The stores are stocking up on red and green everything, the shelves are lined with ornaments and dancing reindeer and you can’t ignore it even if you want to – the holiday season is nearly here.
For many, Christmas means celebrations, decorations, rum and eggnog and time with family. From sledding and snow days to hanging the lights and putting up the tree, there are lots of things to love about the holiday season.
However, for others, there are lots of reasons why it might not be the most wonderful time of the year, and that’s okay too.
While the claim that suicide rates spike during the holiday season has been repeatedly misused and ultimately disproven as the “holiday suicide myth” (1), the holiday blues are a very real phenomenon. In the midst of the celebratory season, feelings of anxiety, isolation, depression and grief can be overwhelming, particularly when combined with additional stressors such as strained personal relationships and financial uncertainty. Not everyone is looking forward to Christmas, and in the midst of the 2020 global COVID-19 pandemic, which has left many people without employment and unable to travel, the emotional toll of this holiday season promises to be increasingly complex.
The Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), Alberta Division released a statement regarding coping with the holidays during these unusual and uncertain times.
“The pandemic has disrupted many yearly holiday traditions and has increased collective anxieties and social isolation. As we look for alternative ways to spread joy and take part in new ways of celebrating the holidays, Albertans must focus on their mental health during an already busy and often overwhelming season.”
According to the CMHA, these are some simple but useful ways to maintain your mental health during the holidays.
Focus on what you can control. Like the food you eat, the time you have a shower or the media you consume.
Anxiety is normal. During times of crisis it is normal to feel increased anxiety. Acknowledge those feelings are valid.
Limit your consumption of media. Allow yourself time to focus on activities you enjoy instead. Reading, listening to music or meditating are all great ways to de-stress when you are unable to attend regular holiday festivities.
Remain connected to your body. Exercising regularly, getting outside, eating well and resting will support positive mental health.
Be open with your support system. Identify supportive people you can connect with if you begin to feel overwhelmed or lonely.
Reach out for help. If you or a loved one needs help, call 211 (Alberta only) or the Mental Health Help Line at 1-877-303-2642.
As the holidays arrive amid the fog of the ongoing global pandemic, remember – it’s okay to feel confused, frightened, and uncertain of the future. You are not alone, and there are always resources available to help you and your loved ones through these complicated times. Be gentle with yourself and others, ask for help if you need it, and above all, be kind.
For more stories, visit Todayville Calgary.
Oilpatch woes boost Calgary’s downtown office vacancy rates to record levels
CALGARY — Vacancies in Calgary’s downtown office towers have risen to record levels and there’s no landlord relief in sight with almost one in three offices sitting empty and sublets accounting for a quarter of available spaces on the market.
The city’s glut of empty office space has previously been linked to overbuilding but two commercial real estate reports released this past week show that downtown vacancy rates in Canada’s oil and gas capital are the highest in the country and growing — despite no major new towers opening in the past two years.
Vacancies are likely to go even higher, both reports note, driven by short-term factors including layoffs resulting from the takeover of Husky Energy Inc. by Cenovus Energy Inc. and longer-term job losses from cost-cutting and mergers in the oil and gas sector.
In its report released Thursday, real estate firm CBRE says the equivalent of four CFL football fields in downtown office space was emptied in the last quarter of 2020.
The net reduction of 355,000 square feet (32,000 square metres) took the vacancy rate to a record high of 29.5 per cent compared with 27.2 per cent in the fourth quarter of 2019.
“The negative absorption is due to the oilpatch, not COVID-19,” said Greg Kwong, Calgary-based regional managing director for CBRE.
“People may not be going back to work because of the lockdowns but these companies still have leases in place and have to pay the rent. It’s not considered vacated space.”
CBRE found that 23.7 per cent of the available downtown office space in Calgary is being sublet by the lease holder.
In a separate report using different calculation methods, Avison Young pegged the downtown office vacancy rate at a record 26.9 per cent in the fourth quarter, up from 24.2 per cent in the year-earlier period.
Under an optimistic scenario, Avison Young predicts the vacancy rate will rise to 28.6 per cent by the end of 2023; in its pessimistic forecast, it foresees a rate of 32.9 per cent.
The merger of Cenovus and Husky offices in 2021 is projected to result in between 36,000 and 54,000 square metres of downtown space being vacated later this year, said Todd Throndson, managing director for Avison Young’s Calgary office. That’s around one per cent of the total inventory of 4.16 million square metres.
“We have a very difficult marketplace and there’s no quick solutions to solving that problem,” he said. “The next 12 to 24 months are going to be a challenging time for there to be any growth in our marketplace.”
Cenovus and Husky have said their merger will result in a reduction of between 20 and 25 per cent of the 8,600 combined employees and contractors — potentially more than 2,000 workers.
The two companies have about 300,000 square metres of lease commitments in Calgary, with some of it already being sublet to other tenants, said Cenovus spokesman Reg Curren. More space is expected to be sublet going forward, he said, declining to give specifics.
“Once COVID-19 restrictions are lifted and we determine our plan to return to the workplace, Brookfield Place will be the head office of the combined company,” he said, referring to the 56-storey glass and steel tower opened in 2017 that Cenovus calls home.
Husky’s head office is a few blocks west in the much older Western Canadian Place.
It’s not hard to find other Calgary companies reducing staff and their need for office space.
