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Alberta

Have Alberta’s Skilled Workers had Enough?

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The Canadian oil and gas industry suffered another blow on Sunday, October 25, when Cenovus Energy Inc. announced a $3.8 billion merger with 82-year old Canadian oil and gas company, Husky Energy. Headquartered in Calgary, Alberta, Husky is projected to lose up to 25% of its workforce as a result of the merger, approximately 2,150 jobs – mainly in Calgary. 

The news, which fell on Alberta’s increasingly restless population of unemployed workers and struggling families, many of whom believe Alberta has been left out in the cold for far too long already, has fueled ongoing discussions of a provincial brain drain. 

Simply put, brain drain is defined as “the departure of educated or professional people from one country, economic sector or field, usually for better pay or living conditions”. Recent statistics show this concept is rapidly gaining traction in Alberta as residents seek to escape the increasingly grim economic landscape to pursue opportunities elsewhere, beyond the provincial borders. 

As Canada’s largest producer of oil and natural gas, Alberta is no stranger to the boom and bust nature of the industry, experiencing cyclical periods of economic prosperity influenced by global conditions followed by detrimental crashes and ensuing hard times. Prior to this year, Alberta experienced a major economic crash in 2015, with the Canadian oil and gas industry suffering a $91 billion loss in revenue and layoffs reaching 35,000 workers in Alberta alone (1).

In the last 5 years, countless Albertans have struggled to regain their footing on shaky economic and political grounds, suffering substantial losses and insecurity. In this setting, the catastrophic impacts of the global COVID-19 pandemic, coupled with pipeline delays and ongoing cuts in the Canadian oil and gas sector have left many Albertans with the feeling of being kicked while already down. 

According to the Government of Alberta Economic Dashboard, the price of oil for many Alberta oil producers fell 36.6% from September 2019, averaging $28.43 USD per barrel in September 2020, according to the Western Canada Select (WCS) price. The coinciding unemployment rate in Alberta was 11.7% in September 2020, down from its 15.5% spike in May 2020, but still 6.6% higher than in September 2019 (2).  

At this point, it seems a number of Albertans have simply had enough. According to The Alberta Annual Population Report 2019/20, “Alberta’s interprovincial migration patterns are heavily influenced by the economic conditions in the province, and as the economy cooled, the province experienced net outflows.” The report shows that 2,733 residents left Alberta between April and June 2020. 

The loss of another 2,150 oil and gas jobs as a result of the Cenovus merger comes as a disappointing yet predictable defeat for industry workers who have remained “down on their luck” for many years in Alberta. Effectively decimating industries worldwide, the pandemic has also successfully pulled the rug from beneath Alberta’s shaky footing, tanking oil and gas once more and leaving countless skilled workers with nowhere to go but out.

For more stories, visit Todayville Calgary.

Alberta

‘No crying’: Venezuelan refugee Kenney cited says interaction was less dramatic

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EDMONTON — The Venezuelan woman who believes she was used as part of Jason Kenney’s argument not to lockdown restaurants in the province remembers her encounter with the premier as less dramatic than he suggested.

Carolina De La Torre says Kenney got her central feelings correct, but she said she did not break down into tears the way Kenney recalled.

“No crying,” the 57-year-old woman said with a laugh during a phone interview Thursday.

She also said it was Kenney who approached her Calgary food court booth called Arepas Ranch for lunch in October, not the other way around as the premier told it.

After weeks of mounting COVID-19 cases, as more than 1,000 new cases and 16 deaths were reported on Tuesday, Kenney announced new rules that included making indoor private social events illegal.

During the news conference, Kenney gave an example of how much a lockdown would hurt businesses by telling the story of a Venezuelan refugee he met. 

“A couple of weeks ago, I was in my constituency, at a little food court thing and a new Albertan, a refugee from Venezuela socialism, came up to me,” Kenney said.

“She had just opened a little food kiosk, she recognized me, she came up to me, and she broke down in tears in front of me saying, ‘sir, I put my entire life savings as a refugee into this business, we’re struggling to pay the bills, if you shut me down, I’m going to lose it all, everything, and I’ll be in abject poverty.'”

“For some, perhaps, it is a little bit too easy to say just flick a switch. Shut them down,” Kenney said.

“I would ask people who have people who have the certainty of a pay cheque to think for a moment about those individuals whose entire life savings are tied up in businesses.”

De La Torre and her husband run the booth, which is located a 10-minute drive from Kenney’s constituency office. 

Born in Venezuela, De La Torre said she and her husband came to Canada with refugee status in 1989 when it became no longer safe to live there. They settled in Montreal for 25 years before they packed their bags and moved to Calgary to follow their daughter who was starting school at the University of Alberta.

They have been living in Alberta for seven years and have been running Arepas Ranch for two years. They are known for making specialty arepas, which is a cornmeal patty, filled with a choice of shredded beef, chicken salad, black beans, ham, cheese, or other vegan and veggie options.

