Calgary at a Crossroads

Tough times. Tough times.

Our city's been going through a rough patch for a while now, and there's still the feeling on the street that there's more to come.

What with gloomy news headlines, more layoffs and grim budget forecasts, it could be all too easy to fall into a negative spiral. That's what a Calgary speakers series hopes to counter.

It's the brainchild of Jeff Bradshaw, president and CEO of V Strategies — a digital video agency in our city.

Bradshaw has teamed up with Calgary Economic Development to create a campaign called In It Together.

It's an attempt to bring industry and civic thinkers together, and find positive and forward-looking ideas for our city.

One of the participants is energy industry legend Jim Gray who says there is economic opportunity to be found in our city — even in the tough times.

"I'm a believer in contrarian investors. I'm a believer that no matter how difficult the circumstances are there are still embedded in there opportunities for individuals and for corporations."

Gray is just one of the speakers involved with In It Together. We sat down with Jeff Bradshaw to learn more about what he hopes the campaign can offer Calgary.

Q: Your speaker series is called In It Together. With the energy sector being particularly hard hit in this downturn, can you describe how Calgarians are in it together?

Obviously people who work in the energy sector have been hit hard but what we're seeing now is the trickle down effect.

Calgary Economic Development business summit

In It Together is an attempt to bring industry and civic thinkers together, and find positive and forward-looking ideas for our city. (CBC)

The energy workers who used to buy homes, furniture, cars and go to restaurants no longer have the same disposable income and therefore it's starting to hit every sector. Even those who are still employed are nervous about the future and they've cut back on spending.

It creates a downward spiral. Combine this with the overall negative vibe in the city and this creates a scenario where we are all truly in it together.

Our only option is to stick together, support each other, share ideas and weather the storm as a tightly knit community. We need to be more considerate of others whether you're driving on the Deerfoot, standing in line at the grocery store or walking down the street because you never know what the person next to you is facing in their lives.

Q: In this downturn, in what way are Calgarians beholden to each other? What do we owe each other?

In reality we're not collectively beholden to each other.

C-Train, LRT, light rapid transit, Calgary Transit

Bradshaw says it is obvious that people who work in the energy sector have been hit hard but we are now seeing the trickle down effect. (CBC)

There will be people who believe that we need to fend for ourselves and the strong will survive but that to me does not reflect the soul of our city or our province.

We are caring individuals who will not turn a blind eye to our neighbours regardless of how well we know them. And we need those who are in need of help to realize that it could happen to any of us and asking for assistance is a sign of strength, not weakness.

Q: Your campaign launched last year and this is an update — a "where are we now" look at Calgary. How has your personal thinking changed from last year to now? How do you think the city has changed?

For me personally I'm finding that I'm having to work even harder to stay positive and keep my mind healthy and focused.

WEA Alta Flooding 20130728

Bradshaw believes our only option is to stick together, support each other, share ideas and weather the storm. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

I compare it to holding up a wall in that if you let off for just a moment things could come crumbling down on you. So I'm constantly reminding myself to live in the present, stay focused on solutions and enjoy life. We are still very fortunate to live in one the best cities in the world. It's easy to get sidetracked with all of the negativity that surrounds us.

With respect to the city as whole I think people have accepted it and are looking forward to the recovery even though we don't know when that will be.

The acceptance shows me that we're out of the shock stage which is healthy. It's now at a point when you hear of more layoffs or someone shutting their doors, you feel for them but it doesn't surprise you. I have even seen conversations shift away from the downturn and they're focused more often on productive topics which is great.

Q: There are a lot of scary numbers out there these days. House values down, unemployment up, budget deficits up, oil prices down. What is the danger to our sense of our city and community if, as you warn, people dwell on negative news?

Unfortunately traditional media focus on negativity. But we can't blame them, people in general are captivated by negativity.

We slow down to catch a glimpse of a car accidents. We listen up when people are spreading rumours. It becomes very easy to become fixated on the negative.

Alberta energy Layoffs 20150901

Bradshaw says Calgary needs to innovate and diversify so we're better positioned to not only make it through the downturn but to make our city stronger in the long run. (Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press)

Very few people will admit that they are attracted to negativity but most of us are. The problem is that it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy in that the more negativity we seek out, the more it creates and we find ourselves in a negative spiral downwards.

In my opinion this is what's happening in our city and we need to slow down the downward spiral. We can't stop it completely but we can slow it down.

Individually we can all play a role by choosing to not engage in negative conversations. We can give to local charities that support those in need. We can remind each other that yes it's not like it was a few years ago, but it's still pretty amazing. Someone once told me that we need to find solutions to help the seven per cent who are unemployed but we also can forget about the 93 per cent of people that are still employed.

Q: In It Together concentrates on the positive stories about our city. Yet wishful thinking about being happy doesn't pay the mortgage. What nuts and bolts practical advice are the people in your group offering up to Calgarians?

You're right — just being happy isn't enough. We need to focus on solutions that will help people move forward.

Calgary 6155 peace bridge downtown skyline

Bradshaw says we need to focus on solutions that will help people move forward. (Jason Ronald)

Some of the ideas that have come up include using this time to upgrade your skills. Possibly go back to school and learn a new skill. There has also been talk about setting your pride aside and taking a lower level position to make ends meet. Controlling personal expenses is critical, which means having to get rid of the unnecessary monthly payments. Volunteering can help keep your mind busy. It doesn't pay the bills but it can help manage your mental health.

Talk to people who you trust, and share your feelings so that you don't keep them bottled up inside, adding extra stress on yourself. Exercise and mediation have also been recommended. Stay active with your job searches. Do not give up, never give up.

Q: What is the danger to Calgary of just trying to ride it out until oil bounces back? What lessons do you think we should be taking from the downturn?

'Our city is filled with brilliant and skilful people' - Jeff Bradshaw, president V Strategies

The danger of just riding it out is that we have no idea when it will come back and therefore we are at the mercy of the global markets.

We need to innovate and diversify our talents so that we're better positioned to not only make it through the downturn but to make our city stronger in the long run. Our city is filled with brilliant and skilful people and we need to dig deep and challenge our entrepreneurial spirit to find new ways to generate revenue and jobs for the city.

There are things like technology, agriculture, healthcare, entertainment and tourism that are not dependent on the price of oil and we need to consider these opportunities even if they feel like a stretch from your skill set. What have we got to lose?


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.