‘It’s the economy’: Alberta voters hungry for economic recovery

An employee of Red Deer, AB based GenTex works on the shop floor. The company once employed 50 people, 12 employees remain. Global News

Gen Tex Industries has been in business for over 20 years.  The Red Deer, Alberta based company manufactures heating and pumping equipment for the oil and gas industry.  At one point, the company employed 50 people, but right now it’s operating with a staff of 12.

“We had two rounds of layoffs,” said company president Garett Cupples. “There have been a lot of sobering moments looking at how to make payroll, and having to let people go and lay people off is pretty tough.”

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The experience of Gen Tex is hardly unique. Tens of thousands of jobs have disappeared in Alberta in recent years and the situation could get even worse. PetroLMI, the labour statistics information division of Energy Safety Canada, says about 12,500 jobs are at risk this year due to factors including low commodity prices, a decline in investment spending and uncertainty about getting oil and gas to market due to full export pipelines.

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“The attitudes are bad, too. Everybody’s a lot more negative than I’ve ever seen before.  It’s almost like a depression,” said Cupples.

READ MORE: PetroLMI report forecasts 12,500 direct oil and gas sector jobs losses this year.

The business is coffee over at Big City Roasters, not crude, but owner Teresa Reid has similar concerns.

The company operates a coffee shop in downtown Red Deer and supplies locally-roasted coffee to clients throughout central Alberta.  Reid says higher taxes, an increased minimum wage and the carbon tax are makings things difficult.

“You just hear a lot of business closing, they can’t afford to keep going. We have a few customers — one out in Rocky [Mountain House, Alta.] that had been in business for 40 years and he had to close.  That impacts us.”

For Reid, a divisive and sometimes nasty campaign has done nothing to change her vote.  Like many others in the province, there is only one issue on her mind.

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“It’s the economy,” said Mount Royal University politicial scientist Duane Bratt.

“Whether that’s jobs, pipelines, budget deficits, carbon tax… it’s all about the economy and nothing’s changed.”

READ MORE: NDP bridging the gap but not enough as Alberta election campaign draws to a close: Ipsos Poll 

Outside of Gen Tex Industries, Cussins isn’t shy about showing which party has his support.  An oversized sign supporting the riding’s UCP candidate greets everyone as they arrive.  The latest Global News/Ipsos poll indicates that many decided voters are on the same page, with 50 per cent of leaning and decided voters now saying they support the UCP compared to the NDP’s 40 per cent.

Cussins says that while he knows a change in government won’t guarantee a change in economic fortune, he’s hopeful just the same.

“If people feel that the government is working for them and they’re pro business and going to get things moving, people will change their attitudes.”

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