Musings from the ever-changing, ever-amazing and occasionally ever-baffling Fort McMurray, Alberta.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

And Then There Was Economic Board Games and Some Government Types In Town...

Yesterday I wrote about the Leading the North conference and the keynote speaker that kicked it all off, Ian Hill. Today I thought I'd write a bit about the next day at the conference, and share with you some of what I experienced.

When I arrived at the Quality Inn bright and early on Thursday morning I was a bit wary. You see, the first speakers up (after the welcoming addresses from the usual local suspects, er, I mean dignitaries!) were talking about the economy - and people, it's one of those things I know very little about. I have a financial advisor, you know. Nice people, too, those financial advisors, but when they start talking to me my mind tends to wander to things like a pair of shoes I saw online, or how badly my bathtub needs scrubbing, or how my dog is really amusing. I admit it - I tend to find economy talk a bit dull. If the only things on TV are economy related or kid's programming I'll watch kid's programming, because it makes my head hurt less (but just a little less).

The first speaker up was someone I follow on Twitter, and who seemed like an interesting guy even if he is an economist. Todd Hirsch is a senior economist with the Alberta Treasury Branch, and when he took the stage I settled in and figured I'd be drinking a whole lot of coffee. I was delighted, though, when Todd compared various world economies to board games. We had comparisons to Ker Plunk, and even Operation. It was quite clever, definitely engaging, and for a brief few moments there I even enjoyed economics. Perhaps it seemed "dumbing down" to some, but for someone like me, who would like to understand economics better but finds it a bit dry, it was ideal. It was even funny at moments, and generally speaking if they could make economics funny more often I bet a lot more people might try to understand it.

After Todd finished there was a very interesting session chaired by CBC Senior Business Correspondent Amanda Lang. The individuals on the panel were Gordon Houlden, director of the U of A China Institute, Dr. Michael Byers, Canada Research Chair in Politics UBC, and Todd Hirsch again. The topic? "Diversifying Canada's Energy Market" - and for a bunch of economy-types it was pretty darn entertaining, too. I like Amanda Lang - she's feisty, and I like feisty a lot (having been accused of similar behaviour I suppose I appreciate it in others, too). And there were some pretty divergent opinions on the panel, too, not exactly heated, but there were some moments when things got a little bit hissy. I may not totally get economics but I love a good floor show, and watching people get passionate is always entertaining. I learned a few things, too, and again couldn't help but think that between board games and occasional hissy-fights economic news could be made much, much more interesting to laypeople like me.

I admit that I missed most of the afternoon sessions, as I ducked out to catch the meeting between the government ministers and local seniors at the Golden Years Society (and that was quite the meeting, too, one I plan to write about tomorrow). Juggling the conference, other commitments, and two sick Intrepid Junior Bloggers meant I didn't make it back to the Quality Inn until the wine and cheese social.

What I love about socials like this is exactly that - they are "social". They are an opportunity to meet new people, to hear about them and their communities, and to share a bit about ours. I was deeply delighted to meet the mayor of Slave Lake, a lovely woman who impressed me for many reasons, not the least of which being that she too is a blogger. She is writing a blog about the Slave Lake recovery effort, and it's a very worthwhile read. I suggested to her that Slave Lake would be a wonderful place for a blogger like me as there are so many stories there just waiting to be told. I think I might have to take a jaunt to Slave Lake at some point just to hear some of those stories, and maybe tell a few in this blog, because I think stories of devastation and recovery, of loss and hope, are profound ones that can and should be shared with the world.

It was lovely to mingle with local people and meet new friends, too, but then it was time for supper - and there was a special guest in town. The guest? None other than our Premier, Alison Redford, and accompanying her were several Cabinet Ministers and MLAs. They were here as part of the recent Alberta "Cabinet Tour", and it was wonderful timing indeed.

This is the third time I have had the honour to hear Premier Redford speak in person. Every time she impresses me with her sharp intelligence, keen wisdom, and sense of sincerity. Many months ago when I saw her in the debate with other candidates for leadership of the PC party I commented that perhaps she was the kind of leader our province needs - and I continue to believe that. I also continue to be struck by the similarities between her and I - about the same age, mothers of only children, and both of us have lost a parent suddenly (a loss I sympathize with deeply, hers coming at such a difficult point in her life, when things must have seemed both so bright and so dark). I see Alison Redford not just as our premier but as a person that I would sit and have coffee with, a "real person". The opportunity to hear her speak again was delightful.

This brings me to my only complaint about the entire Leading the North conference, and it has nothing to do with conference organizers. It has to do with some conference attendees, and in particular the two at my table who decided during the Premier's address to hold a long, drawn-out, and not-quiet conversation. I was appalled at their rude behaviour, not only in relation to the person speaking but in regard to their table mates who were trying to listen to the premier (table mates who found themselves struggling to hear her while attempting to ignore them). I would like to mention that I took note of their employers as listed on their name tags, and while I will not identify them I will say that they reflected very poorly on the employers who sent them to this conference. I would also note that both of these individuals are not from Fort McMurray, coming instead from cities to the south, and thus I do not feel the need to apologize for their behaviour. I was appalled, I was embarrassed, and I was, I admit, rather angry (and people, that's a pretty rare state for me).

On the positive side, though, I had the most delightful table companion beside me, a man from Lac La Biche, and by the end of the evening he and I had forged quite the little friendship. I am always a bit nervous about these sorts of banquets as I often go alone and find myself seated at tables where I know no one - so to find a "kindred spirit" seated right beside me was truly wonderful. My companion and I had a fabulous evening, from the salad right to the dessert and coffee, and I think I just might take a jaunt to Lac La Biche to visit him at some point, too (Slave Lake and Lac La Biche - I might need to do a driving and blogging tour of the province at this rate, people).

By the end of the evening I was pretty worn out. The day had started with an economics marathon, and ended with some politics. I don't admit great knowledge of either of those aspects of our world, although I now have a bit of an interest in economics, and I dabble in the political world. What pleased me the most, though, was the opportunity to explore both of those in one day at a single conference. "Leading the North" brought a lot of very interesting people to Fort Mac, and I'm so pleased to have been able to meet some of them, hear their ideas, and maybe share some of my ideas with them, too. It was a day of economic board games and government types - and it was a pretty fabulous day, too. I ended my day with a quick drink at the bar in the Quality Inn with some locals who have become very dear friends, and then headed home early - because the next day, the last day of the conference, promised to be full and busy. It was, after all the day I deemed "Peter Mansbridge Day" - and that, people, is a story for another post! :)

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