Calgary Stampede temporarily lays off 80% of staff amid COVID-19 outbreak

The Calgary Stampede has laid off 80 per cent of its staff temporarily due to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

It's not yet known if the annual event will go ahead this summer

The Calgary Stampede is laying off hundreds of staff due to impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic. (Scott Dippel/CBC)

The Calgary Stampede has laid off 80 per cent of its staff, 890 people, temporarily due to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

It's not yet known if the event, which draws more than one million visitors to Calgary each year, will go ahead in July.

"With the recent restrictions of mass gatherings as a result of COVID-19, the Calgary Stampede is currently facing an unprecedented halt in activity. To that end we have made significant temporary staff reductions and are working through this with all of our employees," the organization said in an emailed statement Tuesday evening. 

The Stampede said as a non-profit organization, the dramatic measure was necessary to keep the organization sustainable long term and was not a decision taken lightly. 

"We are saddened by the measures we undertook today and our thoughts are with those employees and their families impacted by this decision," the Stampede said. 

Decision was not related to funding cuts, CEO says

The Stampede faced a provincial funding cut earlier this year, but CEO Warren Connell said the decision is purely related to the coronavirus outbreak.

He said the Stampede hosts around 1,200 events, which include business, tourism, sporting, hospitality and community functions, but has held none since the province implemented a ban on gatherings of more than 250 people. That number does not include the Stampede's own functions.

"We're still working on what it takes to keep the Stampede moving forward [for July 2020] but obviously with the uncertainty of circumstances… certainly we have not called the Stampede off in any way, shape or form," Connell said, adding that the organization is coordinating with the province, the city's emergency management agency and Alberta Health Services. 

The Stampede grounds has been closed to the public and remaining employees who are able to are working from home.

Of the laid-off employees, 608 are casual/event employees and 282 are regular part-time and full-time.

"Those employees that qualify under unemployment, Stampede is topping up their first two weeks under CRA rules to a maximum of 95 per cent. All the employees who are on benefits with the Calgary Stampede, the Stampede is not just covering the Stampede's cost over the next 60 days but also the employees' costs of maintaining their health benefits and otherwise," Connell said. 

Connell said he knows the Stampede is an integral part of the city's fabric but said he doesn't think this decision is unusual, adding that bars and other event-based businesses will likely need to implement similar measures.

"The Stampede will open its doors as soon as Alberta Health and the City of Calgary and everybody deems it safe to do so for the public, because really this is about the long-term success of our city and not the short-term decisions we have to make to get there," he said. "We're certainly saddened by the measures we took today and I think it's important people know our thoughts are with those employees and their families affected by the decision."

Connell said the city and province have been in touch on a daily basis, and he feels well-supported by both levels of government.

In a daily update Tuesday afternoon, the province's chief medical officer of health announced that 23 more people in Alberta have been diagnosed with COVID-19, bringing the provincial total to 97. There are now 70 cases in the Calgary zone.

Calgary is currently under a state of local emergency, and a number of facilities like recreation centres and library branches were ordered closed beginning Monday until further notice.

On Tuesday, the province limited seating in restaurants and coffee shops to a maximum of 50 people or 50-per-cent capacity, whichever is lower. Takeout, delivery and drive-through service are permitted but bars that do not allow minors, nightclubs and casinos were told to close immediately.


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