I am writing this column at the end of March, as the COVID-19 virus is marching relentlessly around a world in lockdown, with confirmed cases and deaths still on the rise everywhere except China. The experience of China and Italy suggest that by May, when you are reading this, you are still likely doing so from home. Perhaps that home is starting to feel like a prison.
It is already clear that this will be more than a “do you remember where you were when…” moment in history. Things have changed. Our world has become smaller, and our lives more local, as a result of the steps required to contain this virus. It’s too soon to say how long these changes will last, but not too soon to begin some introspection about what we can learn from living through a pandemic. I am thinking about this both as a business leader and as a citizen.
From a business perspective, the latest crushing collapse in oil prices is another sign – if we needed one – that economic diversification and resiliency has to be Calgary’s top priority as we emerge from the COVID-19 lockdown. High-potential industries in Calgary include distribution and logistics, food and agriculture, high tech, recreation and tourism, and arts, culture and film production.
Small and medium businesses are not only the engine of the economy, they are also usually the fastest movers. Once the economy starts to recover, we need to ensure that we keep Calgary a great place to start, build and grow a business. On that front, I will give a shout-out to the Calgary Chamber of Commerce. Sandip Lalli and her team are getting helpful COVID-related advice and information out to members and serving as a critical public voice for Calgary businesses of all sizes.
I remain optimistic for our city’s future. Once again, Calgarians are coming together (virtually) in a crisis, finding truly creative ways to connect and support one another. We have unrivalled talent and energy in Calgary to deploy as we redefine this city for the future.
From a citizen’s perspective, we are seeing the vital role played by governments during crises, especially a public health crisis. Governments at all levels have done a solid job thus far of helping us navigate through this pandemic storm. The provincial and municipal emergency management and health officials, especially, have provided timely and regular updates, and instituted the necessary measures without causing undue panic. (I don’t blame the toilet paper hysteria on them, nor do I understand it…)
The situation makes us realize how dependent we are on the “good governance” promised by the Canadian constitution. Our elected leaders are visible as communicators, morale-builders, and cheerleaders in front of the cameras, while armies of government employees deliver essential services behind the scenes. Watching our American friends struggle in the early days of the pandemic response is a good reminder of the higher levels of public trust we enjoy in Canada – so important when a collective response is needed. But public trust depends on trustworthy elected leaders.
We will all have work to do as we return to a new normal. As a start, let’s try to keep alive today’s sense of civic accountability and shared responsibility.
And let’s keep washing our hands.