COVID Signpost 100 Days: Spotlight on Alberta

Hosted by Robert Plitt, Executive Lead, Evergreen, CUI Regional Lead, Calgary, AB. Featuring Erin Chrusch, Senior Strategist, Office of the Mayor, City of Calgary, William Ghali, Vice-President, Research, University of Calgary, Nneka Otogbolu, Director of Communications and Equity Strategy, Edmonton Community Foundation, and Jason Ribeiro, Director of Strategy, Calgary Economic Development.

5 Key

A roundup of the most compelling ideas, themes and quotes from this candid conversation

1. Intentional overreaction

Calgary was the first municipality in Canada to declare a state of emergency in response to COVID-19, days after the WHO declared the virus a pandemic. Its quick response and action were described by one panelist as an “intentional overreaction… we would rather have had people say ‘you did too much,’ than ‘you didn’t do enough.’” With hindsight, that response was correct and allowed for the city to swiftly start to implement changes.

2. Build Back Better

Alberta was already facing significant economic challenges when the pandemic was declared on March 11th. But there are also important local solutions to look to as we develop local recovery plans. For example, Calgary has been investing in becoming an innovation hub that serves as “a destination for the world’s best entrepreneurs who want to solve really heady global challenges, including cleaner energy, safe and secure food, the efficient movement of goods and people and better health solutions.” Local context, and local solutions, are paramount.

3. Connective Tissue

Across Canada, COVID has highlighted visible gaps within the social safety net. The panelists discussed the need to address these issues with a coordinated effort between government, businesses, and NGOs. For example, the Edmonton Community Foundation been working across sectors to connect vulnerable populations with funding and services. Different forms of connective tissue are critical, and will continue to be critical as we move through and beyond COVID.

4. The Issue of Compounding Problems

Calgary was recently hit by an unexpected hailstorm and flooding whilst continuing to combat COVID. The reality is that municipalities will need to continue to respond to other urban emergencies even as they continue to address the first wave of the pandemic and prepare for the likelihood for a second.

5. Importance of People Focused Leadership

One panelist stated, “This has really been a time that reveals the importance of committed leadership—human-centric leadership” and went on to recognize British Columbia’s Dr. Bonnie Henry as an example. The panel discussed how COVID can act as a “Great Reset” and opportunity to rewrite the social contract between government and residents.


Full Panel

Note to readers: This video session was transcribed using auto-transcribing software. Manual editing was undertaken in an effort to improve readability and clarity. Questions or concerns with the transcription can be directed to with “transcription” in the subject line. 

Robert Plitt [00:00:28] Good morning, everyone. I’m Robert Plitt. And welcome to the sixth of seven stops of one hundred days of COVID, a coast to coast tour across Canada, examining how COVID has impacted Canada’s cities, how we live, move, work, care and prosper. This broadcast is originating from Treaty seven territory, the traditional territory of the Stoney Nakota. It’s Tsuut’ina and Blackfoot confederacy and home to many diverse First Nations people from across Turtle Island. Moh’kinntis, the Blackfoot name for the region, is also home to the Metis nation of Alberta. I’d also like to acknowledge the traditional territories represented by all people joining us on this call and extend a warm welcome to all of you joining us today. Maybe a little bit of housekeeping before we dig in. There’s a chat function and we are really want you to use it. But if you do, please direct your comments to panelists and everyone as we all want to kind of share this and share your thoughts with everyone as well. A summary of the conversation, including the comments from the chat, will be posted following the session and the full transcript, including chat content, will be available online. And for those of you who are interested, you can also engage online using #COVID100. So this morning, the Canadian Urban Institute released its first COVID signpost of one hundred days. The report summarizes observations about how Canada’s cities have been impacted over the first 100 days of this pandemic. And it’s a point in time examination of our state of cities in the COVID era. And it looks at how far we’ve come and where we must go. And provide a strategic starting point. A key benchmark of the potential impact the pandemic may have in ushering the fundamental changes to how we plan and design our cities and how we organize the delivery and financing of essential public services going forward. And I think I think this is really what we’re talking about today in many ways. So I want to read that again. The potential impact the pandemic may have been ushering in fundamental changes in how we plan and design our cities, how we organize the delivery and financing of  essential services going forward. It highlights what we do know, but it also makes clear what we do not know. And how that continues to inhibit good policy leadership and decision making and potentially imperils the future of Canada’s economic drivers. I do want to say that and kudos to CUI for the kind of rapid response that they have organized around distant cities. So I want to put a big shout out to them around that. They will be reproducing every 100 days until this thing no longer is relevant. And so we’ll be looking forward to those. So today, we’re lucky enough to have with us four fantastic guests. We have an Nneka Otogbolu from the Edmonton Community Foundations, she is the Director of Communications and Equity Strategy. We have Jason Ribeiro from Calgary Economic Development, who is the director of strategy. We have Dr. Bill Gallie, the V.P. of research from University of Calgary. And lastly, but not least, we have Erin Chrusch, a senior strategist in the mayor’s office from the city of Calgary. So the curation of this group is primarily focused on individuals who are working with one might call anchor institutions. And I think today, you know, the conversation that I want to have is really around the kind of institutions and the kinds of responses that are that we’ve got we’ve been seeing and that we can expect to see moving forward. And what are some of the kind of the key things that that we know that we’re going to be responding to? So to the four of you, welcome and thanks so much for for joining us and offering to share your perspectives on these last hundred days and where we may be going in the next hundred days and beyond. The public health crisis has revealed in many ways in which our current social safety nets, civic institutions and infrastructure are not designed for the scale of this crisis. Affecting already marginalized communities and intensifying existing inequalities, disproportionately affecting women, older people, indigenous peoples and black and other racialized groups. But I want to say that on the other side of this process, it’s also revealed the capacity for swift action by our public and private institutions, by our businesses and by everyday residents to mobilize resources and to collaborate to meet the needs of Canadian crisis. And so I really want to kind of build off of this kind of just the juxtaposition. We have historical existing vulnerabilities that are being amplified. And at the same time, we’re seeing our civic institutions that in many ways, I would say across the board historically can demonstrate some sense of inertia around change. And so. I think what I’d like to do is go to you first, Erin, and then we’re going to structure this as we go – here’s the last hundred days, Here’s the next hundred days, and then beyond. So, Erin, Calgary was the first government in Canada to declare a state of emergency just four days after the WHO declared it a pandemic. That was a pretty bold I think. And so I think there’s something behind that we’d love to understand the culture of the city and how it was able to kind of make a decision that that kind of rapidly. So I’m wondering if you can just take us through the journey that the city has been on for the last hundred days and, you know, maybe with a little bit of emphasis on some of the key vulnerabilities that you’ve been managing.


