Originally published on Jan. 20.

Calgary at a Crossroads

The past year and a half has been a wild ride.

The plunge in fossil-fuel prices has dragged Calgary's once-booming economy into a tailspin and it's not at all clear if we've hit bottom yet.

As a quick recap, here's what that downward trend has looked like:

This massive nosedive in oil and natural gas has obviously been felt throughout our resource-dependent city and across the province, as a whole.

But how, exactly, has the economy been affected?

In a word: negatively.

But drill down into the numbers and the story isn't quite as simple as one might expect.

Here, we present raw data from a variety of sources to let you explore and judge for yourself.

(Note: You can run your mouse over the graphs for more information and click on some of them to see different data sets. This also works on mobile. Just tap with your finger.)


For tens of thousands of people, the most direct impact from the downturn in oil and gas has been on their livelihoods.

Some 171,000 Albertans were unemployed in December, an increase of more than 60,000 since the previous January.

That pushed our province's unemployment rate to 7.0 per cent, only slightly better than the national rate of 7.1 per cent.

Calgary has been hit harder than Edmonton, with the unemployment rate here matching the Alberta average while the provincial capital sat slightly lower at 6.2 per cent.

And hundreds of thousands of Albertans who are still employed are working part time (30 hours or less per week) or working for themselves.

Real Estate

Despite the corporate cutbacks and job losses in 2015, Calgary's real estate market didn't suffer a massive dive.

In prices, at least.

The number of homes actually being sold, however, dropped dramatically compared to 2014, while the length of time that homes sat on the market surged.

But sale prices remained "more resilient than most onlookers had expected" in 2015, according to Royal LePage CEO Phil Soper, who doesn't believe the trend will continue indefinitely.

"Consumers, reluctant to sell their homes at what they perceived to be a discount to their true value, simply withdrew from the market, resulting in steady house prices and a drop in unit sales volume," he said in a report.

The Calgary Real Estate Board is also expecting prices to slide in 2016.

Here's a breakdown of year-over-year changes in Calgary's 2015 real-estate market compared to 2014, by housing type:

Rental housing

Finding a home to rent in Calgary used to be a harrowing, dog-eat-dog affair. Rental accommodations were routinely snapped up the moment they became available, as vacancy rates hovered barely above the zero-per-cent mark.

Things got so heated that, in October 2014, Mayor Naheed Nenshi famously called on Calgary landlords to stop gouging their tenants with sudden and massive rent increases that had become increasingly common.

What a difference a year makes.

In the ensuing 12 months, the city's vacancy rate nearly quadrupled, as the effects of the downturn set in.

Rental prices remained relatively unchanged over that period, however, at least according to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, which looks at purpose-built rental buildings with at least three rental units.

Other measures of the rental market did show a decline in rents, however. Mark Hawkins, owner of Rentfaster.ca, said average rental prices among the thousands of concurrent Calgary ads on his site dropped between 11 and 18 per cent in the past year.

Here's a look at the CMHC data, as well as the Calgary RentFaster data (as compiled on Page F30, a local blog):

Retail Sales

When people earn less money, they spend less money.

The impact of the downturn has had an uneven effect on Alberta retailers, however.

Furniture and sporting goods stores saw small increases in their total sales, while health and personal-care retailers saw sales jump by more than eight per cent.

Most sectors were down particularly automotive and electronics retailers.

The biggest drop came in gasoline sales but that was largely driven by sharp declines in the price of gasoline, not the volume sold.

Here are total sales by sector (reported in thousands of dollars) and the year-over-year change:

Calgary at a Crossroads is CBC Calgary's special focus on life in our city during the downturn. A look at Calgary's culture, identity and what it means to be Calgarian. Read more stories from the series at Calgary at a Crossroads.