From the monthly archives: January 2012

The holidays are back with a vengeance and it’s time once again to spread tinsel as well as good cheer around the office. But what can you give to the busy person on-the go that you haven’t already given year after year? How can you wow your office mates or the big boss without breaking the bank? Well, here are some cool and innovative gift ideas that you may not have thought of.

Electronic Gifts
Smartpens are remarkable little devices that not only transmit everything you write from your notepad directly to your computer or hand-held device but also simultaneously record the audio in the room around you. They’re compact, easy to hold and maneuver and are available for around a hundred bucks.

Smartpens could be especially convenient for busy students or for those taking important notes out in the field or at an important meeting. They can even be used to draw or doodle if the user wants to express themselves in a more creative fashion.

Smartpens look like many traditional pens but are vastly different in that they have a tiny infrared camera right under the pen point that takes moving pictures of what you’re writing. That information is then wirelessly transferred to your computer or other device for later use.

The secret behind the functionality of Smartpens though is the use of special paper and the Dot Positioning System. This system consists of very unusual paper which is covered in a series of, well you guessed it, dots.

Although virtually invisible to the naked eye, the dots are organized in such a fashion that as the pen moves over them it recognizes its exact position and recalls the information recorded there, either audibly or in an LED display on the surface of the pen.

The paper also includes printed navigational buttons, similar to those found on a tape recorder that include the options to record, jump to another point or bookmark specific points in your work for later use. Smartpens even have the capability to translate your work into different languages making this the perfect gift for just about anybody on your shopping list.

Artsy Gifts
Would you say your boss is a…character? Are your office partners unique or even perhaps quirky, in some way? Well here’s a gift that will tell them exactly what you think about them, but in a fun way.

Caricatures are brilliant works of art created from personal photos that capture the likeness of any person or persons, but with a comical slant. So the boss with a passion for golf may be depicted as slicing the ball into the woods with a surprised look and uttering the expression “fore!”, or the manager with a taste for outdoor activities could be pictured fly fishing and uttering the familiar “a bad day fly fishing is better than a good day in the office.” Or even just a picture of the person smiling while working at their desk or on the phone would work nicely. These are simple examples of how the art could be devised but how your quarry is captured and represented is purely up to you.

Caricatures are highly personalized gifts that show a genuine liking and interest in your colleague’s character. Because of this it is of the utmost importance that you select the appropriate photograph from which the art will be created so that the desired traits are highlighted in the art. But be careful! A gift of this nature could be construed as overly critical or inappropriate so when working with the artist make sure and highlight desirable and humorous traits so you’ll still have a job in the new year.

Caricatures are available through various on-line and local sources and can be created starting at around $100, depending on the type of matting and frame you choose for your work of art.

Relaxing Gifts
Since the arrival of the chair over 4500 years ago human beings have been striving to improve it by making it more comfortable, supportive and beautiful. Years of research and development and countless hours of sitting have led us to great advances in seating technology and chairs that rival or perhaps even exceed the thrones of the mighty pharaohs themselves.

Although massage chairs carry a lofty price tag (beginning at around $150 and extending into the thousands) they are undoubtedly an amazing and generous gift for the executive in your life.

Some lower-end models offer multi-speed massaging with lumbar support and sensors that recharge the batteries when the chair isn’t in use, while others include features like heated surfaces and remote controls. The upper level chairs, found in the $2000- 3000 range are nothing short of spectacular. Many of these include infrared heat which penetrates deeply into the muscle tissues, and air bladders that inflate and deflate gently massaging your back and legs. Further attributes include foot and calf massage, stretching mechanisms that decompress the spine, a variety of massage programs and even a zero gravity feature that puts you into a virtually weightless position.

Although most of us need to work to survive who says we can’t work in comfort and style?

Winston Churchill said, “why stand when you can sit”.

Obviously, you’ll need deep pockets to spring for the more expensive chairs but wouldn’t it look nice under the tree? And perhaps if you play your cards right, you’ll be able to slip into that cozy chair yourself for a little relaxation time when no one is looking.


Last month’s Tech Talk introduced the first five of Scott Berkun’s 10 Myths of Innovation. In his recent book, “The Myths of Innovation” Scott deliberately sets out to break the mythical ways in which we may think about innovation, so that we can be ‘free to try and change the world.’ What follows are myths six through 10.