Erin Chrusch [00:07:16] Sure. First, I want to thank you for inviting me to be part of this panel this afternoon. I’m really looking forward to a very engaging discussion with respect to why Calgary would have acted perhaps a bit sooner, sooner than other municipalities. We called it intentional overreaction. That was the guiding. I don’t know if you’d call that a principle or what not, but that was that was the term that we gave to our response. We wanted it to be one of intentional overreaction in terms of being able to flatten the curve so that however we came out of it -we would be. We would rather have had people said you did too much, then you didn’t do enough. So that was that was the thinking behind why we wanted to act so swiftly. We are very fortunate here that the Calgary Emergency Management Agency, under the leadership of Chief Tom Sampson, you know, we couldn’t really ask for a better set of… That team deserves a lot of credit for the way that they helped steward us through. And then things happened really, really fast. So I remember coming into work on March 12th. I had a meeting at lunch. We had a team meeting, and then I got back from my meeting and said yes so our team meeting is everybody’s going home like, OK. So starting quite soon after that. Within two weeks, we had sixty five hundred people working from home. With respect to City of Calgary employees, we developed a new governance structure essentially that put in place for task forces to respond to some of the, as you put it, the vulnerabilities, the issues we were seeing emerge. One specifically, business sector support. We knew that that was going to be an issue as the province moved to implement guidelines that would close businesses and put restrictions on how many people restaurants could serve. And then once they were closed entirely, hairdressers, movie theaters, gyms, all of those kinds of things that impacted our small business community care quite, quite intensely. And so we needed to do something to respond. We put that task force in place, another one with community services, because when your advice is to stay home, that doesn’t mean a lot if you don’t have a home to go to. As well, staying home isn’t necessarily a safe place for everybody. So we needed to respond to be able to see how we could manage that. And last then, there was one dealing with employee supports to provide that support for for our employees as they’re working from home and managing challenges. And then an economic resilience task force. So that one, because Calgary is not just dealing with the pandemic right now, we’re dealing with – we’re just coming out of a downturn. Oil prices crashed even further right at the very beginning. Saudi Arabia and Russia decided to enter into a price war. So there’s – It was just one thing on top of another. So we’ve put in place the long term. A group of individuals from those from throughout the community that will help guide us to resiliency in the future. And we’ve developed an advocacy plan to help with working with the other levels of government to determine how best to deal with some of these vulnerabilities. Because, for example, the housing one, which is, like I said, that became quite apparent. How how do you tell people who don’t have a home that that’s where they should stay? And particularly as more and more public spaces where they would otherwise gather became closed off with them, we knew that that was something that we had to respond to. And so, as often happens, the municipality has to fill the gap where other orders of government do not. Something had to be done and we couldn’t wait. So going back to what you were saying about how that kind of urgency. We just we needed to act, and so we were able to work to set up a temporary shelter for people. And now, you know, you’re almost through that. And then what happens is you have to start preparing for the relaunch. And what that means for people, how do you get people back to business and keeping your citizens safe? All of this while still providing water, garbage collection. You know, your basic utilities that people come to rely on you for. None of that stopped even though our business operations were were quite impacted by by some of the, by some of the guidelines put in place.


Robert Plitt [00:12:20] Thanks, Erin. Yeah. So know, I think understanding the complexity of 14000 employees.


Erin Chrusch [00:12:30] Yes, 14000 thousand plus seasonal workers.


Robert Plitt [00:12:33] And so, you know, and when we get to Bill that we’re going to be kind of recognizing a similar challenge, which was an extremely large institution that both had to respond to an operational level. But then also at a strategic level in terms of how the world plays in the response and the recovery. So thanks for that. Over to you. Nneka, the Community Foundation, is a kind of an anchor in the community support system in Edmonton. And, you know, quite frankly, in in communities across the country, it’s one hundred and ninety one community foundations with a net net assets of over five billion dollars. And so, you know, and in particularly here, do focus on marginalized and vulnerable communities. You’re sort of in the eye of the storm there. And we’d love to hear from you about your last hundred days and what you’ve been doing and the sort of pattern set of challenges and opportunities that you see emerging.


