The memory is still vivid.
In 2003, as an Edmonton Sun columnist, I headed to Regina to report on the non-football side of that year’s Grey Cup. Which the Eskimos and Ricky Ray decisively won.
What lingers is the image of Regina.
It was like going back in time.
Everything was neat and tidy, but the homes were smaller and the vehicles were older.
The downtown had a few middling-size office towers, all named after Saskatchewan crown corporations (companies owned by the province) or agricultural cooperatives.
And the people were so nice! They were not in a hurry. They had time to chat, a ready smile, a willingness to help.
Edmonton with a population of 690,000 in 2003 was much wealthier and bigger than Regina, then with a population of 200,000.
Even today, the disparity lingers: Edmonton has grown by 40%, to 980,000 – and that is not counting another 320,000 regional residents. Regina has grown by 10%, to 220,000.
Why the comparison?
Because, in life after COVID, Edmonton’s ability to generate wealth will be severely impaired: Increased taxation to pay for today’s COVID spending; ongoing low oil and gas prices; the disdain of the Liberal government and climate warriors for our No. 1 industry no matter its “decarbonization.”
Edmonton’s standard-of-living will slowly and steadily drop to Regina-like levels. With no turnaround in oil and gas revenues, we will likely bottom out at 10% to 20% lower than today.
Not just Edmonton, but all Alberta cities, and, to some degree, across the country.
Which may not be ALL bad. Just mostly bad.
Taxes must increase, if only to cover the interest, let alone the principal, on the massive COVID debt being added to existing massive public debt.
Every tax known to mankind will increase – property, income, capital gains, inheritance, GST, PST, sin – you name it, it is going to go up.
As taxes go up, jobs will go down.
The retail/hospitality sector has been gutted.
Nobody is hiring, outside of specialized jobs in the IT sector.
If governments were not broke before, they are now. The health and education sectors aren’t hiring. Of “furloughed” jobs, economists agree half are not coming back.
Spending during these past three months of isolation – buying little more than groceries – will become the new normal.
We can stress the positive of this unexpected halt in economic activity. Quality of life, more contemplative time, more family time, less rat race, less spending, maybe more saving.
But the negative is a glaring reality.
Our collective hearts weep for the casualties of this pandemic.
For every small-business owner who put their life’s savings into an enterprise, only to see 60%, 70%, 80% of that nest egg gone for good.
For the mental anguish of both employer and laid-off employee, worrying about the rent, about lay-offs, about putting bread on their own family plates.
Think about the human cost elsewhere. With 32,000 COVID deaths, most Italian families are mourning the loss of loved ones. In Alberta so far, we are under 150 COVID deaths.
Here, it’s more financial carnage: The Office of the Superintendent of Bankruptcies reports that .6% (6/10s of a percent) of Albertans, in the year ended March 31, have filed for bankruptcy – triple the rate of five years ago. And these latest statistics are pre-COVID.
For those laid-off … where are they going to find jobs, period?
For Edmonton, dramatic change: All that effort invested into downtown renewal … and now half the office workers will permanently work from home.
Without customers, at least customers with money, so many downtown specialty shops – especially small chef-led restaurants – will close their doors for good.
At least there is a downtown residential population today. But new downtown condos are going unsold.
For bricks ‘n’ mortar shopping, COVID saw a dramatic shift to staying within the neighbourhood, of not driving far, and not for much other than necessities and groceries.
All that downtown renewal spending by Mayor Don Iveson and city council, billions on LRT from the ‘burbs to the downtown, millions on bike lanes – washed away like sand.
Who needs LRT when you are working/studying from home? Why risk unnecessary COVID exposure on public transit?
Why, in the post-COVID era, would there be reasons to go downtown … except for Oiler games or shows at the Citadel Theatre … if anybody can afford such non-necessities in the looming high tax/low-income era.