Suncor Energy Inc. announced in October it would reduce total staff by 10 to 15 per cent over 18 months, cutting as many as 1,930 jobs. Those cuts will be offset by the relocation of its Petro-Canada head office and most of its 700 jobs from Ontario to Calgary.
Imperial Oil Ltd. announced in November it would lay off 200 staff.
Meanwhile, office space held by Equinor Canada at Jamieson Place in downtown Calgary is on the sublet market after the Norwegian oil company decided to consolidate its Canadian operations in St. John’s, N.L.
Lower staff counts are also expected with the close of a handful of smaller oil and gas producer corporate mergers announced late last year.
Calgary’s office buildings have lost an overall 13 per cent of value, about $2.3 billion, over the past year due to higher vacancy rates and lower rents, the city said Thursday as it issued its 2021 property assessment notices.
Declines in recent years have pushed more of the municipal tax burden to residential and other business ratepayers.
Economic Development Calgary is using the city’s abundance of discounted office space as a “huge selling feature” in attracting Calgary employers in new sectors like technology and renewable energy, said CEO Mary Moran, but she concedes those new tenants haven’t replaced the oil and gas losses.
“I think, long-term, we know that the energy industry is not going to be the job creator,” she said. “It’s a jobless recovery in oil and gas.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 17, 2021.
Companies in this story: (TSX:CVE, TSX:SU)
Dan Healing, The Canadian Press
‘Morally and ethically wrong:’ Court to hear challenge to Alberta coal policy removal
First Nations, ranchers, municipal officials and environmentalists hope to persuade a judge this week to force Alberta to revisit its decision to open one of the province’s most important and best-loved landscapes to open-pit coal mining.
At least nine interveners will seek to join a southern Alberta rancher’s request for a judicial review of the province’s decision to rescind a coal-mining policy that had protected the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains — and the headwaters that flow from them — for almost 45 years.
“You talk about the Alberta identity,” said Ian Urquhart of the Alberta Wilderness Association, one of the parties looking for standing.
“The eastern slopes, the Rocky Mountains and the foothills, are at the heart of what the Alberta identity is. This policy change threatens that.”
The eastern slopes are the source of three major rivers — the Red Deer, the Oldman and the South Saskatchewan. Everyone in southern Alberta and many in Saskatchewan depend on those rivers for drinking water, irrigation and industry. The water is heavily allocated.
Endangered species, including cutthroat trout and grizzly bears, live there. The region’s beauty is universally acknowledged.
A 1976 policy brought in by Peter Lougheed’s government laid out how and where coal development could go ahead, forbade open-pit mines over a large area and banned any mining at all in the most sensitive spots. It came after years of work and dozens of public consultations, said David Luff, a retired civil servant and consultant who worked on the policy.
“Albertans overwhelmingly said the eastern slopes should be devoted to watershed protection, recreation and tourism. Lougheed had a very compelling vision based on input he received from extensive public consultation.”
Over the years, the policy informed the Alberta Land Stewardship Act and was written into legally binding land-use plans.
Last spring, the policy was quietly revoked by Energy Minister Sonya Savage with no consultation. It was done on the Friday of the May long weekend, during the height of COVID-19’s first wave, through an information letter on the department’s website.
“It’s morally and ethically wrong,” said Luff.
But legally wrong? The province doesn’t think so.
The hearing in Calgary Court of Queen’s Bench is to begin Tuesday with Alberta arguing that there was no duty to consult because the coal policy was just that — a policy.
“The 1976 coal policy was not enacted using a legislative tool, so it can be rescinded unilaterally by Alberta Energy at any time,” says a provincial briefing note entered in the court record.
The province plans to ask the court to rule that the change is a political decision, not a legal matter, and the review request should be dismissed.
Nigel Bankes, chair of natural resources law at the University of Calgary, notes land-use plans and the land stewardship act both promise consultation before major change.
“This is effectively an amendment to the plan and therefore triggers the consultation obligations,” he said.
“There’s certainly case law to suggest that high-level policy changes may trigger the duty to consult.”
As well, Bankes said, First Nations are owed a duty to consult. Three of them — the Bearspaw, Ermineskin and Whitefish — are asking to intervene.
He suggests there’s a good chance the court will turn down the provincial request for dismissal.
Other hopeful interveners include the Municipal District of Ranchland, which is concerned about the impact that coal development could have on municipal services and infrastructure.
Environmental groups seeking to intervene want to ensure water quality and ecological degradation are taken into account.
One coal company — Cabin Ridge Coal — has asked for standing as well. It says it’s already invested substantial money in exploration leases.
“Restoration of the coal policy will create uncertainty in circumstances where the (Alberta Energy Regulator) presently has clear standards and processes for considering proposed exploration and development activities in Alberta,” it says in a court filing.
Alberta officials have said mining will create hundreds of jobs and generate millions of tax dollars at a time when the province really needs them. They say any proposed mines would still be reviewed by the provincial regulator.
Prominent and popular Alberta country musicians Corb Lund and Paul Brandt have publicly opposed the mines.
A petition to the federal government opposing one development already in the review stage had more than 25,000 signatures as of Friday morning.
The government has sold leases on about 1.4 million hectares of land for coal exploration since the policy was revoked. At least one provincial recreation area is partly covered by a coal lease and four others are surrounded by them.
The province has also reopened water allocation agreements.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 17, 2021.
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Bob Weber, The Canadian Press
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