Nneka Otogbolu [00:13:39] Thank you, Robert. Thanks for having me here. So for the purpose of this discussion, I’m going to be using the term equity seeking communities and this will include groups that are marginalized by societal structures. Equity seeking communities often experience social and financial disadvantages as a result of a system of oppression. And this oppression could take many forms, which is included but not limited to racism, sexism and ableism. So for my racial and discussion, the examples of equity seeking communities would include indigenous people, ethnic or linguistic minorities, sexual and gender minorities, and people with mental illness or physical and intellectual abilities disabilities. For us, at ECF. We understood the need to respond rapidly. So on the 25th of March, we established a COVID-19 rapid response fund. Its purpose was to address the immediate needs of Edmontonians charitable sector and also. And so far, we’ve provided about 1.3 Million dollars to these organizations. The trends we noticed was based on the kind of requests we were receiving from organizations that were serving the equity seeking communities we had in Edmonton. One of the very important trend we observed was the need for these charities to adopt essential programing to digital platforms. Now, the city shut down and these organizations were serving members of these communities. So we had about 450 Edmontonians to be able to receive important information about COVID and how to best care for their families through an organization called Connect Center. We also helped the Brain Care Center provide all life support to over four hundred and fifty of its clients living with acquired brain injuries. Another trend we observed was something most of us take for granted, that’s access to computers and Internet access. Remember, most of most people that live below the poverty line actually rely on public spaces to get access to Internet like the libraries. But they were all shut down. So how where these marginalized populations able to cope within the COVID? We were able to respond rapidly to this. And one of our first grants was to partner with the United Way. All in for youth program where we’re able to provide about four hundred and twenty laptops to socially vulnerable families. A lot of all the grants we have given there, dozens and dozens of grants we’ve given. And they can be found on our Web site as well. And the stories behind the end users and the organizations that this funding we’re able to support. We sent laptops and tablets to our neighbours in the Cree nation to help people stay connected to families and on and off the reserve. Another trend we observed in the with the equity speaking community here in Edmonton was the increase in the need for mental health support. And one of our grants was to the Mental Health Foundation, where they launched an initiative called a Text for Hope. And through the Text For Hope, we’ve provided 50,000  to access mental health support. We also observed that seniors were particularly vulnerable to isolation during this time. And so basically through the RRF., we’re able to provide over eight thousand dollars to multiple organizations to address this. Another trend we observed was food safety, food security. A lot of people didn’t have access to food or they when they were deemed they were actually part of the community that needed to have access to food. And John Hopkins Center for Peace and Human Rights was one of the organizations we partnered with to provide about 900 meals per week to vulnerable Edmontonians. The list could go on and on. But boy, based on food security, we’re able to give out grants related to this to the tune of over three hundred and eighty thousand dollars. Something else he also observed, which was feedback from some of the organizations we partnered with, was the was that when the lockdown was announced? We were all told to stay at home, that that was supposed to be the safest place for everyone, but we found out that this exposed vulnerable women to domestic violence. And when we got this feedback, we had to mobilize quickly and provide organizations such as the Edmonton Catholic School Foundation with a grant to support families living domestic violence. And most of this funds. When we’re put into moving costs, utilities, rent subsidies, school supplies and Internet connections. We also funded a shelter called the Nyssa Homes. It’s a shelter that helps to provide assistance to women living with domestic violence. So these are some of the trends we observed. There’s a long list of them, and we hope to keep, you know, innovate being innovative and getting information and feedback from these organizations we collaborate with. To be able to respond in time and, you know, solve this problems that have been faced by the equity seeking communities here in Edmonton. Thank you.


Robert Plitt [00:19:38] Nneka. I mean, it’s interesting because certainly the report that was released today echoes what’s happening in Edmonton, across the country, in cities across the country. And while the report does kind of point out that it’s, you know, who you are and where you live. This is really how you’re being impacted by this. It’s it’s clear that this is sort of systemic failings in our systems are so endemic across the country that and I’m gonna come back later to you to kind of explore more how the community foundations maybe working together more more broadly as a as I think about creating more sort of systemic heft to kind of, you know, eliminate some of these challenges. Jason, over to you. So see how you’re going to do this kind of task with stewarding Calgary’s economic strategy. As Erin already pointed out, the economic picture here has been struggling for the last number of years. Take us through. Take us through this. This is, you know, triple whammy and give us a sense of how the businesses are faring in some of the some of the actions we’ve taken to to mitigate these impacts.


