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Calgary Economic Outlook: Panelist insight on pressing city economy questions

Is Calgary well positioned for the transitioning economy? What can we NOT get wrong in allowing everyone to participate?

Good questions.

At last week’s Calgary Economic Development Economic Outlook Forum panelists were asked a host of questions on how they view the city’s biz future.

We’ve pulled out a couple of those questions and provided the panelist answers for context on how different sides view the same question.

Question: Is Calgary well positioned for the transitioning economy?

I think we’re absolutely well positioned. We are, you know, even on a housing basis, we’re very affordable. That’s going to help attract people here to the city versus other parts of the country. And I think that because we’re so innovative and because we’ve gone through even such a challenging time, prior to what we had in COVID, I think that’s better positioned us to take advantage of what we can see moving forward.”

  • Ann-Marie Lurie – Chief Economist, Calgary Real Estate Board

“The answer is, yes. Very simply, when you think about Canada, you talk about the Canadian economy, the reality is that there’s two very different dynamics at work in Ontario, Quebec and in the prairies, and in Alberta. One does rely on commodities and when you look at where commodity prices are going, whether it’s energy or whether it’s agriculture, frankly.

One of the things I was going to bring up was climate change. If you’re expecting natural disasters every year, it’s going to keep commodity prices for agro products high. We had floods in Pakistan, it probably means wheat prices are going to be high. Those are all things to consider, and I think Calgary is well positioned for.”

  • Alex Grassino, Head of North American Macro Strategy, Manulife Investment Management

“Yes. I’ve lived here for almost 50 years, seen this city transform and get better and better and better. And we’ve been through this rough patch, and it’s made us tougher. I think we are well positioned – you’re darn tootin’ we can do this. However, not to end on a down note, but it is that case of we always got to keep working at it, it’s never going to be done. So, we’re well positioned, but we’re also in the middle of the game. So, we got to keep going with that in mind. So, short answer though: Yes.”

  • Rob Roach, Deputy Chief Economist, ATB Financial

Question: What do you think we absolutely need to not get wrong to make sure that our community provides opportunities for everybody?

We cannot have a tiered society. The one thing that we can’t get wrong is making snap judgements based on what people look like, the family they come from, the circles they run in.

There is a thing that has happened over time where we judge pedigree and equated quality of candidates or people who can do a certain function or certain jobs. We’ve got to get over that. We’ve got to be more open about discussing with people what your talents and your passions actually are.

We need to figure out how to do a better job of reviewing applicants for positions. This whole idea, submit a resumé and we’ll look at you – resumés are a terrible way to judge people. And this whole idea that we have built about recruitment means these things and diversity is simply a checkbox that is on a form. We’ve got to get past that. Find out the questions that will really get you to what matters to that person to understand if they can do that job or not.”

  • Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek

“We can’t underestimate constraints. Similar to the mayor’s point, there are a lot of constraints on communities, on individuals. Myself, for example, growing up I had a better chance of going to jail than to graduate university. Yet here I am. And I think these are the things that we need to understand as we’re engaging people and communities and disparate groups of people.

We have to understand and accept and look for ways to overcome those restraints. Not because it’s a good thing to do, but it’s the right thing to do, and because it makes us stronger as a community as a whole.”

  • Bryce Starlight, vice-president development, Taza Development Corp.

“When I was with the Black Chambers, and we were addressing specific issues, when you have a group in society that is falling behind, it’s up to that society, and it really defines a society, not by how well the people at the top are doing, but by how well the people on the bottom are doing.

And if you don’t have the society that uplifts everybody, if everybody’s not joining in that success, and the money and all the things that come from that, then your society is not as good as you think it is. I think it behooves us all to really take steps to see where the problems are and in your free time or with your excess capital, do something about it. I think if we don’t take that step, if we just take all this economic spoils that we will have over the next 10 years, 50 years, 100 years here in Calgary – we fail.  Even if it’s success, unless we’re helping those with the least, we’re not doing anything for ourselves.

  • John Cornish, Hall of Fame CFL player, UCalgary Chancellor and investment advisor with RBC Dominion Securities

“Economic and labour market integration of newcomers to Canada.

(audience laugh)

Sorry, it sounds like a broken record player. But, I mean, overall, when we talk about the numbers and statistics of what immigration means to this country. Also, there was mention of the aging population… I believe it was 1971 when the ratio was seven to one – one retiree per seven workers. I think what is happening in the future by 2035 it’s going to be two to 1.

So, we definitely need to do something about the proper utilization of skills and getting people in the right jobs. We also need to do something about essential workers and making essential work a viable employment opportunity where there’s upskilling, and there’s career mobility, and there’s opportunities for people to actually make a decent living. So, we need to bring in more essential workers because we know we have shortages, we need to make essential work a viable livelihood for everyone. Those, I think, are the most important things for us not to get wrong.”

  • Paula Calderon, CEO Calgary Immigrant Women’s Association