Do you travel through or live in downtown Calgary?
Do you glare at our skyscrapers and see only a few lights on?
This is a tale of a cowtown that stopped producing milk, even our ranch has closed. If there was a light at the end of this tunnel, not even our top economic spokespeople can offer any of us a realistic answer for where we are at now, or when we will even see the light. The economic destruction from COVID-19 continues to ravage the health of local businesses and almost every other industry that calls our city home. With that, there is a lot more to the story that reaches beyond March of this year. The question is, what does a pillar city in Canada do when their downtown is empty and graduates continue to emigrate?
Recent data from the CBRE from Q3 of 2020 show the office vacancy in downtown Calgary has hit 28.7%. That number may seem irrelevant without comparison to other metropolitan places in the country. The chart below shows the office vacancy percentages based on data collected of unused office space by square footage in the downtown core in each identified city.
The clarification we are lacking is that there is a very real problem with attracting commercial activity. The challenge lies within the lack of large firms that have more than 1,000 employees to fill these empty sky-high office buildings.
We cannot simply just ask companies to move their workforce, an example being Suncor’s recent decision to uproot 700 employees from Ontario to relocate to Calgary. Better described as 700 humans with families, friends and communities in Ontario. No figures have been released to state how many jobs will be coming to Calgary.
Almost within the same week, we see the consolidation of Husky Energy by Cenovus. This does make “fiscal” sense for the financial health and future of the company, becoming the third-largest oil and natural gas producer in the country. Citing a piece in the Financial Post by Diane Francis, Cenovus will close the Husky head office in Calgary, which is not reflected in the Q3 data released by the CBRE.
If we keep in mind that the headquarters for Husky Energy Inc was Western Canada Place, where we saw the Apache Corporation “strategically exit” Canada back in 2017. It will become clear in the near future that we could see another tenant evacuation of a huge building in downtown Calgary.
One piece of that 28.7% of our current office vacancy is due to Nexen leaving their building on 8th street completely vacant, setting up shop in the same building as the newly purchased Husky Energy Inc. In this case, bottom level retail such as cafe’s are not included as occupied office space.
If there are corporate tax incentives in almost every major city in the efforts of attracting big business, therein lies the question. What else can Calgary offer to sway large firms to come here? Take a look at the chart below stating the 2020 Corporate Income Tax Rates in Canada.
At some point in the recent history of Alberta, competitiveness turned into desperation. There is some benefit to local entrepreneurs looking to set up a business by lowering the barrier to entry, however, have we really seen that as a result of the lowest corporate tax rates in the country?
Looking at the fact sheet prepared by Calgary Economic Development in May of this year. As shown in the chart below, take a look at the new and renewed business licenses. It is crucial to note that COVID-19 has created a mountain of economic problems for almost every city, which we can assume had a major impact on the 2020 numbers seen below. We may see this continuing to decline as the pandemic continues to ravage our economy.
In addition, It is important to note the lack of new business licenses issued since 2017. This is not a new problem but has been exacerbated by COVID-19.
When faced with a challenge, Calgarians do not quit. The piece of the puzzle that has yet to be found is to restore incentive to local and foreign investment. The ideology that big tech would eventually be “sold” on Calgary’s infrastructure has not gained traction.
Recent history teaches us that big tech follows big tech, an example being TikTok opening a new headquarters in Dublin back in August of this year, where companies such as Alphabet, Amazon, eBay, Paypal and Facebook also have European headquarters. While these names are well-known globally, the economic and sociological effect it could have on our city would offer Calgarians some indication that we are actually progressing in some way.
Consider being a graduate enrolled in an extensive and expensive program this year. The lack of economic progress is tied with the lack of jobs in a psychologically destructive way. If we cannot incentivize foreign investment and create new job opportunities, more importantly, how do we hold on to waves of eager graduates that are well aware of the benefits of moving to other cities or countries?
The narrative that new graduates carrying thousands of dollars in debt are given any chance to achieve anything close to previous generations in Calgary back in the high oil and gas days is now an irrelevant argument. Understandable that they may pack up and leave for greener pastures.
The evidence is in the 2019 Calgary Civic Census. The age demographic of 20-24 is our second lowest age demographic sitting at 5.94%, the lowest being the 15-19 year olds sitting at only 5.28%. The chart below shows the breakdown of our Calgary’s age segmentation.
Cities such as Vancouver and Toronto last conducted their population census in 2016. The comparison data ranked Calgary 29th out of 35 cities in Canada for the age demographic of 20-24. Thinking about the cities you are aware of in Canada, to not even rank in the top 10 for young adults adds to the enormous problem we will be attempting to remedy for an unknown amount of time. This data can be seen clearly in a CBC post relating to this issue.
