Calgary's downturn is a state of mind, according to Unconventional Panel

The Calgary Eyeopener's Unconventional Panel tackles the question of whether we're overdoing the downturn talk.

Everything bad now being blamed on the downturn, Unconventional Panel says

This week's panel, left to right: George Brookman, CEO of West Canadian Industries, Shelley Youngblut, General Director of Wordfest, and Andrew Phung, a Calgary improv actor with Loose Moose Theatre. (CBC)

Tune into any newscast in Calgary and one story is front and centre these days — the economic downturn.

The headlines have been pretty grim, and it's not just the CBC.

Other media outlets and groups, like Calgary Economic Development, are all talking about the tough times our city is going through.

So this week's question for the Calgary Eyeopener's Unconventional Panel — is all this talk about the downturn making it worse?

We ask our Unconventional Panel whether they're tired of hearing about tough economic times in Alberta. 9:24

Negative talk not helping

The panel agrees our current doom and gloom perspective about Calgary isn't helping things.

"I'm sick of hearing about the downturn," said George Brookman, CEO of West Canadian Industries

"I don't actually mind the detailed reporting of, you know, when Husky lets 400 people go — we need to know that," Brookman explained.

"But I wish there was some more news about some of the solutions and some of the efforts being made by so many companies to try to overcome it."

Shelley Youngblut, who runs Word Fest, agreed and said she finds that the media reports are exaggerating the situation.

"I don't think we're at really, really, really bad yet," she said.

"We could be, if things don't get changed pretty quick — people are not mailing in the keys to their houses to their banks. Nobody on my street has this week."

Stream of bad news distracting

Andrew Phung, an improv actor for Loose Moose Theatre, also reported suffering from negative media fatigue.

"I'll hop on Facebook, I'll see that article pop off, and I say, 'Ugh, I gotta log off and look for a puppy video'," he said.

"At the beginning [of the downturn] it was good because it motivated people like me, artists, to go out and be like, 'Oh man, we gotta go out there and make work, we gotta get it done,'" he explained.

But now with all the negative attention on the economy, Phung said, "it's making us more scared when in actuality what we need to be doing is looking for those things that inspire us to go out and get our hands dirty and to change what's happening."

Calgary's crisis of confidence

Calgary Eyeopener host David Gray asked the panel whether all the downturn talk is starting to affect Calgary's confidence.

Youngblut admitted it has affected her decisions recently.

"I don't go out for dinner the way that I used to, we want to buy a house, nobody's for sale anymore," she said.

"But that can't be the only story we tell out of Calgary — it's not us."

Signs of life

The panelists shared their observations that reports of Calgary's economic coma are premature.

Phung said he was at Telus Spark this week at the Adults Only Night, and it was sold out. Yet everyone was talking about the downturn.

Brookman talked about a tiny restaurant in his neighbourhood being "packed to the rafters," with diners talking about the downturn while tucking into their pricey steaks. Likewise, a recent performance at Vertigo Theatre downtown was sold out.

"This is a tremendously resilient city," said Brookman.

"Go back to the beginning of this city, and it's always been people who've pulled up their socks and made things happen."

Phung said Calgarians should be looking to our local arts scene for solace in these tough times.

"Plays that are under $20 ... we need to celebrate the things we can still enjoy in the city, that make life worth living," he said.

"It's better than staying at home being fearful for our jobs, we should focus on the things that do inspire us and make us happy."

Downturn blamed for everything

Gray asked whether Calgarians now blame every bad thing that happens on the downturn now.

"Last I remember, a year and a half ago when things were booming, restaurants still opened and restaurants still closed," he said, "Is it now just convenient to say 'Ugh, downturn'?"

Phung didn't hesitate with his answer. "Yes. Downturn and Notley, those are now the two go tos ... 'Oh man, my laces are untied. Notley!'"

Youngblut agreed the downturn is taking more than its share of blame for all things negative.

"There is a certain leveling of the playing field that has nothing to do with the economic downtown or the political leaders we have," she said.

Youngblut also suggested Calgarians adjust their pricier habits.

"I think maybe what we could say to people is don't go spend $250 on a pair of shoes, but maybe spend 40 bucks and take the kids skating and have some hot chocolate."

What to say to your laid-off friends

Phung said it's time for Calgarians to be innovative and hustle for work.

"I tell people who are laid off, go treat yourself right now. What's that thing you wanted to do that you never did before?

Is it selling vintage clothes on Etsy? Is it making jewelry? Is it starting that consulting business that you wanted to do? 

"Cause right now in the downturn is the time to be opportunistic, to chase these things," he said.


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