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Business groups cautiously optimistic on relaunching Alberta economy

Last Updated Apr 29, 2020 at 2:37 pm MST

While local businesses take a significant financial hit, the vast majority in Calgary are following public health guidelines by closing up during the COVID-19 pandemic. (PHOTO: Tom Ross - 660 NEWS)

CALGARY (660 NEWS) — Later this week, more details will be revealed on the provincial government’s strategy to relaunch the Alberta economy.

While some protests hit American states with people demanding everything reopen right away, the province will likely be much more cautious by taking a phased approach.

Premier Jason Kenney said on Tuesday that encouraging modelling data indicates we could be on track for some loosened public health measures in May.

Other provinces, such as Saskatchewan and Manitoba, have announced plans to start reopening businesses through a slow strategy and Kenney said it will be similar here as we must continue to remain vigilant against the spread of COVID-19.

Businesses are struggling mightily through the pandemic, as a survey from the Canadian Federation of Independent Business found only 20 per cent of respondents are fully open, and 32 per cent that have closed are unsure if they can reopen in the future.

Calgary has been hit particularly hard by the pandemic, with the local economy faced with a “triple whammy”, as previously expressed by Mayor Naheed Nenshi: public health impacts, worldwide recession in the economy, and plummeting oil prices.

RELATED: Calgary being hit harder than other cities during pandemic says Mayor Nenshi

There will also be significant lost revenue due to the numerous cancelled events such as the Calgary Stampede and the prospect it will take a long time for tourism to return to pre-COVID levels.

Business advocates are encouraged that there will be a strategy in place soon to start the recovery process, but they added we cannot rush it.

“Oh it’s definitely a slower, rather than faster, road,” said Adam Legge, President of the Business Council of Alberta.

“If we do it slow and steady, that helps the business respond to any concerns as well as getting ourselves back into that mindset of do I feel safe and secure as I’m transacting business,” added Calgary Chamber President Sandip Lalli.

The way we transact that business will also likely be very different for a very long time, as the threat of the virus will remain for the foreseeable future.

“Avoid cash, using tap and getting to a touch-less economy. Those are the kinds of things that businesses have to get themselves ready for,” said Lalli.

Owners will also have to make sure employees have proper protections, such as PPE, and that practices are adjusted so physical distancing can be maintained.

Since everything will not return totally to normal right off the bat, there may still be some financial constraints and there will be a continued need for government assistance.

“Those government programs have to carry us through this stabilization in the mid-term in order for us to get back,” said Lalli.

“We just all have to be fluid and flexible,” added Legge.

“I don’t think anybody is keen to keep this going a moment longer than absolutely necessary, but there are risks to public health and to longer term implications to public health if we get it wrong.”

That points to the need for the phased approach, so the relaxed restrictions can be dialled back in the unfortunate event there is a resurgence of the virus.

“There are good processes that can be applied to enable us to get back out and interacting with our fellow Albertans safely,” said Legge.

He believes essential businesses that continue to operate are educational opportunities, and their practices can be adopted by other businesses to keep both employees and customers protected.

One positive that has seemingly come out of the crisis, however, is a seemingly renewed love affair with local business and there is some hope this will remain past the pandemic.

“I think there’s probably going to be a shift now to a real domestication of the shop local sentiment amongst our communities. I’m happy to see that and I hope it does last because that will be key for a strong local recovery,” said Legge.

Lalli added that there are already some encouraging signs on that topic, such as London Drugs announcing it will be carrying products from local businesses in select stores to help boost their sales.

At the end of the day, everyone has a role to play to ensure there is a positive future.

“We ourselves have to be spending money within our own community for the long run here in order to get back to some sense of a stable economy,” said Lalli.

“The love affair has to remain.”