This is usually the busiest time of the year inside the factory at Smithbilt Hats as the weather begins to change and people begin to get a bit of spring fever anticipating outdoor concerts, festivals and, of course, the Calgary Stampede.
Instead, the factory, nestled in the heart of the city, sits idle as employees remain laid off because of the pandemic.
It’s the first time the shop has had to close in its 101-year history, according to vice-president Brian Hanson, aside from a few days during the 2013 flood when nobody could access the building.
“That will hurt the whole city if Stampede cancels. Hopefully, we don’t have to do that. That brings a lot of money in for everyone in the city,” said Hanson.
At this point, the Calgary Stampede has yet to make a decision about its annual 10-day event in July, as the organization assesses “what may be probable, possible and not possible with respect to all programming.”
Whether it is tourism, retail or other industries, the province’s economy is stalled as non-essential businesses and services are shut down to slow the spread of COVID-19. But Alberta is facing another financial blow because of the oil price crash.
‘Think big and bold’
In Alberta, business leaders say it might be time to halt some environmental policies proposed by the federal government that could get in the way of economic recovery, such as the clean fuel standard and methane harmonization, until the oilpatch is on solid footing.
This is also the time for Ottawa to “think big and bold”and position Canada to be competitive globally, according to Adam Legge with the Business Council of Alberta.
The agriculture sector is a bright spot for the province right now, he said.
“Everyone is trying to figure out where is the end point. The challenge is that nobody really knows how long or far this is going to go, particularly because Alberta is facing the double-whammy of COVID-19 and the oil price collapse,” Legge said.
The post-pandemic recovery will also be difficult for Alberta, compared to other parts of Canada, since the province was already struggling with job losses before the spread of COVID-19, shedding about 19,000 jobs in January and another 15,000 in February.
About half of the province’s economy is based on consumer spending at restaurants, shops and other retailers, according to Legge.
“If we can somehow safely and ethically put more people back on the streets spending money, the sooner and better we can do that, the sooner we can get jobs back again, the economy back going, so we don’t kill everything in the process,” Legge said.
That’s why some businesses in Calgary still hope the Stampede will take place this year, even if it won’t attract nearly as many people as last year, when 1.27 million people walked through the gates, the second-best attendance ever recorded.
Image: CBC News