Myth #6 – Good ideas are hard to find. It is universally accepted by psychologists and creativity researchers that humans are built for creative thinking. “The difference between creatives and others is more attitude and experience than nature.” This is a point that we emphasize in our Idea to Implementation Workshop at the Centre for Research & Innovation. One of the quickest ways to restore our creative nature in the workplace is to stop the misuse of brainstorming by eliminating the judgment of ideas and all negativity around an idea’s value. Start by simply generating ideas without filtering or denigrating them. Idea-generation processes like brainstorming should be fun.

Myth #7 – Your boss knows more about innovation than you. Why would she? The manager is charged with producing an outcome (product or service) probably with directions to do that efficiently.

In fact, the need for improved productivity is a common story within business pages and is a focus of the AB Government’s efforts related to productivity. But innovation often runs counter to productivity and thus needs to be managed. Berkun suggests five challenges to managing innovation. First – life of ideas: someone must be responsible for the idea. Secondly – environment: someone must create an environment the will “put innovation at the centre”. Thirdly – protection: as Berkun sees it, it is the manager’s unique responsibility to protect the new idea while it develops. The fourth is execution – all steps (i.e. concept, prototypes, production models, market ready product) are necessary. Finally, innovations require funding and leadership to get it there, that is, persuasion.

Myth #8 – The best ideas win. Simply not true. Ask any Apple user; and remember what happened to Beta video tapes. What about Imperial measurement and the Metric system? Need more be said about the QWERTY keyboard and how stuck we are in its use when a number of more efficient key arrangements have been developed? Just because you have a ‘best idea’ don’t expect acceptance.

Myth #9 – Problems and solutions. Burken suggests that problems should be seen as an invitation to look beyond the obvious. While that may seem unnecessary for everyday problems, it may lead to solutions that have greater use than first imagined. “Framing problems to help solve them” usually means time and effort well spent.

Myth #10 – Innovation is always good. Is an innovation good if it solves your problems [and those of your customers] or makes you money? Definitely. But what if it also causes people to lose their jobs? . . . The impact of innovations can be unpredictable (DDT, the Internet). Sometimes their impact is sudden, while for others it takes years. Occasionally, the ‘Law of Unintended Consequences’ prevails.

There they are – The Myths of Innovation.

Not only is his book a good read, but it is full of practical tips on how to be an innovator or an innovative company. The journey begins with the decision.

Dr. Bruce Rutley is the Director of the Centre for Research & Innovation at Grande Prairie Regional College.



It’s a tough jump from small local company to being able to compete with the big boys but one Grande Prairie company has been able to do that, and do it in a relatively short period of time.

Co-owners Dean Kato and Brad Clarke started Tradesmen Enterprises in 2006 with 10 employees and that number has grown in just a few years to 320.

As well In 2008 Tradesmen expanded their services to include a pipeline division and brought on Donnie O’Brien as manager and co-owner of the division.

“Just in the last two years we’ve grown over 300 per cent,” said Business Development officer Keith Smith.

The company specializes in gas plant and facilities and pipeline construction and has recently been awarded a contract to build part of the Alta-Gas project in Gordendale, AB. The project’s overall budget is $230 million and even without building the entire facility,it’s a huge success for the locals at Tradesmen and offers a good indication of what they are capable of.

“It’s one really nice way to attract that common workforce because we are going to need some more people,” said Clarke. “ It’s not a camp job and it’s not out of town and we’ve got a lot of local people that work for us anyway so they love that, and then people from out of town and they don’t mind coming to Grande Prairie and staying in hotels; Grande Prairie has a lot to offer.”

Their growth has been nothing short of spectacular and they attribute that to a hands-on, grassroots approach to running the company.

“Both myself and Brad have grown up in the Peace Country,” said Kato, “and that definitely does help. The oil patch is a small world when you start talking about the service industry and the aspect of work that we do, it’s very small. You’re name carries a long way in the oil patch and we’ve been fortunate enough that all of our people and the jobs that we do are always on budget and always on time and that holds a lot of weight in the clients’ eyes.”

