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A City of Calgary employee cleans the glass of an entranceway at city hall on June 20, 2014.

Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press

Mary Moran is President and Chief Executive Officer of Calgary Economic Development. Dr. Sandip Lalli is President and Chief Executive Officer of the Calgary Chamber of Commerce.

As we all adjust to the new realities the COVID-19 pandemic has created, many may want to return to the way things were.

In Calgary and across Alberta, the “way things were” is not a solid foundation to rebuild upon. It includes years of anemic economic growth, limited access to global markets for oil and gas, one-quarter of downtown office space vacant and, particularly painful, unacceptably high levels of unemployment.

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The COVID-19 outbreak and unprecedented collapse of commodity prices threaten to push the province into a historic recession. Our economy is forecast to shrink to levels not seen since the Great Depression.

Premier Jason Kenney has warned unemployment could exceed 25 per cent.

No part of our economy will be left untouched by COVID-19. Our long-term recovery and a future with opportunities for our children will depend on the creativity, grit and determination of entrepreneurial Calgarians and the innovative thinkers in our economy.

The Calgary Chamber of Commerce and Calgary Economic Development are collaborating with the City of Calgary and stakeholders, locally and across Canada, to inform, support and advocate for economic resiliency and recovery initiatives from all levels of government.

Our immediate priority is protecting public health, and supporting those who are experiencing financial strain and mental stress. In the end, flattening the curve as quickly and efficiently as possible is what will save lives.

Our organizations are focused on helping people and businesses access health and financial assistance, and supporting businesses now so they are able to think about recovery.

The economic downturn has worsened the structural challenge with our city’s property tax system and has placed a heavy burden on businesses. The City of Calgary is providing temporary relief to businesses by deferring property tax for three months and more needs to be done.

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Now what we need from our province are initiatives that will accelerate the adoption of advanced technology and support innovation across the entire business ecosystem, from startups to small and medium-size businesses to major corporations.

What we need from the federal government is payroll tax relief, rent relief and loan forgiveness in the short term, and liquidity made available for small and mid-sized companies in the long-term, in all likelihood for the next three years.

And, of course, we are a country rich in natural resources and the resource-producing regions of Canada must be a priority for Ottawa. We need our government, business and community leaders to develop a national vision for our natural resources – to responsibly develop Canada’s resources and address climate change.

If we nourish, empower and inspire our business community, we can apply advanced technology to resolve some of the world’s biggest challenges – cleaner energy, safe and secure food, more efficient transportation and better digital health solutions.

One of the calls to action in the community-developed economic strategy Calgary in the New Economy is to embrace the disruption of digital transformation. Today’s crisis has only reinforced what we knew – change is constant and occurring at unprecedented speeds.

These ambitions remain the driving force in our economic recovery.

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The actions we take as a country must empower reinvention and spark entrepreneurship; we need to be leaders in the postpandemic economy.

In Calgary, it will require a new level of alignment, leadership and trust from all orders of government, businesses, educators and social-welfare organizations to resolve the simultaneous challenges. It is the way we will forge our path forward.

For Calgary and for Alberta, we simply will not go back to the way things were.

Author and journalist Malcolm Gladwell discusses the far-reaching impact of the coronavirus pandemic on refugees, conflict and the economy. Gladwell was in conversation with Rudyard Griffiths from the Munk Debates. The Globe and Mail

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