'We're behind on the bills': A mix of job insecurity and labour shortages shaping voter views in east Calgary

A server selling airbrush tattoos as a side hustle, a laid-off freelance merchandiser wondering if his dream job will ever return. The economy is on their minds. That's shaping the campaign here in east Calgary.

Many residents want candidates to focus on restoring jobs and an economic rebound

Duncan MacDonald was setting up a table to sell airbrush tattoos, a side hustle to his job as a server, at the Emerge Market on International Avenue. (Elise Stolte/CBC)

Wander around east Calgary asking folks what their big concerns are these days, here's some of what you'll hear: getting full-time hours, seeing the warehouse humming again, scoring a paycheque that can be counted on.

There's unease, a hunger for that kind of normal; at least that's what CBC Calgary has been hearing in the riding of Calgary Forest Lawn.

We've talked so far with 60 potential voters and many said they want restoring jobs and the economy to be among the key topics of debate this federal election.

"We're behind on bills and my boyfriend's been off work for two months now. Trying to find but everything's not working out," said Ashley Bowman, walking through the Southview neighbourhood on a chilly afternoon. Her boyfriend works in oil and gas.

That sentiment extends from the south to the north. 

"It would just be nice to know what our future looks like a little bit," said Corey Larose, heading for groceries in Mayland Heights.

Larose is currently collecting employment insurance, waiting for the economy to rebound and let him start his job as a freelance merchandiser for large department stores again. But time is running out; his benefits will end soon. 

Alberta's job numbers have been edging slowly up. In July, the unemployment rate fell to 8.5 per cent, its lowest since the pandemic started, and some industries are even reporting labour shortages.

It sounds contradictory but both the labour shortage and continuing unemployment exist. Jobs are there but they might mean re-training, accepting lower wages, or in the case of the restaurant industry, taking a job that could get cut again if COVID surges and restrictions return.

Just wants to keep working

At International Avenue's Emerge Market, Duncan MacDonald was setting up a table to sell airbrush tattoos, a side hustle to his job as a server.

He's just so frustrated at the uncertainty, how the goalposts keep moving, he said.

"The economy is just going to hell in a handbasket and just way too much downtime.… Financially, it hasn't been good. Mentally, it hasn't been good," he said. "We need to get back to working. If COVID is here, it's here to stay. Let's just be practical about it and not shut everything down."

Many federal wage, rent and other pandemic subsidies are set to expire this fall. In its platform, the Liberal Party has so far promised to extend the wage and rent subsidy for the tourism sector only until May, and extend a separate hiring subsidy to help small businesses in all sectors until March.

The Conservatives are promising new Buy Canadian rules and large cash injections to help Canadian businesses survive over the next two years. The NDP are promising employment insurance reforms, paid sick leave, accessible job training and more emergency aid for small businesses.

But those plans tie into another common concern here; as much as people say they want good jobs and economic support, they're also concerned about cost.

'How can we reboot the economy when we are so much in debt?' said Joginder Singh Dhillon, owner of the DJ Liquor and Subway in Mayland Heights. (Elise Stolte/CBC)

"How can we reboot the economy when we are so much in debt?" said Joginder Singh Dhillon, owner of the DJ Liquor and Subway in Mayland Heights. He was outside, washing his car on a slow morning when CBC stopped by.

"I appreciate that the federal government helped us and my employees, my neighbours. But to me, it was a little too much," he said.

"Because for people working at minimum wages, like $15 an hour, with the amount of money they were getting from the government, they would rather be staying at home. It was not encouraging them to go to work. My staff did help me there, they didn't take advantage. But it could have been a little less money. It's my opinion; I could be wrong."

Kevin Moore also hires people in this riding. He's co-owner of Blue Collar Temps, with an office in the industrial park north of Memorial Drive.

'Stick to the jobs I know'

When I rang him up, he described the impact of that economic uncertainty, which he sees every day. Summer is normally his busiest time with 40 to 45 labour jobs a day. With many large construction companies holding off on big projects, this year a good day has been 15 to 20.

But it's a strange situation, Moore said. "We're at half as much as we should be. We're 50 per cent as busy and workers are hard to come by."

He has to call other temp agencies when he has a large contract, and worries the threat of subsidies ending or restrictions coming back has kept many people watching and waiting.

That ties back to what Corey Larose was saying about some insight on the future. He's still on employment insurance because he was waiting for stability. He loves working with businesses to arrange merchandise and increase sales. He doesn't want to change careers, retrain for months, only to find some new job that is just as unstable as the last.

"I kind of just want to stick to the jobs I know," he said. "But the clock is ticking on that. I'd like to make my way back into the workforce."

CBC Calgary is on the ground in the riding of Calgary Forest Lawn, which spans more than a dozen neighbourhoods east of Deerfoot Trail, because that riding had the lowest voter turnout in Alberta during the last election. We're there right through the campaign seeking out perspectives we might not hear otherwise.

But we also want to hear from everyone. Take a minute to fill out this form and let us know what you want the candidates to be talking about as they try to win your vote. We'll read every answer and use them to help guide our broader election coverage.


Elise Stolte


Elise Stolte has 15 years of experience telling the stories of her community and has been recognized for feature writing, social-impact and community-based journalism. She previously worked for the Edmonton Journal and joined CBC Calgary last year. You can reach her at