There is nothing that they ask employees to do that they haven’t done. Both men started out as labourers in the oil patch: Kato as a welder and Clarke as a pipefitter. They worked their way up the ranks, got the training they needed, and when they started their own company, they were able to grow their leadership skills along with it. They attribute much of their leadership to valuing integrity, honesty and dedication.

And they’re still learning. Last year they both learned to fly the two helicopters the company now owns.

It’s a way to visit more sites in a shorter time and access remote locations, they explained. It helps put their feet on the ground with their clients and workers and they said that’s just where they want to be.

“We’ve got a very open and handson approach to running the company and, in my opinion, that goes a long way nowadays for the guys to be able to see that – to be able to see the president of the company out on a jobsite or walking around the yard and be able to go up and talk to them – that’s a huge thing for the guys nowadays,” said Kato.

“I would have to agree that a lot of the workers started off, and have worked with us for a long time so they’re used to seeing us even years back when we the guys actually on the jobsite looking after the individual projects for other companies,” said Clarke. They understand that although we’re owners…we can understand things from their point of view because we both started off as labourers.”

They would love to continue a steady and sustainable growth for Tradesmen Enterprises until they can employ 400-500 workers and generate $80-$100 million in annual revenue, so it is perhaps a benefit that the industry as a whole is busy and they are experiencing some of the same issues prevalent throughout the region.

“We were busy even a year ago. What the current boom has done is prevent further growth because you can’t hire welders or pipefitters or a labour force to even grow more,” said Smith.

“Materials are coming into affect now because other companies that supply  us for structural steel and piping – they can’t produce it as quick.”

The company has a very low staff turnover rate and coupled with the fact that their key employees have been with the company for years, makes the labour shortage less pressing than it might be.

And the company has grown large enough that while projects may have become more complex, getting the work is easier.

“We’ve got the infrastructure in place to manage the larger projects which is the hard part coming from a small company,” said Clarke. And larger projects help create more stability for their workforce, providing a buffer for both the company and its employees alike.


The future looks bright for both the County and City of Grande Prairie and they are busy planning to make the most of the opportunities.

“I think the region has a lot to offer families and potential employees,” said county administrator Bill Rogan.

“I think it’s probably fair to say it’s always difficult to attract to the North, there seems to be that sense that you get too far out of the bigger city, but I think that the Grande Prairie Region has got all the amenities that any family would want to get in a larger centre, perhaps on a little bit smaller scale but sometimes that’s okay too.”

Grande Prairie has seen a substantial amount of reinvestment into the area both by industry and government and they say that’s going to payoff for people.

“Council has had an opportunity toset its strategic plan which really had a focus on financial matters and the fiscal sustainability of our community,” said Mayor Bill Given.

“If we can continue to reinvest in (infrastructure) and still have the lowest property tax increase over the past decade then I think council has done a fantastic job, and it really proves that our consensus focus on the bottom line was the right direction to go.”

At a municipal level, said Given, they are planning for modest growth because municipalities tend to lag behind industrial development but that doesn’t mean they aren’t looking further down the road.

“Council has been working with administration to institute industrial attraction development strategies. We know that we’re going to have a significant amount of land available and we believe that we need to be open for business and have strategies ready as soon as that land comes under the city’s jurisdiction to encourage industry to locate there,” said Given.

Current investments include a plan to set aside $8 million a year for roads, $250,000 for pathways and trails, a new fire hall for the west end and of course, the jewel in the crown, $110 million on a multiplex.

With $700,000 alone going toward a dino theme to compliment the proposed Philip J. Curry Museum, Given believes the facility will be something that has a regional and tourism draw.

“Council put a lot of time and effort into it to ensure that there’s something for everyone. It’s the only 54 metre pool northwest of Edmonton until you get to probably Whitehorse, and it has Canada’s second FlowRider surfing machine.

The county has its draws as well with their sportsplex, scheduled to come online in a year, complimenting the multiplex. That facility will house a twin ice arena and a half, full pitch soccer field.

“I think those two buildings combined are going to provide facilities second to none in the province as far as what families are looking for in the realm of recreation combined with the other things that already exist here: the parks, the ski hills, the cross-country skiing, so I think the region has much to offer to anyone that’s interested in relocating to the area for business,” said Given.

The added amenities are a response to industrial and commercial growth and although municipalities may lag behind a year, there has been plenty of activity on that side of things as well.

