Good morning, it’s James Keller in Calgary.
There are two crises playing out right now in Alberta.
First, there is the COVID-19 pandemic that has already infected nearly 200 Albertans and killed one. As of yesterday, 10 people were in hospital, including five in intensive care.
And there is also the economic crisis, which is not only driven by the pandemic and the economy-wide shutdowns it has prompted, but also an oil price crash that in many ways is completely unrelated. Protecting the economy now, and ensuring a recovery when the pandemic is over, will need substantial action on both of those fronts.
The provincial and federal governments have promised help is on the way for Alberta and its energy sector, but so far most of the announcements have focused on direct help for individuals or broader measures for businesses, not specifically oil-and-gas producers or workers.
On Friday, Premier Jason Kenney announced the first steps, though he said much more is on the way. Those first steps included temporarily waiving fees collected by the Alberta Energy Regulator from the industry, which will amount to $113-million. As well, the province will extend oil-and-gas tenures that were set to expire in 2020 by one year to give resource companies more time to raise capital and plan.
Mr. Kenney said much more is needed, given the scope of what’s facing the province. He has compared it to the Great Depression and the Blitz in the Second World War.
"This will be, I believe, the most challenging time in our economy for several decades,” Mr. Kenney said yesterday.
He also announced the formation of an economic-advisory panel, led by economist Jack Mintz with members that include former prime minister Stephen Harper, to look at the medium- and long-term economic recovery.
Mr. Kenney said there will be more announcements for the coming days as the industry, and Alberta workers, look for help. The federal government plans to announce a multibillion-dollar bailout early next week.
The Premier said the goal is to ensure there is still an energy sector left to recover when the pandemic is over. And he said he’s confident Ottawa sees the scope of the crisis in Alberta.
“I think the government of Canada understands that we cannot afford to lose the single-largest subsector of the Canadian economy, the largest export industry.”
This is the weekly Western Canada newsletter written by B.C. Editor Wendy Cox and Alberta Bureau Chief James Keller. If you’re reading this on the web, or it was forwarded to you from someone else, you can sign up for it and all Globe newsletters here. This is a new project and we’ll be experimenting as we go, so let us know what you think.
Around the West:
LYNN VALLEY CARE HOME: The fatal outbreak at Lynn Valley Care Centre marked a grim turning point in the country’s battle against COVID-19. To understand what was happening there in the days before Canada’s deadliest outbreak, The Globe reached out to workers and families of people either killed by the virus or still living at Lynn Valley. Five workers spoke to The Globe, but all of them did so on the condition of using a pseudonym. Reporters Andrea Woo and Mike Hager learned that staffing levels at the care home during the outbreak and the precarious job security of workers with little paid sick leave left many feeling trapped between their dedication to their patients, their livelihoods and their fear of spreading the virus. Their accounts offer a glimpse into how easily this highly contagious virus can devastate a nursing home, the form of housing in Canada that appears most vulnerable at the outset of this global pandemic.
COVID-19 IN THE OIL SANDS: The coronavirus outbreak has hit Alberta’s oil sands, with a work-camp operator confirming that someone was tested for the COVID-19 after spending a night on site. U.S.-based Civeo Corp. said the worker had no symptoms upon arrival on Wednesday but was sent to hospital the next morning. They are now at home in self-isolation waiting for the test results and the company has sterilized the unit. The pandemic has been a particular concern in the oil sands, where workers often live in close quarters in work camps.
POINT ROBERTS: Nancy Macdonald stops in at the bucolic, seaside Washington State community that is just across the 49th parallel from British Columbia but is not attached to the United States in any way. She finds a community, used to anticipating the breezy days of warm weather, on edge as Canadians are barred from visiting.
ALBERTA’S DR. DEENA HINSHAW: Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, has a new title: fashion influencer. The doctor soothingly delivers sombre updates about the novel coronavirus pandemic during news conferences every afternoon. She is authoritative yet gentle, delivering harsh news calmly and urgent instructions kindly. Three weeks ago, few Albertans knew her name. Now they are following her medical advice and copying her fashion sense.
