Skip to main content

Energy and Resources Calgary faces uncertainty, opportunity in 2016 after oil price collapse

Volunteers at the Food Bank sort through donations in Calgary, Alta., where home prices are down, unemployment is up, and food bank usage is climbing.

Todd Korol/The Globe and Mail

A year into the global oil price plummet, and Calgary's boom-and-bust economy is decidedly leaning towards bust.

Home prices are down, unemployment is up, food bank usage is climbing, and no one knows when things might turn around with oil below $40 (U.S.) a barrel on Monday from highs of well over $100 less than two years ago.

"It's very uneasy," Stephen Scott, 45, who lost his engineering job at Cenovus Energy in an October wave of layoffs, said in a recent interview. "There are probably going to be more job cuts. People are still kind of living scared."

Story continues below advertisement

Mr. Scott says that even when he had a job, he was feeling the pressure.

"There's a lot of stress going around, a lot of negative talk going around; that's inevitable with this going on in the industry. So it wasn't fun, it really sucked the life out of the job."

Jackie Rafter, president of the career-counselling service Higher Landing, says the downturn has forced many people to make some tough decisions that include changing industries or even moving away from Calgary entirely.

"Unfortunately, a lot of professionals are now considering jobs outside of Calgary. These are people who would have never otherwise thought of leaving their roots here," said Ms. Rafter.

But those looking elsewhere for job opportunities are confronting a tough real estate market that may make it difficult to sell their homes. Listings in Calgary are climbing and house prices are down more than 5 per cent.

Thomas Keeper, a real estate agent in Calgary, says sellers are struggling even after they slash their listing prices.

"I definitely see a lot of sellers that are desperate to sell. And here's the unfortunate part – they're desperate to sell, but it still isn't selling," he said.

Story continues below advertisement

Those sinking house prices are also eating into homeowners' ability to borrow against the value of their houses, said Mark Kalinowski, a credit counsellor with the non-profit Credit Counselling Society.

Mr. Kalinowski says he's seen a definite shift in business as more and more people grapple with the downturn. He recently had to advise a contractor who had been making $180,000 a year but suddenly found himself without work or savings, and was behind on his taxes.

"People get into that mentality that it's only going to get better and better," said Mr. Kalinowski.

But he expects worse is yet to come as severance programs start to run out in the new year.

"People are optimistic that they'll find a job in that period of time, but I don't know that that's realistic," he said. "I think the real pain starts next year."

But while the oil patch downturn is creating stress in the city, others are seeing it as an opportunity.

Story continues below advertisement

Dan Harmsen, a commercial real estate agent in the city, says that oil and gas have been so profitable – and such a dominant force in the Alberta and Calgary economies – that it hasn't allowed other industries to thrive.

"Most other industries – their labour costs and space costs are a significant portion of their profit or loss statement. In oil and gas, office space is an afterthought," said Mr. Harmsen.

That means lower rent costs could help the high tech sector, creative industries such as advertising and others that have struggled to afford space.

"We finally have an opportunity to diversify our economy," said Mr. Harmsen.

Some laid-off workers in Calgary are also making the most of their forced time off.

Marian Hanna was the president of a Canadian oil services company before the parent company closed the entire office in July and moved it to Houston. She's says she's looked for work both in Calgary and internationally, but there aren't many opportunities.

Story continues below advertisement

In the meantime, she's taking a director's education program to get ready to serve on company boards, while also heading a professional society of exploration geophysicists and delving into policy issues.

"I'm trying to do the best of all possible things in this rather dismal outlook," said Ms. Hanna.

Jon MacConnell, who was laid off from Pengrowth Energy in September, has since incorporated his own company. He said the major companies often cut too many jobs in these situations, and he wants to be ready to fill the gap as a consultant.

"The cost point will come down and we will start to see some price recovery here," said Mr. MacConnell. "I think that by midway through 2016, most of the deep pain should be over and people will start to get their feet underneath them."

Report an error
Tickers mentioned in this story
Unchecking box will stop auto data updates
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Discussion loading ...

Cannabis pro newsletter