“I think we’re on the leading edge of another pick up in the economy,” said Given. “And I think this is a fantastic thing about the Peace Region; we really float in our own little lifeboat above the rest of the world economy. Certainly we go up and down with it but often times we ride slightly above, and I think from all the signs and indicators that we can see the Grande Prairie Region is set to take off again.”

Walmart is doing an expansion that will nearly double the size of their facility, there are some significant projects in the west end near where Grande Prairie’s third fire hall is going to be: Atco is consolidating some of their services from across the city and creating a regional service centre – that’s about a $73-million project just south of the airport – and another major truck stop has also been added to that area.

“Certainly we saw an uptick this fall in new development as far as commercial/ industrial…we’ve seen a real surge in development permits being taken out for new buildings,” said Rogan.

“A lot of our industrial parks are starting to fill up and I think we’ll probably be seeing some more lands being brought on for industrial use into the new year if the demand keeps up and we’re presuming it keeps up.”

Upgrades at Weyerhaeuser and Canfor bode well for the future of the forestry sector even as the oil and gas sector ramps up.

Truck drivers, heavy duty mechanics, and on the professional side, accounts are some of the positions that are already showing the largest need for workers, said Rogan.

“People are reinvesting, adding on, hiring employees, building new buildings, the oil patch from what I can understand is very active – we’re still a regional service centre.”

Indications are strengthening that support a growth trend, with more help wanted signs, and prices for projects increasing as contractors are harder to get.

“I’m very confident in our local economy. I know that it can be impacted by the world economy but I am very confident that we are on solid footing for a very strong three to five years at least.


I think the biggest theme running in Grande Prairie today, as it has been for a while, is that there is still a growing opportunity in our city…I think that the city has made the right kinds of investments in public infrastructure that the city is going to be an attractive place for employees to live and the next step is for us to start to make strategic investments in the infrastructure that will provide good opportunities for business and our council is ready to do that.

One of the things that is being handled differently that it has been in the past, is that instead of allocating funds to specific road projects, the city has opted to allocate a budget of $6 million to be available for strategic road priorities.

“The reason we did that instead of tying it to a single project is that we want to really look at investing that $6 million into projects that will encourage more commercial/industrial development and council is being very deliberate about ensuring we have the finds available to create new opportunities for businesses to locate in Grande Prairie,” said Given.

While housing is a major problem for much of the Peace, the Grande Prairie area is only now starting to see that sector impacted.

Where 18 months ago vacancy rates were close to 15 per cent, said Rogan, they are now close to four or five percent, and the cost of housing has remained relatively static.

“The world economy of course will have an impact on our region depending on how dramatic it is so everybody watches with some sense of unease what’s going on in Europe. I’m concerned that people will see world events and that will impact their confidence locally and I’m very confident that our local economy will remain strong for the next three to five years,” said Given.

“Our councils in the region are all experiencing the need for more staff, the need to construct more facilities whether they be water, wastewater, roads and (it will be a challenge to) find the dollars to do that particularly in times when prices will be escalating and manpower is hard to find, and trying to keep your tax rates competitive and attractive but still provide that needed infrastructure,” said Rogan.


Coal is alive and well in Canada once again and communities are digging in to take advantage.

There has been a flurry of activity in the coal industry in recent months. New projects, a significant infusion of capital and strong commodity prices have given a boost to an industry that had pretty much shut down said president Canadian Mining Association Pierre Gratton.

While there have been some modest declines in the last few months, prices, driven by China, have moved the industry into a much stronger position.

“We’ve estimated almost $140 billion in new project development,” said Gratton. “BC and Alberta combined are driving a lot of the investment in the country.”

Alberta is responsible for almost half the new investments and BC is a close second to Alberta. While BC has the largest number of projects, when you include oil sands mining, Alberta has the largest dollar value.

“Now your challenge is housing,” said Gratton. “It’s a good challenge to have in a sense but having a place for people to live who are going to go up there and work is important.”

Perhaps nowhere is that more of an issue than in Hudson’s Hope, BC.

The small community is left contending with the possible need for housing, infrastructure and services for an additional 4,773 people after the recent announcement by BC Premier that Canadian Kailuan Dehua Mines Co. (CKD) had committed to $860 million investment in the Gething Project located 25 kilometres south of Hudson’s Hope.