Jason Ribeiro [00:21:09] Thanks, Robert, and thanks to the CUI and my my fellow panelists for framing out this conversation, because I think it’s incredibly important and it’s incredibly important for Alberta cities and specifically to the Calgary lens. You know, Erin touched a bit on this earlier, but we are facing not just a crisis, but a series of crises. And the twin one being, as Erin mentioned, not only the global health pandemic and the increasing amount of cases that we’ve seen of COVID-19 in Calgary compared to other parts of the province, but also the challenges presented by the global price war on oil. So this is this has been a devastating impact for for the city of Calgary and to be in economic development. I think at this time is an incredible privilege because you get to be a part of the solution quite directly, but but very daunting. You know, the Conference Board has has indicated that the province as a whole might face an economic contraction of seven percent. So when when we look at, you know, the last hundred days for us, I quite like the framing that the CUI has used about the signpost. What allows you or provides clues? What allows you to have an understanding about the future and the unknown that it might present? And for us, as you mentioned, that signpost, that guideposts, that roadmap is Calgary in the new economy. It’s not just an economic strategy that most economic development agencies around the world would have. It’s not just a piece of paper that’s overly prescriptive. It is a document and an approach and a strategy that really had responding to the unknown baked into it. And I noticed that one of the sponsors here today for this conversation is Public Sector Digest. And early in earlier in the year the economist on my team, and I co-wrote a piece for Public Sector Digest called Adaptive Action Planning for Increasingly Digital Future Calgary’s New Economic Strategy. And in it, it highlighted the process that went into developing this roadmap or this signpost, if you will. And the core function was of that exercise. The future is unknown. So what can we reasonably predict are going to be drivers of our economy? What are the things that we know we need to focus on? And I can tell you a crisis like COVID-19 causes a great amount of reflection and a great amount of pause in a number of decision makers. And I think for us as an organization, we really have to sit back and evaluate with our partners, the University of Calgary being one and Erin’s office being another. Is this the right strategy for now? Is this the strategy that’s going to provide help to people? And I’ll get into the technical things that we’ve been doing in a moment. But I think that the vision of Calgary, the new economy, was that this became a destination for the world’s best entrepreneurs who want to solve really heady global challenges, including cleaner energy, safe and secure food, the efficient movement of goods and people, and better health solutions. And that’s since 2018. Here we are. We are facing crashing oil prices. We are facing a global health pandemic. We are experiencing challenges around the world with supply chains and the movement of goods and people being restricted. And as Nneka mentioned, in many of our urban cities, food security is becoming an increasing issue. If this is if this is the hand that we’re playing, we’re very well positioned to, I think, usher the collective will of businesses, of people, of governments to be able to respond. And I think that’s been our focus from an aspirational perspective, but also tactically and so tactically, the first thing that we we did and I think our offices even closed down before the state of emergency was declared, was information was at a primacy. We have a wonderful manager of business intelligence and research. Nicole, I want to give a shout out to. But, you know, the ability to take in all of this data, all of these forecasts about, you know, what is an increasingly challenging situation wrap your head around was increasingly important as we then advocated and worked with partners in government around the solutions that would best benefit businesses, best benefit people. The second thing is economic development is a very long term endeavor in many cases. And in most cases, it allows you or requires you to be out of market to attract companies to spread the word about your city. Well, what does that look like when travel is restricted and the global economy is shut down? So we really focused and pivoted towards business retention, focusing on the local community and what businesses needed, whether that be advocacy, whether that be support, whether that be working with partnerships and task forces or with Erin and with the City of Calgary and a number of task forces related to business sector support. We definitely turned our focus local. I think the other thing that we tried to do as well is understand what our strengths were, even though, as Erin mentioned, we were coming out of a downturn. We saw unprecedented growth in technology jobs. We were seeing deal flow that that hadn’t happened, I think, in previous years in emergent industries like the life sciences, like creative industries as well. And so what we wanted to do, I think, was, you know, focus on those who were increasingly being left behind in that digital world. So we provided a lot of thought leadership in relation to digital technology. But the local company called Shop to it to be able to get local businesses listed on Google. And that was a partnership that we then formalized with the city of Calgary to have that resource be offered to all Calgary businesses. But in the last thing we did was think about tactically what we could do as an economic development agency to help right now. And so we created a a job board for Calgarians looking for work because those in many industries were still hiring at that time. We provided a new marketplace called Connecting YYC to connect businesses and customers to one another. And lastly, we provided a student portal as well for those looking into the summer months looking for positions. So it has been a very challenging time economically at a macro level and on the ground. But I would be remiss if I did not mention there have been incredible signs of hope in Calgary’s economy, businesses that are pivoting to not only be part of the health response and manufacturing PPE and manufacturing hand sanitizer, but we’re also seeing our solutions be championing global perspectives. The work that Bill and his colleagues do is invaluable. The University of Calgary is one of the leading institutions in this global fight. But also, you know, we had a Space X launch that Calgary it was a Calgary operating board that launched that rocket. Increasingly we’ve seen our solutions be part of this global response. So it’s been bittersweet. The work is still far, far, far ahead of us. But it has been the silver lining to see the resiliency of businesses and community members as we look to, I think, rebound from this stronger moving forward.


Robert Plitt [00:28:26] Thanks. Thanks, Jason. Yeah, it is. I think that part of this conversation that I wanted to kind of illuminate is it’s kind of an enormous amount of creativity and work that’s taking place to actually address these issues. Our next question is going to kind of get back in. Well. So what is the role of our institutions in having contributed today to the need for us to be able to respond like this? Should you have the conditions better now? A bit of a segway over to you, Bill. University of Calgary. Forty thousand students.


William Ghali [00:29:08] Over thirty thousand.


Robert Plitt [00:29:10] Over thirty thousand students. So obviously a major employer in that, you know, in the city. A significant resources and assets. Clearly, the, you know, the impact of an operation that I’m sure has been immense. We’d love to hear a little bit about that. But maybe more significantly, some of the work that the university has been doing to contribute to that kind of response to the to the public health crisis outside of the university operations.