The information above may offer some real data that has very real implications. However, the narrative less documented is what sentiment do young people feel in Calgary and what is left to be proud of. It cannot just be the Stampede or nothing at all. Even after emigrating to another city or country, what is it that they tell their newfound community about their home city? The vibrant, creative and hard-working young people in this city have a fighting chance, but only if there is some benefit to their future staying here. Without awareness of foundational values, celebration of culture and real opportunity to rely upon in your city, understandably, young people will continue to leave and seldomly will ever return.
Calgary.ca, “Calgary Civic Census 2019.” 2019 Civic Census Results, 2019, p. 18, Calgary.ca.
CBRE, “Canada’s Office and Industrial Quarterly Statistics Q3 2020”, CBRE.ca.
Calgary Economic Development, “Fact Sheet: Calgary Small Business”, 2020 Edition Published: June 24, 2020, p 6., Calgaryeconomicdevelopment.ca
For more stories, please visit Todayville Calgary
Canadian pizzeria owner planning civil suit against gov’t officials over tyrannical COVID mandates
All charges dropped against Canadian pizzeria owner who defied COVID vaccine passport mandates
Jesse Johnson – Without Papers Pizza, Calgary
Jesse Johnson, who owned Without Papers Pizza, claimed a ‘bittersweet’ victory in a prolonged legal battle against the City of Calgary
All charges have been dropped against the owner of a popular Canadian pizzeria who kept his restaurant open in direct defiance of COVID-19 health rules and refused to ask customers for vaccine passports so that he could serve “everyone.”
Outside a Calgary courthouse yesterday, Jesse Johnson, who owned Without Papers Pizza, claimed victory in a prolonged legal battle against the City of Calgary after a court dismissed all his COVID-related violation charges.
“Yes, it is a bittersweet irony what happened here today. My restaurant was shut unadjudicated, I was deemed guilty without going to a court of law,” he said when speaking with independent media reporter Mocha Bezirgan outside Calgary’s main courthouse Wednesday.
The Democracy Fund (TDF), which funded lawyers Martin Rejman and Chad Williamson in defense of Johnson, noted in a press release that the once-popular pizzeria was charged in October 2021 with “breaching multiple bylaws after its business license was suspended for not complying with public health orders and after undercover inspectors were permitted to purchase pizza and remain in the restaurant without providing proof of vaccination.”
“Among other things, the allegations against the pizzeria were that it permitted persons to enter and remain on the premises without proof of vaccination and that it did not display prescribed signage, all of which was contrary to bylaws passed by the City of Calgary,” the TDF noted.
Johnson did not hold back his disdain for Calgary officials who targeted his restaurant with COVID fines.
“They tried to break me mentally and they tried to break me spiritually. And they almost came close. If it wasn’t for the good people that joined me here today, the many who I fought with on the streets of Calgary,” he said.
Without Papers Pizza was forced into insolvency due to government COVID dictates.
Johnson said, however, that people need to learn how to “forgive” their oppressors as “Christ” commanded.
“We need to pray to Jesus Christ to offer us forgiveness and to give us the light to fight further into the future,” he said.
The TDF said that Johnson’s lawyers had argued in their constitutional application that the city bylaws in question “were implementing public health orders that were found to be invalid by judges of the Court of King’s Bench.”
“More specifically, the impugned health orders were held to be ultra vires the Public Health Act as they were made by the provincial cabinet as opposed to the Chief Medical Officer of Health, which is what the law required,” the TDF stated.
Johnson’s charges being dropped came in the wake of a recent court ruling that declared certain public health orders effectively null.
At the end of July, Justice Barbara Romaine from Alberta’s Court of Kings Bench ruled that politicians violated the province’s health act by making decisions regarding COVID mandates without authorization.
The decision put into doubt all cases involving those facing non-criminal COVID-related charges in the province.
As a result of July’s court ruling, Alberta Crown Prosecutions Service (ACPS) said Albertans currently facing COVID-related charges will likely not face conviction but will instead have their charges stayed.
Danielle Smith took over from Jason Kenney as leader of the United Conservative Party (UCP) on October 11, 2022, after winning the leadership of the party. Kenney was ousted due to low approval ratings and for reneging on promises not to lock Alberta down, as well as enacting a vaccine passport.
Under Kenney, thousands of nurses, doctors, and other healthcare and government workers lost their jobs for choosing to not get the jabs, leading Smith to say – only minutes after being sworn in – that over the past year the “unvaccinated” were the “most discriminated against” group of people in her lifetime.
Smith made headlines last October after promising she would look at pardoning Christian pastors who were jailed for violating so-called COVID policies while Kenney was premier.
Unlike her predecessor, Kenney – who imposed vaccine passports, mandates, and lockdowns during COVID – Smith did vow she was not going to “create a segregated society on the basis of a medical choice.”
Thus far, in addition to Johnson, café owner Chris Scott, and Alberta pastors James Coates, Tim Stephens, and Artur Pawlowski, who were all jailed for keeping their churches open under the leadership of Kenney, have had the COVID charges against them dropped due to the court ruling.
Countless others have had smaller charges against them for going against COVID mandates dropped as well. However, there are still some facing charges relating to border blockade protests.
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