For a community with a current population standing just over 1,000, that is a tall order.

Construction on the Gething project is scheduled to begin in about two years after the environmental assessment permits and First Nations and community consultation are complete. The coal mine should have a mine life of over 40 years and the company projects a production rate of two million tonnes of washed coal per year. According to CKD, the construction of Gething Project will create 773 longterm direct jobs, along with another 4,000 indirect jobs.

To complicate the issue, the promise of investment doesn’t guarantee the project will move through the environmental assessment and community and aboriginal consultation phases and that makes planning for the growth particularly difficult said Hudson’s Hope Mayor Karen Anderson.

While any coal mines would be a big boost to the district of Hudson’s Hope, said Anderson, the lack of communication between the province and local government, as well as between West Moberly First Nation and CKD have generated more rancor than celebration.

The project has been in the works for three years and early on in the process, West Moberly expressed their opposition to CKD plans.

Shortly after the Premier’s announcement of the investment agreement, it was reported that West Moberly chief Roland Willson said they would be willing to come to the table and discuss options with the company.

There are also issues with labour. Underground mining requires specialized skills not readily available in Canada and according to Anderson, the company is facing some opposition to the idea of bringing in people from Canadian Labour groups.

In a climate where other industries are fighting a labour deficit, that becomes even more important.

“I’m disappointed that the (provincial) focus seems to be on creating more jobs when, two things, we don’t have the labour to supply to the jobs, and we don’t have the immigration parameters to bring people in and keep them here,” said Energy Services BC executive director Art Jarvis.

Gratton noted that even without the draw on potential workers from the oil and gas sector, finding enough workers to meet the needs of the mining industry itself is a challenge worldwide.

“The mining industry in the 1990s went through a decade of difficult times, very different from today, so we weren’t attracting young kids into schools. They were going into other types of engineering, not mining engineering. We weren’t attracting geologists,” said Gratton.

“If you look at your average mining company today you’ve got workers 45 and up and workers 30 and down and a big gap in between and now we’re paying the price for that.”

One of the solutions, he added, has been to promote the field through engagement with First Nations.

“There’s a pretty high participation rate with aboriginal Canadians in the Northeast and that’s something that’s got to continue.” As an added bonus, the inclusion of First Nations people both in terms of suppliers to the industry and workers for the mines, improves companies’ social license to operate.

He also advocates an increased participation by women. While women have made substantial inroads in other sectors, mining is still a male dominated field.

“We’ve got a long ways to go still,” said Gratton. He attributes the problem to “old fashioned attitudes” about the industry and for a history where women were intentionally excluded.

“Did you know that in the mining industry 40 years ago it was considered bad luck for women to go underground,” asked Gratton. It is just one of the indicators for why women’s participation in the industry is so low.

It is slowly changing. Currently, Gratton said the industry participation from women was in the neighbourhood of 15 per cent. That is indeed an improvement from the 3 per cent that it was 15 years ago.

The other challenge Gratton sees is that the regulatory climate for mining is complex. Harmonizing federal and provincial regulations in an efficient way so that cycles are not missed when they come can be difficult. It simply takes too long.

“The (BC) Premier has addressed that problem by bringing some long needed money into the departments so that they can hire the people they need so hopefully that will help address the backlog,” said Gratton.

Government is busy promoting the industry in foreign markets. Companies are making their way through the regulatory and consultation processes. And communities are trying to plan for the upswing in mining activity. Cooperation and communication is a huge key for success in blending everyone’s needs said Anderson and others like her.

It’s a mixed bag. While the reemergence of coal as a viable industry is for the most part welcomed, the challenges are and will need to be addressed


Can a facilitator help CN Rail meet transportation challenges?

News that the federal government has named a facilitator to get business talking with CN Rail about implementing improvements to rail service in Canada is being greeted with cautious optimism by business and political leaders in the West.


Jim Dinning

“We are following through on our government’s commitment to improve the effectiveness, efficiency and reliability of Canada’s rail freight supply chain by appointing Jim Dinning to lead the facilitation process,” said Lebel.

“We are delighted to have a facilitator of such high calibre who has significant experience and expertise in building collaborative relationships among industry leaders, public-sector executives and elected officials.”