At first, De La Torre said she didn’t recognize Kenney when he stopped to order food and then someone from another booth told her it was the premier.

De La Torre doesn’t recall exactly what Kenney ordered, but she remembers the “very short” conversation they had when he came back to let them know the meal was “fantastico.” She posted a picture of the premier on her Instagram. 

De La Torre said Kenney got her feelings right.

She said it’s true that the couple put their money into the business and closing the economy would be bad for them. But she understands it’s about people’s health, which is what she told Kenney.

“What I said is, ‘There has to be a balance between the economy and the health. There is not only me in this food court, we are more than 40 small businesses in the court that need to be open to make a way of life’.”

No one from Kenney’s office immediately responded to a request for comment. 

De La Torre said when she heard Kenney mentioned her during a news conference, she was at first surprised.

But now, “I didn’t know what to think about it,” she said.

“I don’t know. What can I say? It’s OK.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 26, 2020.

This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship

Fakiha Baig, The Canadian Press

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Alberta

As Alberta’s COVID-19 cases rise, so does tension over world junior championship

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Alberta’s spike in COVID-19 infections and the virus’s infiltration of Canada’s team is concerning for the world junior hockey championship in Edmonton, according to a health and law expert and an epidemiologist.

The 10-country tournament, scheduled from Dec. 25 to Jan. 5 ,is modelled on the same “bubble” used by the NHL to complete the Western Conference playoffs and Stanley Cup final at Edmonton’s Rexall Place in August and September.

But active cases of infection in Alberta are over 10 times higher than when NHL playoffs began Aug. 1. Lorian Hardcastle, an associate professor in the Faculty of Law and Cummings School of Medicine at the University of Calgary, said that makes the optics of hosting the world junior tournament difficult.

“A lot of people’s recreational pursuits have been taken away and people were very happy to have sports to watch on TV,” Hardcastle told The Canadian Press.

“We do need to give people some satisfaction and happiness where we’re able to, but I am concerned with this tournament. With Alberta’s numbers as high as they are, it’s difficult to endorse this.

“The number of cases that we now have is completely different than what we had then.”

Alberta had 1,386 active cases Aug. 1 compared to 14,052 on Thursday. Of the 510 deaths in the province attributed to COVID-19, 221 were in the Edmonton area.

The provincial government has banned all team sports until at least Dec. 15, but leagues can apply for exemptions if they have “well-developed COVID safety plans,” according to Premier Jason Kenney.

“I think it’s just all-around a bad idea to be bringing people into this region and this province when we are already facing a situation where our health-care system is overwhelmed and is going to have difficulty coping with those individuals that are here,” said Ilan Schwartz, an associate professor in the division of infectious diseases at the University of Alberta.

 “The NHL showed that it can be done, but the stops that were pulled out in order to create and maintain a bubble for the NHL playoffs were enormous. 

“It’s not safe for the players to be coming into a place where there’s a surge in infections. While the players themselves are going to be young and healthy and low risk of serious complications from the virus, they are still very much able to transmit it to those people around them.”

Despite screening for the virus upon arrival at Canada’s 46-player selection camp in Red Deer, Alta., two players and a “non-core” staff member who didn’t have direct contact with them have tested positive for the virus.

The host country’s players, coaches and staff are quarantined at the team hotel until Dec. 6. 

The three are asymptomatic, according to Hockey Canada.

The nine other international teams are scheduled to arrive by charter flight Dec. 13. Exhibition games are planned for Dec. 20-23.

Hockey Canada’s vice-president of events insists stringent protocols and testing required for international players to enter Edmonton’s “bubble” will make the world junior championship safe to proceed.

“We are putting in place in Edmonton what I’m going to call a more secure bubble environment for the event,” Dean McIntosh said Thursday on a conference call. 

International players will be required to test negative in quarantine for seven days before travelling to Canada.

They’ll be quarantined and tested daily for five days in their individual hotel rooms after arrival. 

Personnel in the “protected zone” will be required to use apps for daily self-assessment as well as providing their location.

“We know where everybody in the bubble is at all times,” McIntosh said. 

“That may sound a little high level, but our goal is to ensure that we know the athletes, administrators of teams and well as people delivering the bubble are in a very safe environment and are following the protocols we put in place.  

“That, combined with the support we’ve had from both the federal and provincial governments, we feel strongly about our ability to deliver a great event in Edmonton in December.”

The tournament for the world’s top male players under the age of 20 would include 250 players, plus staff, for a total of 400. 

That cohort is slightly smaller than the dozen NHL teams that started the Western Conference playoffs in Edmonton.

No personnel tested positive for the virus from the time players entered the bubble July 26 to the hoisting of the Stanley Cup on Sept. 28, according to the NHL.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 26, 2020.

Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press

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