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A painful reminder

The view from Calgary: The Bow Tower, completed just seven years ago for Encana, is now a daily reminder that Canada's greatest energy company decided to leave.
The Bow Tower, left, dominates both Calgary’s skyline and current mood.

It is, at 236 metres high, one of the tallest office towers in Calgary. It’s architecturally stunning – in part because of the design by world-famous architectural firm Foster + Partners, but also because of its massive scale.

When it was completed in 2012, it was among the top 10 architectural projects in the world that year, according to Azure Magazine.

The $1.4-billion structure – named The Bow – was also the pride of the oil patch. Built by what was then North America’s second largest natural gas producer – Encana Corp. – it reflected the optimism for Canada’s ongoing place as a key world energy producer.

Now, just seven years later, The Bow stands as a symbol of Canada’s unique ability to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. It’s a silent, towering reminder that this frustrating federation has twisted itself into such a state of dysfunction that Canada’s greatest energy company has concluded there are much more fruitful roads south of the border.

Last week’s announcement that Encana would move its head office to the U.S. and, symbolically worse, shed its moniker in favour of a peculiar new name, Ovintiv, was the final straw for many Albertans.

We’ve seen other regions of the country turn their backs on a province that has been an economic engine.

We’ve watched with growing frustration and anger as succeeding federal governments have failed to get a pipeline – any pipeline – built that would take our oil to tidewater.

We’ve seen a crash in gas prices that pushed Encana to shift its strategic direction and pursue investments in oil. But not here – in the U.S., where the prospects of making profit are much rosier.

We’ve seen regulations piled upon regulations in an effort to appease anti-oil interests that, quite frankly, will not be appeased by anything less than an end to the industry.

We’ve seen other regions of the country turn their backs on a province that has been an economic engine:

  • B.C., with its smug, self-righteous tanker bans while its ports continue to ship massive amounts of coal;
  • Quebec, which on one hand accepts transfer payments and on the other refuses to let Alberta oil flow east;
  • Ontario, which feigns sympathy but holds to the misguided belief that the end of Canada’s fossil fuel industry will save the world from climate change.

And there stands The Bow – a constant and painful reminder of a country that’s just not working.

It’s unclear what the future holds for this massive building. It’s worth noting that when Encana sold the project to a real estate investment trust in 2007, the company signed a 25-year occupancy lease. And Doug Suttles, Encana’s CEO, stated that the head office move will not lead to fewer jobs in Alberta nor will it change its spending plans in this country.

Intuition tells us such promises could easily be broken in the coming months and years.

Suttles said the shift in domicile to the U.S. exposes Encana (or Ovintiv – you might as well get used to it) to large investment pools, improving the company’s competitive position.

“Throughout this transformation, we remain committed to who we are and the role we play in the world,” Suttles said in a video statement.

Which begs the question: Who are they? What role does the company play in the world?

When Encana was formed 2002, it was the culmination of a series of mergers and acquisitions that started way back in 1958. That’s when Canadian Pacific Railway created Canadian Pacific Oil and Gas Co. to search for oil and gas on the railway’s mineral rights.

The rest, as is often said, is history.

Now, we find, it truly is history.

What was once as Canadian as the railway that brought this country together is now not Canadian at all. That’s much more than the “gut-punch” politicians have described; it’s a gut-punch to our very identity as a nation.

Justin Trudeau’s minority Liberal government has been remarkably quiet following Encana’s announcement. For once, it’s easy to understand why. Is there anything the prime minister could say about this right now that would sound authentic or sincere? Sometimes, it’s better to say nothing at all.

It’s a gut-punch to our very identity as a nation.

Suttles has said this move has nothing to do with politics. In other words, Encana didn’t decide to move to the U.S. because the federal Liberals narrowly won re-election. In fact, this move has been in the works for years.

I believe him but I don’t think that makes me feel any better. Clearly, when a company as Canadian as Les Habitants decides it’s time to pull up stakes, it’s time for all Canadians to step back and ask some fundamental questions about what the future will look like for our children and grandchildren.

In Calgary, we’ll have The Bow to remind us of that question every day.

Doug Firby is president of Troy Media Digital Solutions and publisher of Calgary’s Business, Edmonton’s Business and Troy Media.

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