For years, CN Rail has been accused of not being responsive to the needs of shippers who use the railway and letting its infrastructure deteriorate to the point of uselessness in some areas. A recent Transportation Roundtable of mayors and regional district chairs in Northern BC said CN Rail needs to respond to the demand for better shipping as exporters look to ship toward Asian markets via the Port of Prince Rupert.

Current commodity movement strains the system at times, said delegates, and there are bottlenecks at loading/receiving areas. Coupled with the challenges of winter weather, staffing requirements and rapid growth all affect the ability for CN to have a seamless service that can expand to move growing quantities of commodities such as coal, lumber, potash and grains. They said rail service also must find ways to better integrate with highways, ports, air freight and sea traffic.

Some urgency around the need for CN Rail service improvements was highlighted by recent agreements involving coal shipments to the port. For example, Teck Resources and Prince Rupert’s Ridley Terminals have announced an agreement on terms for the shipment of steelmaking coal from Teck’s mines in BC and Alberta for a 10-year term starting Jan. 1, 2015, with Teck having an option to extend the term another two years.

The new agreement contemplates Teck shipping 2.5 million tonnes of coal per year throughout the contract period, and is a successor to an existing agreement expiring in 2014 which allows Teck to ship up to 1.2 million tonnes in 2011 and 2012, and up to 4.2 million tonnes in 2013 and 2014 pending the re-start of Teck’s Quintette operation in Northeastern BC. An additional existing agreement allows 500,000 tonnes per year to be shipped through Feb. 28, 2021.

Against that backdrop, Roundtable delegates identified concerns about access to the rail cars needed to ship goods in a timely manner along with deteriorating track lines and unsafe crossings.

“The message was clear: CN needs to spend more time listening to its customers and responding effectively to their concerns if it wants the have an effective rail service in Canada,” said roundtable co-chair Bruce Lantz, mayor of the City of Fort St. John, BC. “This is an opportunity for CN to gain more market share but it has to be willing to take the necessary steps to do so. Hopefully Mr. Dinning will be able to get that process started, so we are all eagerly anticipating the outcome of his work.”

But CN western region senior vicepresident Mike Cory said the company has made many improvements in the past 18 months and looks forward to working with Dinning

Night rail“We’ve undertaken lots of service agreements and we look forward to more supply chain agreements,” said Cory, who admitted the railway hasn’t met with Dinning yet and doesn’t know details of the process that will be followed. He stressed CN already has seen an improvement in “communication and transparency” through its own recent efforts.

“I’m sure his work will complement what we’ve done already,” he added. “It will be a further step in the process we’ve initiated ourselves.”

Dinning, who will work with a $300,000 budget which includes his $75,000 fee plus money to hire a transportation expert, will make recommendations based on results from a rail freight service review presented to the federal government in December 2010.

“I am very pleased to lead the facilitation process and further build the commercial relationships in the rail freight system,” said Mr. Dinning. “I look forward to working with stakeholders over the next few weeks to take the next steps in this important exercise.”

“I am very happy to see the federal government moving forward on the concerns mentioned in the review,” said Carolyn Kolebaba, chair of the Northwest Corridor Development Corporation, which lobbies for improved transportation links in northwestern Canada.

“We are expecting industry and CN will work together for the benefit of both parties. This will be a better solution than the government using a heavy hand on both parties. Times are changing and the way business is done also, and we have seen a willingness on CN’s part and industries to work for the benefit of all.”

Dinning’s mandate is to lead goal-oriented negotiations among executive-level stakeholders to establish a commercial dispute resolution process and a template service agreement with CN Rail. Railways and those who ship goods on them, as well as ports and other terminals, will be invited to participate in the process, which is expected to take 6-8 months to complete. Dinning will determine who should participate and the format of the meetings.

Dinning worked for the Alberta government in the Cabinet Office from 1977 to 1979. He served as Cabinet researcher and subsequently as Cabinet committee secretary. From 1979 to 1982 he was the executive assistant to the provincial treasurer. In 1983, Dinning became the manager of Provincial Government Affairs for Dome Petroleum. He then returned to the Alberta government as the director for Southern Alberta, Office of the Premier, before being appointed deputy minister of Alberta, Federal and Intergovernmental Affairs in mid-1984 and served in that position until 1986 when he was elected to the Legislative Assembly of Alberta as the member for Calgary-Shaw in 1986 and was re-elected twice, in 1989 and 1992.

