Alberta Culture Minister Ron Orr at yesterday’s ammolite news conference (Photo: Screenshot of Alberta Government Video).

“Ammolite is an important part of our heritage and economy,” Ron Orr said yesterday in the Kenney Government’s news release announcing that the little-known gemstone would soon become one of Alberta’s official emblems. 

Mr. Orr is Alberta’s minister of Culture, Multiculturalism, and Status of Women. It’s the latter portfolio on that list that usually gets the biggest eyerolls when his name comes up in political discussions. 

Pieces of polished ammolite (Photo: Geology.com).

Still, it’s quite true as commentators on social media seemed to agree yesterday that when it comes to Mr. Orr announcing that a fossil is about to become Alberta’s official gemstone, the jokes sort of write themselves. 

Bill 6, the Emblems of Alberta Amendment Act, 2022, Mr. Orr said, will recognize ammolite’s status as an official Alberta emblem. 

Nevertheless, Albertans learning of Mr. Orr’s rainbow-coloured newsflash, first mentioned in last month’s Throne Speech, are entitled to ask themselves: Ammolite is an important part of Alberta’s economy? Really? Since when?

There are only a couple of mines for the stuff, both near Lethbridge, and, while pretty, it doesn’t exactly have an earthshaking history as a major commodity. 

Still, Maybe there’s something to this. As gemstones go, ammolite may be no ruby or emerald, but its wholesale value is apparently the foundation of a cryptocurrency called the GEMXX Ammolite Cryptocurrency.

“The company is very pleased to introduce the world’s first Ammolite-backed cryptocurrency token, the only currency to be pegged to the current GEMXX wholesale market price of Ammolite,” Las Vegas-based GEMXX Corp. said in a news release in November 2021. 

“The launch of this Token is good for GEMXX, but it is also good for the entire Ammolite industry,” GEMXX President and CEO Jay Maull said in that release. “Offering Ammolite in digital form may be as significant to Ammolite as the gemstone receiving official gem status in 1981.”

Jobs, Economy and Innovation Minister Doug Schweitzer (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Now, we all know how the Kenney Government feels about cryptocurrencies and cryptocurrency mining. Just last month, Jobs, Economy and Innovation Minister Doug Schweitzer was touting Alberta as an international destination for the cryptocurrency “industry,” prompting more than a few guffaws for that idea. 

“This is an area of huge disruption and we want to make sure we’re there in that market,” Mr. Schweitzer told BNN Bloomberg News in early February, a story that was soon forgotten. “It doesn’t seem like any jurisdiction in Canada actually wants to own this opportunity. … It’s a big opportunity for us.”

Who knows if the Kenney Government knew anything about this particular cryptocurrency, tied to the wholesale price of a substance not known to be a mainstay of any economy, anywhere, Mr. Orr’s comment notwithstanding. 

At his news conference yesterday, mostly ignored by media, Mr. Orr went on to say that “recognizing ammolite as Alberta’s official gemstone reflects the unique nature of the stone and of our province, and helps to fulfil recommendation 25 of the Fair Deal Panel.”

This statement is not really true. 

First, ammolite is not actually unique to Alberta. It occurs all along the Eastern Slopes of Rocky Mountains where the fossilized shells of ammonites, prehistoric marine animals, are found. Alberta’s deposits are said to be more colourful, though. 

The Eastern Slopes, perhaps by coincidence, is an area where the United Conservative Party Government would love to see mining for another remnant of prehistoric times, to wit, coal. 

GEMXX Corp. President and CEO Jay Maull (Photo: Facebook/Jay Maull).

Second, Recommendation 25 of the so-called Fair Deal Panel report, or indeed any other part of the report, says not a word about ammolite. What Recommendation 25 did say was that the government of Alberta should immediately: “Explore ways and means to affirm Alberta’s cultural, economic and political uniqueness in law and government policy.”

How declaring a relatively obscure material only given gemstone status by the World Jewellery Confederation in 1981 will help affirm Alberta’s cultural, economic and political uniqueness in law and policy is a mystery. 