William Ghali [00:29:48] OK. OK. So just echoing everyone, thank you to the Canadian Urban Institute for hosting this very interesting discussion. Thank you to the three co-panelists. I benefit from getting to go last and I can pick up all the great things you each that because the great opening opening comments. So from my side, I did want to just pick up one thing and say I am the vice president of research at the University of Calgary and I have a lens of being part of the executive leadership team of the university that has had to make a whole bunch of decisions about the university, which in a way I think of Russian dolls. We have a university that resides within Calgary, Alberta, that resides within the province of Alberta, that resides within the country of Canada, that resides within the global community that is dealing with this pandemic. And the Russian dolls is an interesting metaphor, because we have policy that comes from all of those levels and evidence that comes from all of those levels and health agencies that provide information on all of those levels. And the decision making is really complicated that we are we are like a like a small city as a university with our thirty thousand plus students or staff. We have we have fitness facilities, we have sports teams, we have vendors on campus. We have public restrooms. We have parks. We have. So we’ve had to make a lot of decisions, really analogous on a smaller scale than the city of Calgary, but within the city of Calgary. And there’s been so, so much of the decision making has been about about determining, well, what what are the what what’s the evidence that guides decision making at the Russian doll – that’s one level or two levels above us. And it is is there consistency and edicts that come from the levels above us? And that’s been quite interesting. And it has brought for me some observations about about intergovernmental affairs and governance and public policy that that that comes from multiple levels. And that that’s a fascinating thing in and of itself, prior to becoming vice president research, I was the director of the O’Brien Institute for Public Health at the University of Calgary. I’m a physician myself, internal medicine physician. So over the course of this pandemic, I did look after look after some patients for a period of time at Foothills Hospitals so I saw that side, that side of this pandemic, as well. The University of Calgary, as has been mentioned in the comments made, has been very active in addressing the COVID crisis. We have a very vibrant research community that competed very swiftly with funding competitions that were made possible because of significant federal government investments in addressing the COVID pandemic. So we have researchers that have have brought in upward of 10 million, ten million dollars of the competitive dollars that are available from the federal government for addressing COVID. And we have done some work that has been done in partnership of relevance to the theme today with the city of Calgary. We’ve worked very closely with Tom Samson, the director of CMA, as well as the mayor’s office, and Katie, who’s the director of Community and Protective Services, in informing the city around various strategies relating to policies for social distancing closures, regulations. And we have pulled together an expert group that is included experts in epidemiologies, statistics, infectious diseases, population health, public policy and economics, and as well as some individuals who focus in particular on determinants of social vulnerability and how those play out. And Nneka’s comments were just so, so germane to that work that we’ve done and then have have have really looked at the tradeoffs that exist between between the desire to reduce transmission, economic harm. And limitation to freedoms and enjoyment of life. And there’s a real tension between those three, so every single thing does does lead to a trade off in those three dimensions. We’ve done some work on on how to guide decision making when considering those three axis of impact. I’ll I’ll close the Q&A. We’ll bring things out. But I didn’t want to just quickly list off six quick observations. And these are just spoken as sentences. And then I’ll invite some probing on each of these. One high level observation is that it’s much easier to to close things up for an incoming pandemic wave than it is to to lift restrictions and reentry. Reentry is is actually more complicated than urgent and quick closure. The second is it’s fascinating to think about the multi-level multiple levels of government and to look at that intergovernmental relations and the flow of information across levels. A third observation is that decision making in in a dynamic evidence space is difficult. Information has evolved. We were told, oh, there’s no evidence of human to human transmission in the early days of the pandemic. Clearly, there is human to human transmission. So that’s just one example of how and I don’t point the finger at anybody because science takes time to be conducted. So decision makers need to make decisions without without good evidence. And it’s been particularly jarring in its importance in this pandemic. The issues of social vulnerability and how social vulnerability puts a spotlight on how societal inequities. You always pay a price. Societies pay a price when there is when there when there is inequity and this pandemic has been the great exposure of that. My second last observation is we are in an information age. This is very different than 1918 with the flu and the flu pandemic. Partially because the virus was different, but also partially because we are so enabled in an information age to learn what’s happening around the world and to adapt our strategies. And then the last comment, and I think Jason touched on this, is there is lemoncello coming out of this. We’ve learned a lot about healthcare systems and the closures have made us realize that and the way things were managed during closures of many services, that the new health system coming out of this will be different than the one that we went into the pandemic with. And similarly, I think some municipal policies might might evolve. And the mayor has spoken of wouldn’t it be great if we used this opportunity to more stable house our homeless, homeless residents of Calgary. Wouldn’t it be great if we improved this network of social supports because of what we’ve learned and because of agencies like the ones that Nneka works with and and that Erin’s team work with. We can have a better social and social support framework coming out of this. I’ll leave it at that.


Robert Plitt [00:38:07] Well, what if that was a great that was a great segway that you really handed it off well. So thank you. Thank you for that, Bill. I’m just kind of doing a time check and I want to kind of move us on and we’re going to build off of that. And Mary had a Citytalk with Mayor Nenshi last week where I know one of the key things he was reflecting on was what you know, what is fundamentally going to change as a result of as a result of this experience. And he he was reflecting on the social contract and the work needed to provide everyone with the kind of life of full potential and and and dignity. And he spoke really quite empathetically and beautifully to that. So I think maybe our next kind of question is and was around to what? What fundamentally needs to change? To enable us to move forward so that these vulnerabilities, these existing systemic failures can we can come out of this and address them. So I’m going to do a little bit more quickly. I think just open up a conversation around that. Jason, I’m just going to kind of kick it off to you a little bit around, you know, the social contract and relationship to new economy. But then jump in, everyone just jump in. We’ll take about ten minutes, ten, fifteen minutes on this and then we’ll kind of move. So this is the next hundred days. OK. And then we’ll move. We’ll move into closing around some of that, some of the longer term thinking.


Jason Ribeiro [00:39:50] Thanks, Robert. You know, if she’s comfortable, you know, I’m more interested in what Nneka has to say at this moment, right? You know, the focus on equity seeking communities and at the moment, we’re at socially, if you’re comfortable, I would like to just hear what you have to say.


