HicksBiz Blog

Oilsands oil versus the world: Hicks on Biz, originally published Edmonton Sun Jan. 26, 2013

So what about this "differential" or $50 gap difference between the price of crude in the Excited States, and the price of our heavy oil?It’s quite simple. Most of our “Canadian Select Crude” is exported to heavy-oil refineries in the American mid-west or all the way to the Louisiana coast.Number one, the pipelines to Louisiana, where huge refineries pay $100 a barrel for Mexican heavy oil that arrives by boat, are so full that heavy oil is backing up through the system. The storage “tank farms” east of Edmonton are just about full.Everybody knew a pipeline capacity crunch was coming, especially with delayed construction of the mighty Keystone XL pipeline from here to Louisiana. But the crunch has happened much earlier and with more ferocity than was expected.Number two, the mid-west refineries are running at full capacity.Number three, our oil now competes for mid-west refinery and pipeline space with new American crude oil from North Dakota.Which means, since early December, the price of our ultra-heavy oil ... Read the rest of entry »

Canteen's food is both fun and fine: Weekly Dish review originally published in Edmonton Sun, Jan. 23, 2013

Canteen 10522 124 St. (780) 485 6125 www.canteenyeg.caFood: 4 of 5 starsAmbience: 3.5 of 5 starsService: 3.5 of 5 starsFull dinner for two (without beverages): Basic, $60; fully loaded, $!00“It’s not about ‘fine food’ anymore,” says Canteen executive chef and owner Frank Olson. “It’s about ‘fun food’.”With all due respect, Frank, I beg to differ.The food at your new Canteen restaurant on 124 Street is both “fun” and “fine”.The Moroccan style lamb chops are the best lamb chops ever brought to an Edmonton restaurant table … with generous portions to boot.The almond-crusted Arctic char, with a dab of sweetened orange/butter sauce and a wee bit of pork belly (AKA fancy bacon) on the fork as well, is the work of a master chef who knows exactly how every flavour adds to the total experience.Remember, Frank has been at the helm of the consistently top-rated Red Ox Inn for 17 years with his wife Andrea as maître d’. Canteen is their second restaurant project.The “fun” and “fine” dance together in three variation ... Read the rest of entry »

How Alberta's Ski Resorts fuel winter vacation towns: Hicks on Biz column originally published in Edmonton Sun, Jan. 19, 2013

How does a ski resort make any money?Marmot Basin in Jasper is weather dependent, yet the bills have to be paid no matter how many skiers are on the hill.It's labour intensive.Capital re-investment is a must, if only to meet customer expectations. New ski lifts can cost up to $8 million a pop.Other than holidays, it's about weekends, for five months of the year.Ninety per cent of Marmot Basin's skiers (including snowboarders) come from Edmonton and northern Alberta. If it's -20C with slippery roads, only the diehards will show up. Jasper's best day ever was 5,007 skiers. Its every-day average would be an estimated 1,500 skiers.Being in a national park, Marmot has stringent environmental standards. There are no on-site chalet real-estate plays as Parks Canada owns the land. Marmot is not allowed to open in summer.A day's lift pass costs $80. But discounts abound, i.e. Jasper-in-January festival ski packages, running until Jan. 27. The average lift ticket price works out to $45 to $50.Marmot Basin is a private ... Read the rest of entry »

Jasper's Cassios is a real treat: Weekly Dish - originally published Edmonton Sun, Jan. 16, 2013

Cassios Italian Restaurant, 602 Connaught Drive, Jasper (Whistler’s Inn) (780) 852-4070 www.cassios.ca —— Food: 4 of 5 stars Ambiance: 4 of 5 stars Service: 4 of 5 stars Dinner for two (without beverages): Basic, $60; fully loaded, $90 —— As January locks its icy fingers around our souls, there is but one antidote. Jasper in January. The two-week winter festival in Edmonton’s favourite holiday town runs until January 27. Jasper in January is all about skiing by day, eating by night. Cassios Italian Restaurant is in the heart of Jasper, in Whistler’s Inn. It’s seven years old, opened by Michael and Anna Cassios shortly after Michael retired as the general manager of Jasper’s Sawridge Hotel. Assisted by head chef Kevin St. Louis, Cassios has built a reputation for friendly, professional service and excellent Italian food. One does enter Cassios in a fine mood, with the pleasant afterglow that comes after a day of skiing, ... Read the rest of entry »

Alberta is a fool's paradise: Hicks on Biz, originally published in Edmonton Sun, Jan. 12, 2013

There are many popular myths out there about fat-cat Alberta.They are all true.We do pay less income and consumption taxes than any other large Canadian province.Our government does spend more (per-capita) than any other large province, besides debt-riddled Quebec.Our doctors, nurses and teachers are the best paid in the country, especially considering taxes, expenses and living costs.We are hopelessly addicted to non-renewable royalties, so addicted that it wouldn’t matter how damning the environmental consequences, oilsands expansion must continue.The consequences: We are living in a fool’s paradise. We have squandered our oil/gas/coal royalty wealth by living for today, not saving for tomorrow. Despite an income gusher that no other province has, our provincial government is still about to plunge into debt.Increased provincial income or consumption taxes, along with reining in public sector, health care and education labour costs, is the only prudent, fiscally sound path to a solid future for our kids.But ... Read the rest of entry »

