Flood, weather mar special crops conference

Gordon Bacon knew it wasn’t going to be a run-of-the-mill Canadian Special Crops Association conference when the group received a distressing call from the Kananaskis Country Golf Course.

The Calgary conference was supposed to kick off with a tournament at the scenic Rocky Mountain course June 23.

Conference organizers were informed June 21 that the tournament would be cancelled because of damage to the course caused by flooding of the Evan Scott Creek and the Kananaskis River.

The course has since been shut down for the year.

The CSCA sent an email to delegates shortly after noon June 21 informing them that while golf had been cancelled, the conference was still a go.

But everything changed later that afternoon when the mayor of Calgary declared a state of emergency for the city and police started informing arriving passengers at Calgary International Airport that they couldn’t travel downtown.

“The decision was made that this wasn’t workable,” said Bacon, the association’s chief executive officer.

The next step was to contact the more than 400 convention delegates to tell them the conference had been cancelled.

It was too late for many of the 110 international delegates who were already en route from far away countries like India and Australia.

The trip wasn’t a total loss for them because they were able to arrange face-to-face meetings with Canadian suppliers, but it certainly wasn’t the networking and information experience they were originally anticipating.

“One thing that has been remarkable is the level of understanding (from delegates). I mean, this was a disaster that attracted international television coverage,” said Bacon.

The initial plan was to quickly reschedule the event for the following week in Calgary, but that soon proved to be a logistical nightmare.

It takes a full year of planning to organize a conference of that magnitude, including booking a block of hotel rooms up to two years in advance.

Bumping the dates one week would result in lost rooms, delegates, speakers and possibly sponsors, not to mention the headaches of rescheduling meals and meetings.

“It’s hard to organize a major event of a high quality in a short period of time,” said Bacon.

So the decision was made to cancel the 26th annual conference and focus on the 2014 conference, which will be held in Saskatoon July 6-8, followed by a field tour with global pulse researchers July 9.

Delegates are being asked to consider taking a credit for their registration fees that can be applied to membership dues and future conferences, but full refunds will be available upon request.

Bacon said the cancellation is a big blow to the association’s finances.

“Rather than being something that results in a net profit, we are estimating that it will be a $50,000 cost to the organization,” he said.

Most of the costs are related to advertising and promotion expenses, but there were other costs such as speaker fees.

The conference provides a “substantial percentage” of the association’s annual revenue. The association will have to draw down on its $100,000 reserve and consider cutting back on expenditures, such as providing funding to Pulse Canada.

“If we had another disaster next year we would be in serious trouble, but I think we can make it work,” said Bacon.

The trials and tribulations for three CSCA staff weren’t limited to the flooding problems. They were jarred awake in the early morning hours of June 22 by staff at The Westin, Calgary, who told them they better head to the airport because downtown streets were flooding.

“They were on their flight on their way home when a loud bang occurred. The captain came on and said the plane had been struck by lightning and is going to have to return to Calgary,” said Bacon.“The lightning actually burned a hole in the bottom of the plane and they had to change planes. So even getting out of Calgary (was) an adventure.”

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