By Josh O’Brien
Brett Wilson is a Calgary based billionaire and philanthropist with almost 100,000 Twitter followers and a closet full of colourful button-ups. He’s also a former dragon on CBC’s Dragon’s Den, author, proud father and all around cool dude. He recently humoured our questions.
The Gauntlet: I heard that you took a trip to Afghanistan. Why did you go?
Brett Wilson: I’ve always been a fan of causes related to our troops. I might not be a supporter of war in general, but in terms of those we send to war, I support them.
I got to know General Walter Natynczyk and Defence Minister Peter MacKay. They called me a few days before Thanksgiving and we traveled to Frankfurt, Germany first, then off to Kabul. The highlight of my life was standing in line, serving white turkey meat for Thanksgiving dinner at a forward operating base near Kabul, standing between Guy LaFelur on the left, Paul Gross on my right and General Walter Natynczyk and Peter Mckay on the opposite side. It was extremely empowering to be there. It impacted my life greatly.
G: The dollar recently fell below 90 cents for the first time since 1998. What is the reason behind this and what does it mean for the Canadian economy?
BW: It’s a double-edged sword for the Canadian economy because anything we consume in U.S. dollars costs more. But a lot of us have assets connected to the U.S. economy, especially oil and gas. So there’s a net benefit in a realized higher net price for our crude oil.
But why is it weak? I think it’s our general economy. We have been weak against the pound, the euro and the U.S. dollar. I have a lot of my wealth tied up in the U.S. so I’m at a disadvantage. The Bank of Canada and Jim Flaherty, although they say they don’t collude, often make the Canadian dollar weaker in order to keep interest rates low and better for our overall economy. Overall, the people who suffer are the ones who vacation in Phoenix every winter.
G: I was here when you hosted the $52-million question. Did it go as you hoped?
BW:The goal of that exercise was to be provocateur. That was what Nenshi asked me to do. I challenged every single councillor to what they were going to do with the money. Some wanted to give it back, some wanted to use it on Calgary transit, some wanted to pay down the debt. What I tried to do was to prove how they were wrong. I also challenged the Ralph bucks saying it was one of the stupidest things ever done. I challenged the ‘Starbucks,’ which was giving back an equivalent of $120 per house owner, which is like two cups of coffee, and doesn’t really affect any students.
G: Are you a Stamps fan or Riders fan?
BW: I cheer for both. I bleed green but I can cheer red. I’m a part owner of the Nashville Predators but my heart is also with Calgary.
G: Do you think marijuana should be legalized?
BW: There’s little doubt in my mind that it must be legalized. I happily believe that we will never get control of the dark side — i.e. drug dealers, producers — if we don’t legalize it. Yes, there is an issue of people getting addicted, but those people haven’t taken into consideration what nicotine and alcohol do to people’s lives that are already in the system. We need to control the distribution of these products.