The financial case for Albertans to pay more taxes - providing the Redford government shows some guts in controlling the public sector labour costs

In the Saturday January 12 (online late Friday evening, Jan. 11) edition of the Edmonton Sun, my Hicks on Biz column tried to look at over-all, generally accepted statistics that clearly prove the government of Alberta does spend more per capita than any other big province besides Quebec with its staggering debt load. And that our nurses, doctors, teachers and civil servants, thanks to association and union agreements that go back to the flush years between 2004 and 2008, are the best-paid of the Big Four provinces.Here's some of the references I used to arrive at this conclusion.The Canadian Institute for Health Information's National Physician Database for 2009/10 is a good snapshot of the Alberta docs' income compared to other provinces, especially the eye-opening Table A.5.1 Average Gross Fees for Physicians earning $60,000 or more, broken out by province. Sorry, I'm not sure if this document can be tracked down online, or if it's one of those things that has to be purchased from the website.RBC ... Read the rest of entry »

Rice Paper Vietnamese Fine Cuisine really is fine: Weekly Dish column, originally published in Edmonton Sun, Jan. 9, 2013

Rice Paper Vietnamese Fine Cuisine10080 178 St. (780) 483 8198 ——Food: 4 of 5 starsAmbience: 3.5 of 5 starsService: 3.5 of 5 stars——The first impression is how clean the restaurant is.Rice Paper, out in the west end among the cluster of hotels supplying West Edmonton Mall with tourists, is spotless.It helps that Van Phan’s eatery is in a stand-alone building that’s only a few years old. Still, somebody is shining the door knobs every day.If Van Phan’s name looks familiar, it is. With his sister’s family, he opened and ran the city’s best known Vietnamese restaurant, Thanh Thanh on 101 Street, for some 16 years. Tiring of the trade, he sold his share to his sister, and took a well-earned sabbatical.But when son Christopher’s interest in the restaurant business wouldn’t go away, Van plunged back in.Already it’s been two years since Van, Christopher and the rest of the immediate family opened Rice Bowl.I’m not going to say it’s better than Thanh Thanh — I have no interest in provoking family disp ... Read the rest of entry »

The future of Alberta's economy is crystal clear: Hicks on Biz column originally published in Edmonton Sun, Jan. 5, 2013

The crystal ball doesn’t really need any polishing, because rarely have the opportunities/challenges for Edmonton’s and northern Alberta’s economy been so clear.It’s about extracting and shipping hydrocarbons (oil, natural gas and coal) in a way that keeps the forests green, the water pure, the air pristine, the pipelines and transmission lines as unobtrusive as possible.It’s about compromise, because millions of barrels of oil a day squeezed out of vast sand deposits to our north can’t be done without some disruption to Mother Earth. It’s a question of how much, and how the land is left once the mining is done.It’s about a Goldilocks economy. Not too hot, not too cold, trusting that a combination of market forces and government regulation keeps the energy juggernaut at just the right temperature.Pipelines are on the top of every agenda: Before, building pipelines to get our oil and gas out to the teeming masses of Asia or the thirsty refineries of Louisiana was rather abstract, an issue years away as the oil ... Read the rest of entry »

New steakhouse shows off its chops: Weekly Dish review originally published in Edmonton Sun Jan. 2, 2013

Chop Steakhouse (Downtown)10235 101 St. (780) 441-3075 www.chop.ca Food: 3.5 of 5 starsAmbience: 4 of 5 starsService: 3.5 of 5 starsDinner for two (without beverages): Basic, $70; fully loaded, $140 It’s long been a mystery why, in the heart of cattle country, there have been just two steakhouses in downtown Edmonton since Hy’s closed … and one of them specializes in American corn-fed beef!Steaks are popular – there’s always going to be a steady steak ‘n’ potato crowd, and just about everybody gets a hankering at one time or another for a juicy T-bone that can be cut with a fork.Steak is easy enough to cook, it’s the cut and the aging that matters. There ought to be good money in a well-managed steakhouse, given steak entrees run from $25 to $60. And you don’t need an artist in the kitchen to prepare your basic steak, baked potato and tomato gratin.So it wasn’t surprising when the new owner of the Sutton Place Hotel announced the hotel restaurant would become a Chop Steakhouse. Northlands ... Read the rest of entry »

Confidence in Edmonton's economy is growing: Hicks on Biz column, originally published Edmonton Sun, Dec. 29, 2012

Swagger is the wrong word.Edmontonians don’t swagger. That’s Calgary.But as we walk into 2013, there’s a spring in our step that’s truly remarkable.Brad Ferguson, the new, youthful boss of the Edmonton Economic Development Corporation, feels it everywhere he goes.Call it a coming of age, call it a declaration of confidence - based on reality, not hype.Call it what you like, but it’s tangible and has resulted in the most positive business outlook in decades.Ferguson may be in his early 40s, but he’s been an Edmonton-based management/business consultant for some 20 years. He’s been through the lean times.“Confidence has returned,” says Ferguson. “You can feel the excitement. Business people are realizing our economy is resilient.“The world economy stopped in 2008, but we kept ticking along. We’re realizing oilsands investment can’t be turned on and off.”With confidence in the sustainability of the oil sands, Edmonton businesses are investing in the future, “far more so than in the boom/bust cycles of the past.” ... Read the rest of entry »
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