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It could be called the billion-dollar view - the sight of mountain peaks rippling across the blue horizon.

That's the scene from billionaire gas tycoon Clay Riddell's 47th-floor offices in Calgary's Bankers Hall West. Mr. Riddell, 70, is the unpretentious risk-taker who controls Paramount Resources, owns part of the Calgary Flames, runs trendy restaurants, and, unfortunately for his recent fortunes, is the driving force behind two energy trusts.

As a big supporter of income trusts, have you been outspoken on Ottawa's move to close them down?

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Actually I've been relatively quiet about it - my daughter Susan [Riddell Rose]has been outspoken.

All I know is that it cost me more than any other Canadian - probably, a quarter of a billion dollars out of my net worth in a couple of days.

Aside from your personal pain, what's wrong with closing down this huge tax leak?

It probably didn't affect my way of life, but it's bad for Canada, bad for the industry, bad for the oil patch.

It was just an incredibly bad decision.

If they were worried about Telus and Bell Canada becoming trusts, there were other ways to handle that.

In my view it actually cost the Canadian government. They looked to save half a billion dollars of tax loss on one side, but gave up billions of dollars on the other side as the [trust]market shrunk.

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People would have had to pay tax on their capital gains - and on the revenue stream from the trusts, as well.

I don't know what that was all about.

Wasn't it directed against the big tax break for foreign

investors?

They were worried about foreign ownership and tax leakage because of it. But there were ways around that and you can see what they did hasn't stemmed the foreign ownership of Corporate Canada.

What's the state of your wealth right now?

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With today's gas prices, the hit on trusts, and the last market rollover, it's less than it was.

Growing up in Winnipeg, did you come from a business background?

My father lost his farm in the 1930s, came to Winnipeg when I was very young, and went overseas to fight in the Second World War. Then he worked in grain elevators and his last job was a mailman. My mother was a schoolteacher.

Were you inclined to be

entrepreneurial?

I don't know, but they say if you grow up in North Winnipeg, you get to be an entrepreneur by osmosis.

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How did you plan your career?

After selling one company on behalf of investors, I started Paramount in 1975, went public in 1978, and it just sort of happened. I had no grand plan - one thing just led to another. We did it all through exploration.

What was your big

breakthrough?

We found out how to explore for and exploit the natural gas in Northeastern Alberta - very shallow gas. We stumbled along until we figured it out where others hadn't.

It was as much about the drilling technology as anything else. We were betting everything we had and it turned out to be right. But it could have been wrong and I would have been working for somebody else.

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In the early years, we were able to accumulate a lot of it because we weren't big enough for anyone to care what we did - or to think we knew what we were doing.

Are you still going against

the grain?

We've started a new company, MGM Energy, which owns the bulk of the unproven area in the Mackenzie Delta. We are the only people operating up there. When we get that pipeline built - and it will be built - there will be a whole basin opening, just like when the Trans-Canada Pipeline was built to Western Canada.

But isn't it very uncertain who will build the Mackenzie Valley pipeline, or when?

Well, if it wasn't uncertain, we wouldn't be able to have the position we've built. If it was a go, there would be no MGM.

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So you're always taking

advantage of uncertainty?

In my whole career, if anybody who was big wanted something, I never had enough money to do it. Therefore, I had to be where other people weren't, and hope I was right more times than I was wrong.

What do you tell young people about how to succeed?

I don't have any magic formulas. There is a certain degree of luck, but if you're sitting down and planning the path to get there, my best guess is you're not going to.

I have no idea how many times I bet the entire company and my whole net worth on something that either really worked or at least worked enough so it didn't break you. And we've used leverage way more than people would advise.

What do you like about debt leverage?

Leverage allows you to keep more. Instead of owning 10 per cent of Paramount, I was able, by levering it up, to continue to own 50 per cent, and also to control the growth a bit.

Other people have grown magnificent companies like Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. or Renaissance Energy. They built big, big companies and made tremendous wealth for themselves and others. I just did it a different way. I made it smaller, but kept a bigger chunk.

You also own some

restaurants.

We have six, including Wildwood and Bonterra, two of the high-end ones in Calgary. The restaurants haven't made me any money but they haven't cost me any. For the restaurant business, that's pretty good.

If you aren't making money, why are you still in the

business?

It's not bothering me, and it's kind of a diversion. I have thoroughbred racehorses too, and those cost money. They're also a diversion.

Is your family in the

energy business?

Two of the kids basically run the energy companies - Susan and Jim.

Do the kids have what

it takes?

Absolutely. When they joined our company in the 1990s, there was another big surge of growth in Paramount because of their energy and what they did. They both have geology degrees, and they grew up with talk of the oil business and geology around the dinner table. These kids are good.

What's next?

I'm looking forward to the Delta and the recovery in gas prices so we can start competing again. At the current gas prices, our basin is not competitive with the U.S. or around the world. But those things swing quickly.

What is your role?

I come in and see what they're doing, and give advice. Sometimes it's taken and sometimes it's not. MGM was my idea and we're pushing ahead with it, so I still come up with the odd idea, good or bad. I just wish I had done MGM a different way, with private equity instead of public equity. But we'll get it done.

gpitts@globeandmail.com

Clay Riddell

Title:

Chairman and CEO, Paramount Resources Ltd., Calgary.

Chairman, Paramount Energy Trust and Trilogy Energy Trust.

Chairman, Newalta Corp.

CEO of MGM Energy Corp.

Born: On a farm between Treherne and Holland, Man., July 13, 1937.

Education: Honours geology degree, University of Manitoba

Career highlights

1959: First full-time job - geologist for California Standard Oil (later Chevron)

1975: Sold first company he headed; founded Paramount Resources

1980s: Came to market with gas finds in northeastern Alberta

2002: Formed Paramount Energy Trust.

2006: Listed as 13th-richest Canadian, with a net worth of $2.14-billion, by Canadian Business magazine.

July 18, 2007: Citing low gas prices, Paramount Energy Trust cuts distributions by 29 per cent.

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