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Climate, inclusion top Calgary’s economic outlook: CED forum

Calgary mayor Jyoti Gondek said Calgary must embrace the opportunity ahead of it, particularly in the city’s energy industry.

Mayor Gondek was one of a panel of presenters at Calgary Economic Development’s Economic Outlook Forum Wednesday. She said Calgary must draw upon its unique strengths to chart the path forward.

“The seeds of our future success lie within the wealth of experience in our energy sector, technology, innovation, small businesses, women-led enterprises and within the art sector,” she told an online audience of more than 700.

Gondek said that Calgary energy companies, many that have already set ambitious emissions targets and innovating to reduce their carbon intensity, need to lead the way.

“This work must continue. Our ability to compete on the global stage depends on taking the position of being a leader in the world of transition,” Gondek said.

The mayor pointed to a recent economic outlook report that showed reaching for a net-zero future had potential capital backing it.

“Calgary must be at the table,” Gondek said.

“We must be there to demonstrate our leadership and our expertise as part of this change so that we can generate new jobs and new businesses to be sustainable in the long term.”

Shortly after she was elected on Oct. 18, Mayor Gondek said one of the immediate items the City of Calgary could do is declare a climate emergency.

By declaring a climate emergency, similar to Edmonton’s declaration, Gondek said it would ensure Calgary had access to new capital in a transitional economy.

Gondek also talked about the importance of the city’s small business and advancing Calgary’s women’s labour force participation.

Pre-COVID economy by mid 2022: ATBs Todd Hirsch

ATB’s Chief Economist Todd Hirsch said real Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth in Alberta will be 6.3 per cent in 2021.  But, over the pandemic, Alberta’s GDP dropped 8.2 per cent.

With a 4.3 per cent increase pegged for 2022, he said it won’t be until midyear that Alberta recoups pandemic losses.

“If you think about that, that is almost two and a half years of lost growth,” he told the audience.

He said don’t expect a lot of growth out of the traditional energy sector. It’s no longer the engine, but it is the backbone of the economy, he said.  Growth will come from tech, agriculture, renewable energy, tourism and the film and TV industry.

“All of these are actually showing really nice growth right through COVID, and as we move into 2022,” Hirsch said.

Hirsch talked about the current Calgary paradox of labour shortage and high unemployment. He pegged six potential factors: Lazy worker theory, job satisfaction, new ways of earning income, along with lack of affordable daycare, early retirement and lack of workers with the right skills. Hirsch believed the latter three play the biggest role in that disparity.

He used a story from 1500s Japan to describe Calgary – and Alberta.

A story told by ATB’s Chief Economist Todd Hirsch on building resiliency. CED ECONOMIC OUTLOOK FORUM

Transitioning the economy

In order to transition, Hirsch said we can’t go back to 2014, 1997 or 1979.

“We can only move forward,” he said.

He pointed to three key areas to move ahead.  Education and training – from Kindergarten to in-career learning.

“In the 21st Century, it becomes more critical than ever that each and every one of us are constantly updating our skills,” he said.

“You need to be acquiring skills for what your job looks like five years from now. And by the way, you don’t know what your job looks like five years from now.”

He said inclusion, diversity and inequality will be crucial for future businesses to succeed. He said there’s a strong economic case to be made for eliminating racism, misogyny, homophobia and xenophobia.

“We have to address this and end all of the racism and hate and discrimination, first and foremost, because it is the right thing to do,” Hirsch said.

Finally, he said reducing carbon and reaching climate change goals. He said he understands how Calgary is sensitive to this, and the economy can’t change on a dime.

“To those folks, I would remind them that the first UN-ratified study on climate change was released 24 years ago. You might have heard of it – it was called the Kyoto Accord,” he said.

He said Calgary must be prepared to be transformed.

“We stand at a crossroads in Calgary and in Alberta, to rebuild our economy,” he said.

“We have to transform our economy.”