Good morning. Wendy Cox this morning.
Officially, the Calgary Stampede got under way Friday. Unofficially, the gathering has been under way for days.
There is no other event quite like it in Canada – a place where politicians make footwear choices at their peril and where deciding which Stampede parties to attend is consequential for those in politics or business.
This year, as Kelly Cryderman reports today, is particularly fraught. It’s the first full Stampede in two years and it is happening amid leadership contests in the federal Conservative Party and the provincial UCP.
A federal Conservative leadership debate scheduled for Friday – an event that brought the candidates to town just as Stampede begins – was upended somewhat when the party disqualified candidate Patrick Brown over financial allegations.
That left only Jean Charest, Roman Baber and Scott Aitchison in the debate organized by the Western Standard, a Calgary-based news and opinion site. Front-runner Pierre Poilievre was never scheduled to be there: He’s instead making an appearance at Calgary entrepreneur Brett Wilson’s annual party, PrairieRowdy.
All the candidates will be showing up Saturday night for a stampede BBQ.
Demand for Alberta’s main exports – oil, natural gas and agricultural commodities – are at sky-high levels, contributing to a jubilant vibe in Calgary.
But overlaid on top are the difficult skirmishes among conservatives that have laid bare just how divided that constituency is. A new wave of COVID-19, fuelled by an Omicron subvariant, is starting to take hold. And skyrocketing inflation is a buzzkill for too much celebration over Alberta’s suddenly rosy financial outlook.
Venture capitalist Irfhan Rawji said he’s been struck by how quickly economic indicators are changing this year. He pointed to the Stampede Chuckwagon Racing tarp auction in April – usually a bellwether for the health of the energy industry and how charged Stampede parties will be in July. At the last canvas auction in 2019, 36 wagons raised nearly $3.3-million. This year, the total was $2.1-million.
“The numbers we saw weren’t record-breaking, by any stretch of the imagination,” said Mr. Rawji, the managing partner of Relay Ventures and the founder and chairman of MobSquad.
Mr. Rawji said in all his nine years in Calgary he’s never seen such a busy Stampede party season as 2022 – which he attributes in part to economic optimism and in part to pent-up demand. Many people want to get out and enjoy time with other people while COVID-19 cases in Alberta are relatively low.
Gregg Scott, who founded one of the city’s major land-services firms, which acquire land for oil and gas companies, has famously held Scott Land STOMP at the Wildhorse Saloon Stampede tent for more than two decades. But he made the call in February not to hold the STOMP this year, given the uncertainty about COVID-19 waves. Still, many other legacy parties, such as Peters & Co.’s famous Firewater Friday, are back.
Meanwhile, there’s a new generation of functions, including from the city’s growing tech sector. At the Innovation Corridor Stampede Party, at the top of a new tech hub in the East Village, the tone on Thursday evening was more counterculture than cowboy.
Roller skaters line-danced at the Platform Innovation Centre rooftop, and the performing drag queens and Mayor Jyoti Gondek talked about how Calgary is a city that is about far more than its stereotypes.
This is the weekly Western Canada newsletter written by B.C. Editor Wendy Cox and Alberta Bureau Chief James Keller. If you’re reading this on the web, or it was forwarded to you from someone else, you can sign up for it and all Globe newsletters here.