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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

‘My heartdog’: Misunderstood wolfdogs get permanent home at sanctuary near Calgary

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COCHRANE, Alta. — Angie Birch isn’t worried for a moment as she’s greeted by Rocky, Rue and Loki at a sanctuary for wolfdogs whose unpredictable behaviour and innate fear of humans make them too hard to handle for their original owners.

“We’re going to have a visit. Please be nice,” says Birch as she sits down on the ground at the Yamnuska Wolfdog Sanctuary, her three admirers licking her face and leaning against her.

“What a good boy. Could he be more precious?” she asks about Rocky.

Birch started out as an intern at the sanctuary, about 15 kilometres west of Cochrane, Alta., nearly six years ago. She’s now a tour guide and helps take care of the 37 wolfdogs permanently housed there.

Birch says some will learn to trust right away, but one fellow named Zeus was wary for four years before that changed.

“Every morning when I go in, I get some pretty nice snuggles from Zeus. I ask him do you feel like snuggling today? He’ll either come and lean right into me and rub his forehead into me or he’ll just look at me and walk away,” she says with a laugh.

A wolfdog is produced by mating a domestic dog with a grey wolf, eastern wolf, red wolf or Ethiopian wolf.

Anyone familiar with the HBO TV series “Game of Thrones” would be struck by the wolfdog’s similarity to the dire wolves featured prominently in the show. 

Alyx Harris, the park’s operations manager, says many pet fanciers don’t realize what they’re in for when they decide to get a wolfdog and that’s why the sanctuary is near capacity.

“They’re super challenging to have as pets. They don’t care about humans the same way a domestic dog does and don’t have that same affinity to want to please humans or be around us as much,” Harris says.

“The more wolf content you get with the wolfdog the more they act like a wolf than they act like a dog.”

The recent addition of 10 wolfdogs as a result of an out-of-province animal cruelty investigation has stretched resources and space. Not taking the animals would have resulted in them being put down, Harris says.

She says wolfdogs aren’t considered dangerous, because wolves have an instinctual fear of humans. But that also makes it difficult for them to make a connection. She says they’re considered to be exotic pets, but that has backfired.

“You don’t get the best of both worlds. You get the worst of both worlds. You’re getting an animal that doesn’t really care to please you, so they’re terrible hunting dogs. They’re terrible guard dogs. They’re fearful of humans. But they really are beautiful.”

The entire sanctuary covers about a hectare and is fenced in with roomy individual enclosures that hold up to three animals. The environment is entirely natural with native trees and grasses.

There are almost 25,000 visitors a year, Harris says. And while there have been about 50 adoptions since the sanctuary opened 9 1/2 years ago, the animals there now are not appropriate for people to take home.

“This is their forever home. They will remain here at the sanctuary for the rest of their lives.”

For Birch, it’s Rocky that’s her favourite and the one she has taken home with her on occasion.

“He’s my heartdog,” she says. “He’s a really special animal that gave humans a second chance when we probably didn’t deserve it and he’s a very special animal to me.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published November 30, 2020.

— Follow @BillGraveland on Twitter

Bill Graveland, The Canadian Press

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Alberta

Alberta adds 700 enforcers to stop COVID-19 rule-breakers as hospitalizations climb

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CALGARY — Alberta is giving 700 more peace officers the power to enforce COVID-19 restrictions as hospitalizations for the virus continue to climb in the province. 

“We are not asking these officers to stop cold their day-to-day priorities or to harass responsible Albertans going about their everyday lives,” Justice Minister Kaycee Madu said Friday, as Alberta reported 1,227 new COVID-19 cases and nine more deaths. 

Police officers and health inspectors also have the ability to enforce the rules. 

Federal data shows Alberta has the second-highest infection rate in Canada with 208 cases per 100,000 people. Nunavut, with 209 cases per 100,000, ranks highest. 

Alberta has 405 COVID-19 patients in hospital, including 86 in intensive care. A week ago, there were 55 patients in intensive care with COVID-19. 

Postponing surgeries is one of the ways the province is freeing up space to accommodate more people severely ill with the virus. 

New measures came into effect Friday to help blunt the spike in cases. Private indoor social gatherings are banned, capacity limits have been imposed on stores and students between grades 7 and 12 switch to remote learning on Monday. 

Fines for breaking the rules range from $1,000 to $100,000 in extreme cases that make it to court. 

When asked whether there would be crackdowns on anti-mask rallies, Madu said police will make independent decisions. 

“But as minister of justice, my expectation is that those who are in violation of the measures that we have put in place would have to be held accountable.”

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, said she is disappointed to hear about Alberta Health Services inspectors being verbally abused. 

“Nobody deserves that, least of all the people who are working to keep all of us safe,” she said. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 27, 2020. 

Lauren Krugel, The Canadian Press

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