'Major conventions' left Calgary when Alberta changed policy on COVID-19 testing, tracing, isolation: Nenshi

Calgary lost out on “major conventions” as a result of how the provincial government handled the COVID-19 pandemic, Mayor Naheed Nenshi said Monday.

“The day that (chief medical officer of health) Dr. (Deena) Hinshaw announced that there would be no more testing or tracing or isolation, we lost five major conventions from Calgary that day,” he told reporters.

Calgary’s outgoing mayor said he has been asking people in the events and convention industry about challenges hitting them in the second year of the pandemic.

“One of the things that I hear a lot is, ‘We’re having a lot of challenges because people outside of Alberta are worried about what this provincial government will do and if they’re committed to keeping visitors and investors and people moving here safe.’”

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In a statement to Global News, the Calgary Telus Convention Centre said it has seen “consumer confidence rise and fall throughout the summer and now due to the rising (COVID-19) cases.”

“Bringing national and international events to the city creates important economic impact that will support our city’s recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic,” the statement read. “It also supports the hospitality industry, one of the hardest hit sectors in the last year and a half.”

Stephen Klintberg Nagy, CEO and co-founder of Rockethouse Productions, said he’s heard anecdotes from peers in the events and arts sectors about people leaving the province or the industry because of challenges presented by an inconsistent approach to COVID-19 safety.

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“The constant upheaval and the lack of direction that we see from the provincial government is making our days difficult, all of the time,” Klintberg Nagy told Global News, adding the day that changes were announced for testing, tracing and isolation was a difficult one.

He said on Monday morning, a client cancelled an event that he and his team had planned for next week.

It had already gone through seven different iterations in the last three weeks as the COVID-19 situation in the province rapidly changed. A 500-person indoor event turned into a 100-person, invite-only, predominantly-outdoor event before being cancelled altogether.

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“The client wants to keep everybody safe,” Klintberg Nagy said. “They want everybody to be able to have a good time.

“With a lack of government direction or government support on how we should best be jumping through (public health measures) hoops, it downloads all of that responsibility onto the individual clients or the individual events professionals to try and come up with the best possible standards.”

Klintberg Nagy said some events had asked guests to volunteer their vaccination status, but noted a standardized vaccination verification system like those used in Quebec, B.C., and soon Ontario, would help provide confidence in the safety of an event.

“It takes the onus off of us as individual companies or as individual clients to be able to point to something and say, ‘Look, these are well-designed government regulations that we need to stick to for the health and safety of everybody involved,’” he said.

NDP MLA Deron Bilous said the Calgary cancellations aren’t the first he’s heard of in Alberta.

“Last week, the (Alberta Industrial Heartland Association) was supposed to hold their annual general meeting of hundreds of folks — some international,” he said Monday. “It was cancelled with three days notice.”

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Bilous said it was frustrating to hear about convention cancellations at a time when the tourism and convention industry is in need.

“I think a significant number of potential attendees looked at Alberta’s pathetic response to COVID-19 and have indicated to these conference organizers that they simply do not feel safe to attend,” the NDP MLA said. “The impact this is having on consumer confidence, which is directly impacting our businesses and having real impacts on our local economy — these are jobs that people need.”

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Bilous said private industry should not have to ask for proof of vaccination in the absence of a provincial system.

“This is an industry that’s been on its knees for over 18 months and something like a vaccine passport would give them the confidence to be able to to move forward,” the MLA for Edmonton – Beverly said.

Nenshi said Alberta’s pandemic response has tarnished the province’s reputation.

“The premier and his cabinet have to come to terms with this and understand they’re doing long-term damage to the brand of Alberta,” the mayor said.

In a statement to Global News, Justin Brattinga, press secretary for the minister of jobs, economy and innovation, noted that the province added 20,000 jobs in August and there have been recent announcements of tech companies establishing Canadian headquarters in Calgary and elsewhere in Alberta.

“The mayor needs to get his facts straight,” Brattinga wrote.

“Alberta’s COVID response continues to be informed by the best available evidence and the advice of our public health professionals, including chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw.”

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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