Nneka Otogbolu [00:40:09] OK, great. So what we as an organization ECF is going to be doing is to still support immediate needs of the charities that are impacted by COVID-19. But we also want to continue to work to expand our role as a community convener. So what we plan to do is to take on lessons learned so far from our operations and also from the organizations we collaborate with and use it to establish ECF as a key resource for our community to address future needs, whether it be a second wave of COVID-19 or any national natural disaster that might occur. We are also working to establish awareness based on the rule of ECF, amongst equity scale organizations. Part of what we learned so far was that some people or some organizations where they didn’t know who to reach out to or what to request for. For us here at ECF, we don’t only give monetary assistance. We also give other forms of assistance. Would it be training? Could it be strategic plans to guide organizations on how to navigate the current situation that we’ve all found ourselves in? And then we want to use our platform, which is very, very important to amplify the voices of equity seeking organizations. We want them to be able to tell their stories through the lenses of the clients they serve or the people they serve. Why this is important is because we want our wider community to learn from the stories. And when they do that, it builds a community where everyone understands what everyone is going through. And we all get to know that we are in this together.


Robert Plitt [00:42:03] Thanks. Thanks for that. I think that’s very aptly stated about what what the future will will look like and where our priorities need to lie. You know, Robert, to your earlier question, one of the other hats I wear is, is as curator of Global Shapers Calgary, which is an initiative of the World Economic Forum, and with the challenges and strengths that that organization presents. One of the one of the interesting opportunities they’ve brought to the forefront is this idea of the great reset and that the great reset will lead to a rewriting of the social contract, which means that for an organization like theirs, which is bringing together government and policy leaders. The world’s, you know, sort of most influential business minds, that if we want to come out of this stronger with greater empathy, with greater equity, people need to be at the forefront of every discussion that we’re having. Be it on the climate, be it on basic and essential needs, be it on technology and the new economy. If you are not placing people at the forefront of any of those conversations, their well-being. Their their, their fulfillment. Both, I think, from a financial perspective, but also a mental perspective and purpose driven perspective, then this might all be for naught. And that’s why I think the work that the Nneka and particularly those colleagues as well as Bill do is incredibly important, because now this is presented this sort of bittersweet but beautiful opportunity for us to recognize the beauty behind the grocer duty, behind the the frontline worker, but also the injustice of the migrant worker and the injustice of those not being adequately compensated. And so for for an economic development agency, I think for us it is it is put that into the forefront. One of the things that I was most proud to do with my team going forward in January of this year was under the banner of Calgary in the new economy. Reinforce that a new economy has to be an inclusive one. And so one of the first events that we did under the banner of Calgary and the New Economy was focused on research we had done on the impact of newcomers to our economy. And this is at a time when pre-COVID, even people were talking about Canada’s economy and why Canada’s economy had not followed other advanced economies into the global recession and global slowdown. We had seen one of the major reasons why was immigration, pure and simple. And so we need to have a very, very thoughtful conversation, I think, about our communities, what they look like, who who’s advantage and who’s disadvantaged, and what we can do as an overall city, but also even in economic terms in particular, because it’s often left behind how we can make sure that no one is left behind and that we can take care of those who need our help the most. COVID has expressed, I think that weakness overall, but it should be our strength if we have a renewed purpose in the next hundred days and beyond.


Erin Chrusch [00:45:08] If I could just jump in there on that, Jason, because one of the – if intentional overreaction characterized the city’s reaction, I think what how I’d characterize the response is built back better. I know I’ve heard that the mayor says that quite often. And even just with what you’re saying, you know, COVID expose those…. Division probably isn’t too harsh of a word here. When you look at the outbreak that like probably the biggest, we had a huge outbreak at the meat packing plant in High River here, one at one point, I think it was one of the largest in North America. Like for epicenters there is close to – What was it? Nine hundred and fifty cases from that outbreak alone. And it did disproportionately impact immigrant communities, temporary foreign workers. It brings all of those. All of those questions into play, I mean, something that we haven’t even touched on at all is that right now you have a number of those same that same community is dealing with the with a major natural disaster that happened on Sunday that we believe could.. This massive, massive hailstorm that occurred here on Saturday night hit a part of the city where these people are.. You know, it’s it’s just nobody’s talking about that, even though, according to our numbers, it’s probably impacted as much and we’ll have as much as a financial impact as the 2013 floods did. But is it getting any kind of coverage at all? Barely, barely and so I’m trying to figure out how to address the needs of those communities that are particularly vulnerable, both with dealing the pandemic and as we tried to build back better is going to be something we really need to focus on.


William Ghali [00:47:12] And then I’ll just jump in with just a brief addition just to the question that you framed, Robert, and that’s to say that there’s no question that I mentioned that reentry is more way more complicated than than the abrupt closure of everything. And that’s because because there is a desire to do what Erin describes, which is to to transition initially to a better to a better future state. And I think that there is going to be appropriately thoughtfulness. But I think even when we get into the longer term postmortem, there will be a need to really look at a number of fundamental choices that we make societally. And these relate, for example, to to how much we spend and how we structure care for the elderly. The long term care sector has been has really been in the spotlight. And there is going to be a need for inquiry’s evaluations. The inquiry should not be the finger pointing, but find the person or the persons who are responsible. Even if individual corporations in the long term care industry have had disproportionate numbers of cases. I do not think this should be about about dragging a particular long term care vendor out on the sidewalk. That’s not what’s needed. What’s needed is societal questions about how much we want to spend societally, what we want to do to help our most vulnerable populations. The temporary foreign workers program. And there are social justice issues there that require a real, real consideration, considerations around health coverage for people who have insecure health coverage. And when you think of the double whammy of losing employer linked health care insurance just as health insurance is most needed. There’s an irony in that. And I think it just exposes some some societal choices that we’re going to need to make. So so I’m optimistic, actually. And that’s the lemoncello. I think a spotlight on these issues is a very positive thing.


