenated. A return to normal.


And I think that’s better than OK. It’s downright awesome.


And in honour of that, I am re-upping my annual “Ode to Stampede” to segue into vacation time. Hope you like it. Yahoo!


Ode to Stampede.


One of the great and (occasionally) annoying things about living and working in Calgary is navigating the annual all-consuming celebration of fun and cowboy hats that is the Calgary Stampede. Whether it’s surviving double-deep-fried scorpions coated in Oreo batter, boiled corn rolled in ground-up spicy Cheetos, mainlining mini-donuts or running the gauntlet of corporate gatherings, Stampede is a unique event in our city.


How unique? Well, it’s got its own action verb and language – that’s pretty unique.


“Have you been stampeding yet?”  “Sure have, we were at the chucks the other day and then were given’r at Nashville North for a bit before hitting to Cowboys tent. Maybe the grounds on the weekend for the grandstand and plan on hitting the Stomp at the end of the week.” What?



In addition to being a well-known international tourist attraction, the Calgary Stampede is also a combination of rite of passage and a (mud-spattered) window into how the local economy is doing. It’s both a lagging and leading indicator of the mood of the city and province’s business community, more specifically the energy sector.


In boom times, the Stampede celebrations tend to be lavish, garish and quite often over the top – a true bacchanalian homage to the excesses that everyone associates with the energy sector.


In down years, the mood is decidedly somber, with many low-key events. The focus is on restraint and charitable contributions and many of the invitations (even the emailed ones!) will be in black and white.


In between, in what I will call the “transition years”, the party struggles to find its footing. And quite often it rains.


Added into the mix is a whole kabuki theatre sideshow of municipal, provincial and federal politicians and leaders of national and provincial parties all vying for the attention of the media and public at large by trying to prove their cowboy bonafides by flipping an endless parade of pancakes, exposing for all to see their astonishingly poor fashion choices and delivering tired political messages in a cowboy metaphor infused version of a western drawl.


Seriously though, it just wouldn’t be Stampede without some federal Liberal controversy or another stiff and awkwardly dressed conservative flipping pancakes and posing for pictures with some children and First Nations people (all in one if possible!) before dashing off to have important closed-door conversations with who knows who about who knows what. Although interestingly, most politicians fail to grasp that not much gets done during Stampede except parties and that the person they are talking to is most likely on their way to getting drunk or is still that way from the night before.


At any rate, no number of politicians flitting around, hosting breakfasts, building up or tearing down the economy and buying boots (seriously, is there anything more annoying than politicians doing their photo op boot purchases and sticking on their market study determined cowboy look?) can change the reality on the ground. The midway, the parties, the attendance, the rodeo, the chuckwagon races, the tarps for sale on the chuckwagons, the grandstand show – these all tell us what may or may not be going on.


So, what is this year’s Stampede telling us?


Pent up energy




Back in the Saddle




Ready to seize the opportunity



With an active Stampede show participant, I have spent more time on the grounds and out and about this year than I normally do so I am actually in a position to comment.


First off, despite the COVID fearmongering and/or Twitter mocking of the whole event, the crowds are way larger than I anticipated.


I am told that attendance is rivalling 2019 and if the 15-minute lineup to get mini-donuts is any indication, it is massive. All the usual stuff is happening, and everyone is doing it as if they hadn’t in two years.


The two Grandstand shows I have attended so far were packed (is it the return of the chucks?) and contrary to prior experience, when the races were over the crowd did not thin out but instead stuck around for an exhilarating show celebrating Stampede’s past and future, accompanied by an epic fireworks show and, of course, my daughter.


I spent some time walking the midway and sampling a disproportionate amount of fried food, and unlike last year, the buzz seemed back, even in the face of extreme heat and big crowds. There was plenty of poutine, chicken wings and pickle lemonade. And a plethora of novelty food (cricket hot dogs) and deep fried whatever you want to deep fry along with a melting pot of foods from around the world. If I had to pick a highlight, it was the oversized gentleman gleefully leaving the grounds holding not one, not two, but three foot long corn dogs – the contented smile on his face was, in a word, epic!


Worthy of note, the prices were high – inflation was readily apparent in costs for everything pretty much across the board. I suspect some of that is to offset the largely free admission to the grounds (if you couldn’t get in free you weren’t really trying) but $25 for a turkey leg seems out of reach for your average teenager or family of four.


Speaking of teenagers, holy free holy Batman. While the adult population appeared back in volume, the teen population was doubling down. Maybe they were always there, and I just didn’t notice because there were so many other people they blended in, but it was impressive. Kids clearly were bursting at the seams to get out and do “something” after another school year from hell and the Stampede has provided a much needed outdoor, social release of stress.


Worthy of note as well on top of the age demographic of the attendees is the decidedly multicultural makeup of the attendees with pretty much all of Calgary’s ethnic communities well represented on both the grounds and the grandstand.