In 1986, Dinning was named Minister of Community and Occupational Health, and in 1988 he became Minister of Education. He served as Provincial Treasurer from 1992-97 and was named executive vice-president of TransAlta Corp. in 1997, a position he held until 2004.

Today, Dinning is the chair of the board of directors of Western Financial Group, of Liquor Stores NA Ltd. and of Export Development Canada. He is also chair and director of a number of other public and private companies and not-for-profit organizations.

Dinning received an honorary doctor of laws degree from the University of Calgary in 2002. In June 2010, he was elected the 12th chancellor of the University of Calgary and also serves as the chair of the board of directors of Canada West Foundation.

Dinning has been asked to make recommendations based on results from a rail freight service review presented to the federal government in December 2010. The government promised last March to take action on the review and has been criticized by some shippers for apparent delays in the process. The expected outcome of Dinning’s work will be “a template for service agreements and a streamlined commercial dispute resolution process”, according to a federal press release.

The federal government plans to table legislation that will give shippers the right to service agreements with railways, even when commercial negotiations fail. “I am committed to tabling a bill once the facilitation process is complete,” said Lebel. “Discussions among participants during the facilitation process will help our government develop the specific legislative provision on service agreements.”

An analysis of grain supply chain systems was also promised in the Oct. 31 announcement, “to focus on issues that affect that sector and identify potential solutions.”

In addition, the federal government is taking further steps to improve the rail freight supply chain. Together with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Transport Canada will also lead an in-depth analysis of the grain supply chain systems to focus on issues that affect that sector and identify potential solutions. This initiative will get underway soon.

Also, building on the success of the Gateway initiatives, Transport Canada will establish a Commodity Supply Chain Table as a forum for exporters to address issues that affect the supply chain and to provide advice on the development of supply chain performance metrics. The government expects to launch this initiative once the facilitation process is complete or is nearly complete.

The Rail Freight Service Review was launched in 2008 to address ongoing issues with rail freight service and fulfill a government commitment as part of the process that amended the Canada Transportation Act. The amendments focused on shipper protection provisions related to rates and charges.

The review was conducted in two phases: analytical work to better understand the nature and extent of problems within the logistics chain (including shippers, terminal operators, ports and vessel operators); and consultations with stakeholders on issues and recommended solutions. The second phase was led by an independent panel consisting of chair Walter Paszkowski, who has an extensive public policy background, David Edison who has extensive railway experience, and William LeGrow, who has extensive experience as a rail shipper.

The panel consulted with 85 different stakeholders and received 141 written submissions from across the rail-based logistics chain. On Oct. 8, 2010, the review panel released its interim report to the public. Then, after considering feedback from stakeholders, the panel submitted its final report to the Minister of State (Transport) on Dec. 22, 2010.

Last March, the federal government announced a series of measures to enhance the effectiveness, efficiency and reliability of the entire rail freight supply chain.

The government accepted the panel’s commercial approach and its four key elements:

Railways should provide 10 days’ advance notice of service changes. Railways and stakeholders should negotiate service agreements. A fair, timely and cost-effective commercial dispute resolution mechanism should be developed. Supply chain performance should be monitored through enhanced bilateral performance reporting between shippers and railways, and through public performance reporting.

“This (CN Rail) monopoly doesn’t work. It’s a wreck,” said BC’s Arthur Hadland, a director of the Peace River Regional District, a farmer and a member of the North Pine Farmers Institute, which operates a local grain elevator.

“A shift has to come, likely in 20-30 years, to trains,” he said, noting that shippers are relying heavily on environmentally unfriendly truck transport because CN’s service isn’t adequate. Hadland cited the oil and gas sector sending B-train truckloads of sand used in the hydraulic fracking process, and grain farmers shipping by truck as well, as prime examples of why an integrated rail service is so sorely needed.

“As it stands, we can’t get the shipping we need by rail but we have to keep so many trucks off the roads.”

Hadland said he’s hopeful Dinning will address the issues so vital to those who would ship via CN Rail if it was more customer friendly.

“I feel reasonably positive,” he said, “because he is aware of the issues.”