Robert Plitt [00:49:39] Thank you, Bill. Thanks, everyone. Just again, aware of the time that an ability kind of handed me just another beautiful kind of segway into our next kind of reflection. The report that CUI put out this morning kind of spoke to the fact that pandemics historically have left a legacy of innovation and a lasting mark on the people and places that have experienced its devastation. And so kind of looking forward – where do we see some of these potential lasting legacies of innovation. So this is beyond reentry. Yes. And again, thinking about the redesign of our of our systems and how how might this pandemic launch us in some ways to and I will reread what.  Well I’ll try to find it – the first statement, which was how this is going to kind of fundamentally change how we plan and design our cities and how we organize and the delivery and financing of essential public services going forward. Throw that out to anyone now.


William Ghali [00:51:02] Just great artists, they make a very short opening statement and say what a wonderful time for the Canadian Urban Institute and Evergreen as well, Robert. Just to to really put a spotlight on on healthy cities, smart cities, cities that mitigate social vulnerability. And how can how can municipal policies be structured in a way that that mitigates social vulnerability? I’ll just say that that for me, being at the University of Calgary and having the tremendous privilege of interacting with with our mayor, our general manager here in Calgary of Community and protective services and and just reflecting on on what the city is is trying to achieve for a and for its citizens. I think we have we have leadership in the city that is really striving for just healthy, smart cities, cities that that mitigate. More than Medicaid’s social vulnerability. Really address that. And I’m filled with with optimism because of that, because of the mindset that’s there and there has been some writing on the importance of leadership. Many of you may have seen The New York Times story on Bonnie Henry and and how leadership through this time has been so important. This has really been a time that reveals the importance of committed, committed leadership, human centric leadership. And in this pandemic, really exposes that and gives me hope.


Robert Plitt [00:52:52] Anybody else want to weigh in on that?


Erin Chrusch [00:52:57] You know, just in terms of the, you know, the kind of innovation and going with what Bill was talking about. One of my colleagues. Katie Peyton has been leading an initiative called Nine Block that is bringing together a number of community groups to address social vulnerabilities, particularly in the nine blocks surrounding City Hall. But it’s bringing together it’s not just the mental health component. It’s the planning. Like, how do we create spaces to address some of the issues that we’re seeing here? I mean, that was started well before the pandemic hit. But now, you know, it’s seen through that lens. It becomes even more important. Going back to what I was saying before about how the the you know, whether it’s this innovation or just the places like where the importance of public places, how do we get back to being able to utilize them in a way once they’ve been closed off. So, you know, and that’s being done in conjunction. One of the partners with that is the the School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape – the University of Calgary. That’s right across the street from us now in the Old Calgary library. They’ve been really key to helping get some of this off the ground. So, you know, we’re keep. I’m just looking at the chat now here and seeing what the Bill is talking about, the CFC’s involvement with that source. We are seeing that kind of innovation that’s addressed, bringing together a number of different partners to to meet these needs.


Nneka Otogbolu [00:54:48] I like at it in terms of innovation as well. What we’ve observed is deeper collaboration, like collaboration among organizations that are targeted towards quantifiable and measurable impact and results. So like on on May 19. Right. Yeah. Last month, the government of Canada collaborated with the Community Foundations of Canada. The United Way and Red Cross. The initiative was called the Emergency Committee Response Fund. And their idea was to be able to reach out to the grassroots communities all over Canada through these organizations, because the idea was that the organizations was closer to the grassroots. And they knew what the communities needed at that time. So such initiatives and collaboration is part of the innovations that have come out from this experience for us.


Jason Ribeiro [00:55:54] And I’ll just mentioned in closing. You know, when it comes to innovation, echoing what the other three panelists have said. But, you know, one of the things that I, you know, think about often is the fact that prior to COVID, you know, work that we had done with the International Data Corporation of Canada showed that Alberta was was going to expect and forecasted within the next two to three years a digital spend of 18.4 Billion dollars that was going to descend on our province. And that was not just going to touch to the very high tech sectors. That was going to touch every fundamental aspect of our economy. And so when we think about innovation and building back better think about, you know, the very real challenge of what that means for a mom and pop retailer with this dramatic increase in e-commerce. Think about what that means for communicating in different ways for folks that don’t have the privilege of broadband Internet access as Nneka mentioned earlier. So I think for us, the innovation going forward is to and I don’t those those forecasts may be revised as a result of COVID, but I think these are things that are fundamentally here to stay. And so when we think about innovation going forward and the essential building block blocks required, I think one of the interesting things that we can do and leverage is the advantages of technology. See seeking to level the playing field for those that don’t have access and really embrace the full affordance as opportunities, but very real challenges that that prospect presents.


Robert Plitt [00:57:24] OK, well, thanks to you all, we are. We are sort of out time now. I was going to sort of say one concrete action, but it sounds like there are many concrete actions that we will all be taking. I was also going to suggest that we consider one moonshot and maybe I’ll just pass it over to you, Erin. What it what might be some of the moon shots that the city is thinking about right now in terms of how institutionally we can leverage our capacities to eliminate some of these underlying inequities and systemic failures?


Erin Chrusch [00:58:10] We have two major initiatives. I’d say the action on mental health and addiction and and what could come out of that is very exciting for our for our city. Again, bringing together community partners in terms of like a one would be going back to what I believe the mayor said last week as well, that if if people if we could give people a home. And really being able to address affordable housing through this. I think there are. That’s one area where there are definitely a lot of opportunities that we’re looking at pursuing. And it doesn’t necessarily seem as out of reach as it as it might have before.