The Wikipedia says ammolite is also known as Korite, a trade name given to it by Calgary-based Korite International Inc., which in 2017 was reported by the National Post to be “working to raise the profile of their multi-coloured gem here at home.” 

“The company has signed a three-year deal to sponsor the Calgary Stampede Royalty,” the Post enthused.

Mr. Orr didn’t mention anything about that past effort by the company to raise the profile of its product when he described the reasons the decision was made to make ammolite an official provincial emblem in response to the only reporter to ask a question at his news conference yesterday.  

Other reports in the company’s heyday indicated it controlled about 90 per cent of the world’s supply of ammolite at a couple of mines near Lethbridge, although there are other deposits in Alberta and in the United States. 

According to his Linkedin page, Mr. Maull of GEMXX was president of Korite International from August 2015 to July 2018.

Korite International filed for bankruptcy protection under the federal Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act in June 2020. The company had reported losses of $2.4 million in anticipated sales after trade shows in Hong Kong were cancelled because of riots in the Chinese territory and another $6.1 million as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.  

On Dec. 18, 2020, Korite International emerged from CCAA protection under new ownership.

Ammolite joins the wild rose, lodgepole pine, rough fescue grass, petrified wood, Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep, bull trout, and great horned owl as an official emblem of Alberta, so there’s bound to be a right-wing splinter party named after it soon. 

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28 Comments

  1. Gee, I thought Mr. Orr was a fundamentalist Christian. Does he accept the facts of evolution? How can he square his religious beliefs with the obvious fundamentalist Christian conclusion that ammolite (sp?) is a colourful bobble created by the Devil to distract God-fearing Christian Capitalists from their devotions? Speaking of good capitalists, Schweitzer’s fundamentalist dedication to the weird and invisible deity of The Market is well known. The laying on of hands, invisible and visible are said to cure all things. And here I thought Alberta might not really be a representative democracy. Both Orr and Schweitzer were voted in by a majority of their constituents. In the immortal words of Forrest Gump’s mother: “Stupid is as stupid does.”

  2. I am surprised these guys, especially someone like Ron Orr, would want anything to do with something rainbow like. Maybe they did it so they can tell themselves that people who fly rainbow flags and paint rainbow crosswalks are just showing their Alberta patriotism.

    1. I had a similar thought – “Looks kinda rainbow coloured. If I were in charge of Pride I’d be like ‘hold my beer and watch this’ and I’d make it the official gemstone of Albertan LGBTQ+ness and make a ton of super flamboyant swag to give out and have a big press conference announcing it on parliament hill.” I’m reasonably confident hilarity would ensue.

      On a more serious note… how does anyone affiliated with the UCP manage to get taken seriously as an adult? I swear, someone should follow them around with a couple of tape recorders, one of which would have canned laughter, and the other would have the sad trombone sound. Most statements coming from this government seem designed to be followed by one sound effect or the other.

  3. Back in the day, King Ralph Klein, apparently under the influence, went to Hong Kong to promote an Alberta company’s business in Asia. This company known as Multicorp had shares traded on the Alberta Stock Exchange. Klein also was given 100K of these shares by the company. Upon Klein’s mentioning of the company’s business, the shares shot up and they became a much sought after investment as a result.

    While others in politics received shares, Klein actually promoted the company and appeared most likely to benefit from his promotion. Klein was caught, tried to babble his way out of his mess, then quickly got rid of the shares and gave the proceeds to charity.

    Of course, I have no doubt that the UCP is up to their ears in this and are looking for a crypto price rush.

  4. The Bearpaw Formation occurs at the surface in several parts of southern Alberta, and it’s generally a good place to go ammonite hunting. However, I don’t believe that there are any other localities where the diagenetic processes that turn ammonite nacre into ammolite have had effect. The two sites where it’s commercially mined are, as far as I know, the only places where ammolite is found.
    Isn’t Orr the fellow who told us all the Kenney was a gift from God to Albertans? How does he feel about dipping into reality and discussing the fossil record as if it was a real thing?

