Another topic discussed during Red Deer-Lacombe MP Blaine Calkins’ Zoom call with the Ponoka and District Chamber of Commerce on May 19 revolved around the timing of reopening Alberta and if Alberta businesses could survive a second wave of COVID-19.
Calkins says he’s confident Alberta is ready to begin to reopen, as Alberta’s business owners and the public are “very educated” with health protocols and so far, have done well in containing the spread of coronavirus.
“Central Alberta accounts for less than one per cent of the outbreak of COVID-19 in the province,” he said.
“We can move forward in a safe and reasonable approach to getting our economy back on track and getting our people back to work.”
Calkins says reopening Alberta now is a “difficult balancing question” between the need to get the economy going again and preventing further outbreaks.
“We don’t want all of this pain to be for nothing, if we’re just going to reopen in a way that just creates the pandemic that we just paid such a heavy price to try to prevent in the first place but I think we’re ready,” said Calkins.
“This is not sustainable mentally, it’s not sustainable socially … we need to get back to some sense of normalcy as soon as possible in a safe and responsible way.”
Ponoka chamber executive manager Heather Bendera asked if the government has looked at any longer term solutions for businesses supports in the event of a second wave.
Calkins answered that in the limited time the Conservatives have had to hold the Liberals to account, that the federal government seems to be “flying by the seats of its pants.”
He added that there seems to be a “school of thought” that a long-term plan will be required, as there is some fear that there will be a second wave of the virus in the fall.
Calkins says Canada won’t be able to sustain a long-term shutdown because of the snowballing debt load, both federally and for consumers.
Estimates from Parliament’s budget officer now predict Canada’s annual deficit this year to be “well in excessive of $250 billion.”
The entire net national debt after that would be about $1 trillion, adding 25 per cent to the debt in one year. Canada’s GDP has also taken at least 10 per cent hit, says Calkins.
All these numbers are approaching the point of critical failure, economically, says Calkins.
“The Government of Canada, the Canadian public, the Canadian treasury, Canadian financial institutions, will not be able to sustain a long-term economic shutdown,” he said.
“We have to get people back to work, there has to be a sense of hope.”
One key to preventing a second wave will be keeping Canada’s borders closed to the United States.
“We’re shutdown. We can’t sustain this for a whole lot longer but we have to keep our borders closed to the United States,” he said.
“Their numbers are startling and they’re getting tens of thousands of new cases every day still.”
Calkins says if borders remain closed, tourism-dependent businesses that rely on traffic across the border is something the federal government will have to deal with.
Although there has been a lot of negatives for many businesses and individuals, some say there have been positives as well.
A call participant said she has heard of businesses diversifying and finding new ways to become more efficient during COVID-19 restrictions.
She noted some companies have adapted to provide more products locally and asked Calkins if he thought Canada might come out of this pandemic stronger and more self-sustaining in the future.
“From my perspective there are a lot of positives if we can just get through this,” said the participant.
“I just wanted to shed a little bit of hope. It’s not all dire.”
“A lot of business people have adapted very, very well and I think creative and innovative and hardworking and industrious people will always find a way to flourish regardless of the circumstances,” Calkins said in response.
Calkins says he’s a “free market guy” and will leave it up to consumers to vote with their pocket books if they want to support businesses that have adapted to consumer needs.
He added, however, that the government should help others that may not be as economically viable, rather than “socially engineering.”