Robert Plitt [00:58:56] Well, that’s a fantastic place to close to say thank you to Nneka, to Jason, to Bill and to Erin. To CUI for the tremendous work that they’ve done over the last two months to pull together three platforms to create this signpost and to bring tens and tens of thousands of us together to explore these really, really important issues. I guess I will leave with that one thought, which is. Reflecting back on other kind of destabilizing events like the 2008 financial crisis, where that system and the underlying inequities that that system built was extremely resilient, we thought that maybe something would be significantly changed then. So I think we have to be mindful that our systems and our institutions that reinforce the inequities in our systems and the challenges in our cities. They’re not going to bend easily. And it’s kind of incumbent upon us who work within these institutions to do everything we can to to move them along their own journeys of liberation. I guess from those from those shackles to to make our cities better for for everyone. So with that folks who are tuning in, please move on over to BC, it’s going to be a great panel there. I believe you go to COVID100 or COVID.100. And if I’m wrong about that, I just go to the CUI Web site and it will direct you there once again. Thank you so much. You know, full of hope and and onward.

Robert Plitt [01:00:50] Thank you. You. Have a great day. Thank you.


Full Audience
Chatroom Transcript

Note to reader: Chat comments have been edited for ease of readability. The text has not been edited for spelling or grammar. For questions or concerns, please contact with “Chat Comments” in the subject lin

From Canadian Urban Institute: You can find transcripts and recordings of today’s and all our webinars at

00:16:27 Canadian Urban Institute: Folks, please change your chat settings to “all panelists and attendees” so everyone can see your comments.
00:16:40 Canadian Urban Institute: You can find transcripts and recordings of today’s and all our webinars at
00:16:56 Emily Wall, CUI Staff: Please visit to read the full report COVID Signpost 100 and to see details on the rest of today’s panels.
00:17:01 Emily Wall, CUI Staff: #covid100
00:17:01 Canadian Urban Institute: Keep the conversation going #covid100 @canurb
00:18:41 Emily Wall, CUI Staff: Today’s panel:

Robert Plitt –
Erin Chrusch –
Nneka Otogbolu –
Jason Ribeiro –
William Ghali –
00:41:47 J. Scott: No one so far has mentioned the collapse of the climate which will impact us even more than COVID unless we take draconian measures to reduce carbon emissions. How many initiatives are going on in Alberta to produce clean, alternative energy replacements for oil and gas?
00:47:51 Jason Ribeiro: Thanks for the question J. It definitely is top of mind. Important to note that Calgary’s cleantech sector is a Top 15 Global Ecosystem and Calgary is home to four of the country’s Top 10 most promising cleantech companies. We are also home to the Clean Resource Innovation Network, which is $100M targeted at delivering tech solutions that reduce emissions.
00:48:45 Jason Ribeiro: COVID will only accelerate that work for the resiliency of our economy and stewardship of our environment.
00:50:19 Emily Wall, CUI Staff: We’ve compiled 100 Actions pulled from our CityTalk series – check them out on
00:56:55 J. Scott: Thanks, Jason. This information is very reassuring and I’m pleased you mention these initiatives.
00:58:19 Canadian Urban Institute: You can find transcripts and recordings of today’s and all our webinars at
01:00:13 Emily Wall, CUI Staff: Please help CUI improve its CityTalk programming with a short survey –
01:00:47 J. Scott: The Migrant Workers Alliance for Change is calling for three simple demands from Ontario to contain and mitigate the crisis but it could be expanded to cover the country:- Suspend work at COVID-19 farms. – Ensure income for all. – Ensure proper health & safety.
01:03:30 Canadian Urban Institute: Keep the conversation going #covid100 @canurb
01:04:34 J. Scott: These programs must remain public and not be privatized. Huge losses of life in private long term care homes in Ontario!
01:08:45 William Ghali:
01:09:08 William Ghali: 9 block — a very exciting initiative, and one that our Urban Alliance collaboration is catalyzing
01:09:17 J. Scott: One unmentioned but easy way for the Federal Government to release funds to Build Back Better in the recovery (water clean up on reserves, health and housing, unusual weather incident remediation just for a start!) and to reduce the huge hidden emissions of the military, would be the immediate scrapping of contributions to NATO that total $32.7 billion — and counting — as described in the 2017 defence policy p. 43: (this will go up with supplementary estimates every year. It states that a gob smacking $553B will be spent on the military over the next 20 years but this will actually be much higher with supplementary estimates.) This expenditure seems particularly egregious given the long-standing and enormous level of long unfunded needs still to be met within Canada itself.
01:09:33 David Crenna: Great focus on the major issues, panel members! We need to start to rank the multiplr responses according to effectiveness in order to provide a shared basis for shared learning!
01:09:33 William Ghali: as a VPR, my job is to shamelessly plug these things!!
01:11:05 Canadian Urban Institute: CUI extends a big thank you to our host Robert Plitt and our entire panel for an excellent discussion today. Thank you to our attendees too for your attention and participation.
01:12:37 J. Scott: Such a great conversation and blueprint for positive initiatives that are made in Alberta to address COVID and a recovery from it. Kudos to all of you!
01:13:36 J. Scott: THANKS ERIN!!!
01:13:47 Iris Chu: Thanks all!
01:14:32 David Crenna: Great panel!
01:15:08 J. Scott: Be nimble and be quick!
01:15:28 Emily Wall, CUI Staff: