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‘Relatively bleak:’ Post-secondary students face rising debt and few summer jobs

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CALGARY — Michelle Benz thought she was playing it smart when she went back to school after being laid off from the oil and gas sector six years ago.

She completed her bachelor of urban planning at the University of Calgary, but she’s frustrated that the job market in her chosen field has dried up due to COVID-19.

“I felt like I should increase my personal skills to give myself a better shot in the labour market — and now I’ve graduated to the worst job market in my lifetime,” said Benz, who’s turning 31.

Benz is working part time at a shoe store and part time at a brewery.

She plans to go back to university to get a master’s degree, but says she can’t afford to do that until next year. Plus, she will soon have to start repaying her student loans.

“I’m staring down the barrel six months from now,” said Benz. “Those payments are going to be added to my expenses and I don’t know how I’m going to carry that.

“If I could defer payments — if you could give me 18 months (grace) instead of six months — it would give me longer to find more gainful employment.”

Frank Finley, president of the University of Calgary Students’ Union, said this year is similar to 2020 when students struggled to find work.

A survey by the university last summer, he said, showed more than one-third of students couldn’t find summer jobs and the prospects of 12 per cent were cancelled because of the pandemic and economic downturn.

“In fact, the economic situation for many as the pandemic drags on has become much, much more dire,” said Finley.

He said some students are facing difficult choices.

“People are worried they’re going to have to drop out of school. People are worried about homelessness, about being able to put food on the table.

“They’re worried about what the next year is going to look like.”

Calgary students are not alone in their concerns.

The president of the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations said he’s hearing from students across the country who are struggling to find jobs

“At this time it’s a relatively bleak situation” said Bryn de Chastelain, who attends Saint Mary’s University in Halifax.

“We’re still seeing significant impacts on the tourism industry and in the retail or service sector, and that tends to be where a lot of students work to make ends meet. It’s definitely a national issue,” he said.

“The biggest concern that I have is for students who are halfway or almost completed their degree and are really struggling to get to that finish line because of the financial hardship.”

De Chastelain said the federal government has helped by setting the interest rate to zero per cent for the federal portion of student loans. But he suggested it should also consider freezing student loan repayments like it did last year.

“It was giving (students) an opportunity to focus more on their immediate financial situation, to really get their feet beneath them before they start thinking about paying down debt.”

The federal government says more than 150,000 jobs are available through Canada Summer Jobs, which allows young people to apply for work in a variety of fields. The program is giving employers flexibility to hire on a full- or part-time basis.

“Since the beginning, they have faced and continue to face a unique set of challenges and must be at the centre of Canada’s recovery” Youth Minister Bardish Chagger said in a statement.

Finley said the Alberta government should restore the Summer Temporary Employment Program that gave employers wage subsidies. It was dropped in 2019.

Alberta’s advanced education minister said he understands the job market is tight.

“Years of economic decline, and restrictions associated with COVID-19, have limited employment opportunities for many Albertans, including students,” said Demetrios Nicolaides in a statement.

He said the provincial government has brought in the Alberta Jobs Now program, which provides grants to employers for on-the-job training.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 1, 2021

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Bill Graveland, The Canadian Press

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Alberta

Three Canadian teams to play in women's hockey Dream Gap Tour in Calgary

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CALGARY — Canada’s top players in women’s hockey will finally get to play real games later this month in Calgary.

The Professional Women’s Hockey Players’ Association (PWHPA) is holding Canada’s first Dream Gap Tour event in over a year May 24-30 at a Calgary venue yet to be announced.

Sixty players from the PWHPA’s three Canadian hubs in Toronto, Montreal and Calgary will play to determine the Canadian Secret Cup champion.

Secret, which announced a $1-million sponsorship of the PWHPA earlier this year, and the NHL’s Calgary Flames are the financial partners in the event.

Similar COVID-19 quarantine and testing protocols established by Hockey Canada for the world junior men’s hockey championship and national women’s and para hockey camps in Alberta will be incorporated.

Alberta tightened restrictions this week in the face of rising COVID cases, but Alberta Health has approved plans for the women’s tournament, PWHPA operations consultant Jayna Hefford said. 

“They believe the protocols, the quote-unquote bubble that’s been put in place, will secure the safety of our group and Albertans,” the Hockey Hall of Famer told The Canadian Press. “There will be no interaction with the public.”

While the PWHPA’s Calgary plans were in the works before Nova Scotia’s premier pulled the plug on this month’s women’s world championship, the Dream Gap Tour now offers an oasis in what’s been a pandemic hockey desert for the majority of players in the national women’s team pool.

The last real games many of them played came in a PWHPA tournament March 6-8, 2020 in Arizona. The last PWHPA event in Canada was Jan. 11-12, 2020 in Toronto.

The PWHPA’s American chapter has played a handful of games in the United States in recent weeks, although a two-day tournament in St. Louis was postponed from early April to May 16-17.

Canada’s mandatory 14-day quarantine upon return from outside the country kept Canadian players from participating in the U.S. games.

Stricter health regulations across Canada also made skating together in groups impossible at times and planning actual games in the country a non-starter.

“It’s been so challenging,” Hefford said. “We had to try to encourage our players to be patient early on in the season, and even in early 2021 we continued to reiterate we would only host events if we could feel really comfortable about the safety of everyone involved.”

The PWHPA, which includes Canadian and U.S. national team players, rose from the ashes of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League that folded in 2019. 

The goal of the roughly 150 players is a sustainable league that offers the competitive supports and training environments the male pros get, and wages that allow them to be professional athletes.

They’ve so far refused to join the six-team National Women’s Hockey League, which recently announced a doubling of each team’s salary cap to US$300,000 for next season. The Toronto Six is the lone Canadian club in that league.

The PWHPA held a series of Dream Gap Tour tournaments and events across North America in 2019-20 before the global pandemic brought the sporting world to its knees.

The pandemic continued to impede women’s hockey internationally and domestically.

The women’s world championship in Nova Scotia was cancelled a second straight year, although Hockey Canada is committed to hosting the tournament in August in a location yet to be named.

January’s world under-18 women’s championship in Sweden was called off, while a men’s under-20 champion was crowned in Edmonton that month.

The men’s world under-18 championship in Texas concludes Thursday. The men’s world championship is scheduled to open in just over two weeks on May 21 in Riga, Latvia.

The NHL, men’s minor pro leagues and major junior’s Western Hockey League and Quebec Major Junior Hockey League all operated in some form this winter.

Calgary’s Scotiabank, Toronto’s Sonnet and Montreal’s Bauer squaring off for a trophy and prize money can help revive the visibility of women’s hockey in Canada, Hefford said.

“We represent the players and we want to see them out there,” she stated.

“We have partners that have been so loyal and committed, so helpful in this process to move this forward, get the women back on the ice. 

“It seems like men’s hockey has gone on and we continue to hit these hurdles. 

“I hope this is a great opportunity for the women to play, but also for people to see the best of women’s hockey on the ice again.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 6, 2021.

Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press

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Alberta

Canadian Natural reports $1.38B Q1 profit, record quarterly production

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CALGARY — Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. reported a first-quarter profit of nearly $1.38 billion compared with a loss a year ago.

The oilsands producer says the profit amounted to $1.16 per diluted share for the quarter ended March 31.

The result compared with a loss of $1.28 billion or $1.08 per diluted share a year ago.

Revenue totalled $6.6 billion, up from $4.5 billion in the first three months of 2020, helped by higher oil and natural gas prices.

Production in the quarter was a record 1,245,703 barrels of oil equivalent per day, up from 1,178,752 barrels of oil equivalent per day in the first quarter of 2020.

On an adjusted basis, Canadian Natural says it earned $1.03 per diluted share compared with an adjusted loss of 25 cents per share last year.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 6, 2021.

Companies in this story: (TSX:CNQ)

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