TOURIST TOWNS: A handful of Canadian communities that rely on tourists and people with vacation homes to keep their economies humming are begging outsiders to stay away, with measures ranging from roadblocks to pleas detailing how local health facilities could be overwhelmed by visitors. The requests are pro-active and coated with diplomacy. They urge tourists to stay home as the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 spreads, all while encouraging them to return – and spend money – in their communities soon. They reflect the broader challenge COVID-19 created: how to balance the economy and public safety.
DENSITY: Millions of Canadians who live in condo and apartment towers face added challenges in reducing social contact and health risks. As cities have embraced more dense forms of housing, residents and building managers are grappling with questions of how to practise isolation in shared spaces.
EVICTIONS: Renters in British Columbia and Alberta have been left out of emergency measures taken in other jurisdictions to put a moratorium on evictions as a result of COVID-19, and at least one tenant says they are being forced to find new housing in the midst of an overwhelming crisis.
STATE OF EMERGENCY BC: British Columbia has declared a provincial state of emergency that will bolster its powers to deal with the novel coronavirus pandemic, a move that echoes similar measures in Ontario and Alberta.
NEW REALITY FOR RESTAURANTS: Restaurants across Canada have been forced to quickly adjust to escalating restrictions on their businesses that are designed to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus. Some have turned their focus on takeout and delivery, either because they’ve been forced to or because they want to protect their staff. Others have decided to close altogether. Our Alberta food writer, Dan Clapson, looked at what restaurants on the Prairies are doing to adapt.
TRANSIT BAILOUT: Canadian transit agencies are putting together a request for an emergency government bailout in the wake of massive ridership declines brought on by the COVID-19 outbreak. A spokesman for TransLink, which serves the Vancouver area, said the agency had seen major declines in recent days. On Tuesday, the most recent day for which he could provide numbers, boardings were down 52 per cent to 684,000, from about 1.43 million on the same day last year. TransLink has asked passengers to board only through the rear doors on buses, beginning Friday, to minimize contact with the driver. The agency also said it would suspend fare collection on its bus network, which will further depress revenues.
SASKATCHEWAN DOCTOR: The head of the Saskatchewan Medical Association has tested positive for the novel coronavirus after participating in a curling event in Edmonton last week that was attended by dozens of doctors from across Western Canada. Dr. Allan Woo says he believes he contracted the coronavirus at a bonspiel held March 11 to 14.
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Kelly Cryderman on Alberta’s oil price rout: “But economic concerns are weighing heavily on Canadians. As bad as this month has been, it’s going to get worse. In Alberta, oil-producing companies have slashed their budgets and layoffs are soon to begin.”
Gary Mason on Alberta’s economy: “Right now, we should spare a thought for our friends in Alberta. There are going to be incredibly tough times ahead and they’re going to need our help. There should be no question that we’ll be there for them.”
Alexandra Gill on Vancouver’s decision to shut down bars and restaurants except for take-out: "To eat is essential. To eat in a restaurant and shout your order at a server, who must nearly bend over backward to maintain a two-arms'-length distance from your table, is not essential. To grab a latte with friends, while trying not to cough in the direction of a minimum-wage-earning barista, is not essential. To drive across town, to wait 30 minutes in a staggered sidewalk lineup for a takeout burger from your favourite chef, is not essential. Yet all this week, people across British Columbia have been clinging to these last vestiges of normalcy before Mayor Kennedy Stewart announced Friday all restaurants and bars in Vancouver would be permitted to provide only take-out service as of midnight.”
Adrienne Tanner on Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart: “These are fine judgment calls being made at a time when the virus is spreading and advice from health officials changes hourly. Pull the cancel-everything trigger too soon, and you could precipitate an early depression. Wait too long and more people could die.”