The 52-storey federal insult

Allan Fotheringham November 14 1983

The 52-storey federal insult

Allan Fotheringham November 14 1983

The 52-storey federal insult

Allan Fotheringham


There is, high on the horizon over Calgary and well within sight of the ice-cream-tipped Rockies, a

main reason why this out-of-touch government of Canada is headed for oblivion. It is perhaps the best example extant of the Trudeaucratic lack of sensitivity, the evidence of its iron soul and color-blind vision. The example is the towering, rich red headquarters of Petro-Canada, the most dominating—and irritating—erection in the Oil Patch of Canada.

Petro-Canada Centre— known among the locals as “Red Square”—is the tallest building in Western Canada, 52 storeys high. That, in itself, signifies Ottawa’s sensibility: not only

thrusting directly into the heart of the buccaneer oil and gas cowboys the intrusion of a state capitalism bully, but then rubbing the city’s nose into the dirt by using federal tax dollars to out-macho every other tower in the city of building cranes.

The twin-tower PetroCanada provocation, with its bevelled roof and its massive bulk, assaults every day the eyes of Cal-

gary residents as they zip to work at their customary 7 a.m. starting time; the multinationals may be powerful and may construct an instant-Manhattan skyline, but the unlimited dollars and ambitions of Coma City East, aka Ottawa, will always outdo you. You want to go 50 floors? We’ll up you, put money and chips on the table, and go for 52. It certainly does a lot for the faith of someone who believes government is there to serve and not to one-up.

To make themselves more popular in the neighborhood, the brilliant minds in charge of Petrocan (leaving aside its philosophical cant) even had their own propaganda team churning out evidence of their own incredible insensitivity. The Petrocan design team, we are told, solicited bids from Canadian quarries, but “none were able to supply the quantity and quality of the red granite required within our construction sched-

Allan Fotheringham is a columnist for Southam News.

ule.” Tough titty! So? “Samples from quarries in South America and Europe were examined before the medium Sierra-red tones of the Taivassalo granite from Finland were chosen.”

Wonderful. Our very own Petrocan building is coming to us by way of Finland. But wait. There is better. The blocks of granite quarried in Finland must be cut into slabs and polished. The small Italian town of Massa, near Pisa, Petrocan informs us, is one of those centres where the craft of cutting and polishing marble and granite has been practised for centuries. At Massa the

largest stone-processing company in Europe sliced Petrocan’s blocks of granite into 25-mm-thick slabs, which were then polished and carefully packed for shipment to Calgary.

Great! Our very own people’s energy company, so it could erect the very modest highest tower in Western Canada, has had to range only to Finland and Italy to prove its very Canuck testicles. Magnificent! Do we have tokenism? Just a little. The gents from Massa were going to set up a plant near Quebec City, and patriotic old Petrocan hoped that “as much as 30 per cent of the stone for the complex” would be cut and finished there. But even that didn’t happen.

Stirring stuff. But there is more. We need windows to fill in the spaces between the medium Sierra-red tones of the Taivassalo granite from Finland that is cut and polished in Italy before being returned to the rubes of the western plain. The design team “had hoped” to obtain exterior window glass

“within Canada.” An admirable wish. Unfortunately, the Petrocan obfuscators inform us, “no Canadian manufacturer could supply coated reflective glass to meet our specifications.” Tough beans! Our poor people’s petrol company was forced to go to the United States and seek the aid of Pittsburgh Plate Glass. Such are the problems when you are trying to win friends and influence in Calgary. Courtesy of the humble lads with the unzipped Ottawa wallet and a taste for medium Sierrared granite from Finland.

Marc Lalonde and his National Ener-

gy Program was not only designed for—and succeeded in—bringing Alberta and Calgary to their knees. Ottawa wanted to leave a reminding sore of its suzerainty over the lesser breeds who dwell outside the Ottawa capital region. What better way than to build a redundant tower, a Trojan horse, an abiding irritant in the land of male strut. The predominant power in the city is the abode of the faceless and feckless. A reminder of the passionless snivel serpents who answer to a master safely hidden in the shadow of the Gatineau Hills, where the growing expense ac-

counts roam?

The intrusion of medium Sierra Taivassalo granite from Finland that is cut and polished in Italy is a significant signal. Ottawa wanted to leave its mark on Calgary the way the Mafia leaves a dead fish on the doorstep, the way a Prussian student wants to leave a duelling scar on your cheek. If Alberta’s oil city, which once thought its Calgary Tower was the height of altitude sophistication, thinks it is leading Canada in the mania of mad construction cranes, Holy Mother Ottawa will do one better—to establish that Great God Government can afford the best medium Sierra from darkest Finland.

As in Annie Get Your Gun, anything you can do, government can do better. It’s why Marc Lalonde and company are going down the tube as soon as the patient public can get them in the polling booth, the Liberals as blushing in their guilt as ihedium fierra-red granite from Taivassalo.