  5. Sometimes there is an unreal feel to politics. With everything going on, the Legislature was talking about ammolite. Surely, history books will dryly record it became an official emblem of Alberta in March 2022 and school children may even memorize the date, without note of what else significant was happening then.

    The image of Brian Jean glowering down at the Legislature, like a hardened general returning from some successful far away battle surely captures the sense of the day. The UCP should have been celebrating its by election victory, instead some cabinet ministers were attacking their successful candidate looking down on them. It was a bit surreal.

    As others have said, this situation is very unusual. The only recent one I can think of that vaguely resembles this was when the Federal Liberal party was at war with itself over the leadership between Chretien and Martin. However, Kenney is no Chretien and Jean is no Paul Martin. It also didn’t end well for the Liberals electorally and they were ahead in the polls at the time.

    I also wonder about the prize Kenney and Jean are fighting over. No Alberta Premier has lasted more than four years since Klein last won in the early 2000’s, so not great job security. Perhaps it is a bit better than for recent Federal Conservative leaders, but not much. Surely, someone like Kenney who has been in politics forever has realized that you eventually go in one of two ways – at a time and place of your choosing or you are unceremoniously kicked out. While it is not easy to accept when to go, usually the former is better for everyone and less painful. So, perhaps he should think about taking a walk in the snow sometime soon, while some snow still remains here in Edmonton.

    Maybe instead of giving Premiers a grand painting, they should instead get a little ammolite pin, to put the position in a better perspective. As for Mr. Orr, perhaps he should be made the Minister of Ammolite, an onerous position so he would have to give up Status of Women. Hey, perhaps a women could take over that job instead, but of course there are few women in the UCP caucus now and the better candidates are not that supportive of Kenney in his leadership battles. At this point, it all goes back to leadership.

    1. DAVE: While I’d purely love to see Jason the Great Leader announce his imminent resignation on 9 April, I have no intention of holding my breath. Kenney seems much more likely to drag “his” party to destruction than watch someone else take over “his” creation. I think an “I’ll show YOU!!!” moment that starts the breakup of the so-United Conservatives is more Kenney’s style.

      You’ll note, I hope and expect that Kenney will fall short of 50% + 1 approval. With luck there’ll be an odd number of ballots cast. It’d be weirdly ironic if Kenney got EXACTLY 50.00% of the vote, exactly equal numbers for and against. Both sides would claim victory, perhaps leading to paralysis of the caucus and the inability to govern because of the infighting. (Wait…would that be a good thing? Just wondering.)

      Regarding Mr. Orr, I haven’t heard boo out of him since his “God gave us Jason Kenney” inspiration (or delusion, your choice). Has he done ANYTHING noteworthy?

  6. I think it’s hilarious watching these fools try anything to get the peoples minds off the disaster they have created in this province. There is no question Kenney is trying to save his ass and is likely behind it.

  7. I suppose, now that the climax of Brian Jean’s Ft Mac by-election win is purring itself to sleep—uh, I mean, ‘resting up’—the UCP government will be issuing all sorts of interesting, if not downright distractive tidbits—like this fascinating bit on Ammolite (combining rainbows with rock)— of info to break up any accumulating clots of speculation that might get clogged in the party’s extreme right ventricle by April 9, K-Boy’s party leadership review in just 22 days from now. Sort of like whistling TO the graveyard in affected nonchalance.

    I know the tune that’ll be playing in my own head all this while:
    “…
    Well they gave me some beans for my last meal
    I got 23 minutes to go
    But nobody asked me how I feel
    I got 22 minutes to go…”

    —“25 Minutes to Go” Shel Silverstein, 1962
    Made famous by Johnny Cash

  8. Ron Orr is actually the Minister of Culture. Multiculturalism isn’t in the title at all anymore. The department is misleadingly called Culture and Status of Women, but Status of Women has been downgraded to an Associate Ministry headed by Whitney Issik. It’s a rather sneaky way of making it seem like Status of Women still has full ministerial clout, when it doesn’t.

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