As it regards masks? I’d say about 1%.


Politicians? I’m happy to report a zero count on that front at the grounds. This might have something to do with the very visible police presence throughout the grounds. Actually, I lied. I saw Mayor Jyoti Gondek at the Grandstand and we chatted briefly.


Oh, and it’s not Stampede unless some clumsy teen tries to pickpocket me and take my phone. Didn’t work BTW.


It’s hard to get a solid read on what is happening, it really felt like it could go either way. A mixed bag as they say.


Which I guess is kind of where the Alberta economy currently sits. And the Stampede barometer is sending mixed messages.


Politically we are at a cross-roads. Alberta has tossed the NDP to the side and was banking on the UCP to lead it to the promised land. But the pandemic has thrown everything up in the air and a series of fundamental missteps has shaken the confidence of Albertans in the ability of the UCP to actually manage the province properly and Jason Kenney was forced to walk the plank. Now we are being subjected to a leadership race with the current frontrunners consisting of two recycled Wildrose leaders and anti-vax Alberta sovereignty panderers and a current cabinet minister who is essentially a Kenney redux except he grew up in Alberta. The other candidates are quality but lack buzz. I feel a second or third ballot will be required to settle on a leader and that choice will determine if the NDP is going to win or not in 2023.


On the federal side we have a Liberal government adrift but firmly in power and a conservative party that is in the process of self-destructing as it goes through its 78th leadership campaign since Stephen Harper walked.


On the energy side, we’ve got a commodity market that is currently somewhat adrift – a Goldilocks scenario that is neither too hot nor too cold. Rig counts are up, but not enough to pop the champagne. Pockets of the industry are flat out busy while others can’t turn a wheel. The mighty West Texas cash flow incinerator has slowed to a crawl, but recession fears are taking some air out of oil prices. Meanwhile Canadian producers are making more money than banks but stock prices are lagging.


The TransMountain expansion continues, although bird nests and migrating insects may impact schedules. LNG Canada is underway and construction of it and the Coastal Gas Link pipeline are being fast tracked.


Europe is an energy disaster and we need to be doing more to help them off Russian gas. A fast tracked LNG processing facility on the East Coast should be an unrelenting priority, but I suspect our government would rather try and export some renewable tech to Germany and repair Russian turbines instead.


It feels like something wants to happen, like the sector wants to bust out and race ahead but it’s still shackled to a lack of confidence in the market due to inflation, rising rates, recession fears and inconsistent messaging from the federal government.


It is not unusual to be confronted by this conflicting sense of optimism for the future and pessimism about our prospects, often in the same day, sometimes even in conversation with the same individual!


And I feel the mood at this year’s Stampede reflects that a bit – a big celebration because prices are high and we are making money hand over fist, but a bit adrift, floating in its bubble of uncertainty, fearful it will all come crashing down.


I am of course in no way suggesting that the Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth is anything but – I love Stampede, warts and all. But the reality is, and always has been, that the Stampede is a reflection of the mood of the city and that, as the city gets larger and more “sophisticated”, its personality and that of the Stampede gets more complicated and nuanced. Yet under it all is a manic and barely restrained energy – the dynamic, entrepreneurial, get it done spirit that is Calgary at its finest – just waiting for a spark. An attitude of “enough of this crap, time to get busy.” Layer in the first fully open party since the pandemic hit, well, anything could happen!


Meanwhile, as the province has moved to a more open stance regarding COVID, so has the business world. While most of the time you rarely get any serious or actual work done during Stampede, this year it has for sure been less work, more play. The phone is still ringing. Conversations have been real. Deals are getting advanced. It’s promising. It’s down to business, headwinds and COVID be damned. But everyone really just wants to party


So where does this all lead? Well, based on my rather unscientific observations, I feel the city and the energy sector is ready to break out or already has. The starting gun has been fired. As the Rangeland Derby (when there is one) announcers say “And they’re off”.


It’s Canadian firms like CNRL stepping up in the oilsands. It’s unconventional basins that rival anything in the US. It’s a political environment that is fluid and dynamic but waking up to the reality that it needs a vibrant Alberta and energy sector to power a lot of the country. It’s young, energetic management teams taking over in the service sector. It’s deals getting done. It’s Calgary shaking off close to 96 months of being downturned, downsized and downtrodden with 28 months of pandemic fear and uncertainty layered onto the tail-end and saying enough is enough.


It’s a Stampede that Twitter didn’t want, that our kids needed and that gathered strength and confidence as the week went on, pretty much emblematic of where I see the Calgary and Alberta economy at this exact juncture in time. It’s a 16-year-old teenaged dancer standing on centre stage, chaos behind her, fireworks firing, arms outstretched welcoming the grandstand crowd back to the show.


It’s getting better. It really is.


And I have a party to get to.


See you when I’m back – have a great midsummer.





Crude Observations
Sign up for the Stormont take on the latest industry news »

Recent Posts