Canmore mayor says tourist town seeing mass temporary layoffs over ongoing COVID-19 crisis

Canmore Mayor John Borrowman is no stranger to emergencies. He helped lead the tourist town through the devastating floods of 2013. But he admits the current health crisis facing the world because of COVID-19 is unlike anything before.

“In many ways it feels like 2013 the flood, though in slow motion,” he said on Thursday. “We understood what the emergency was because it was obvious right away — it was flooding.

“But this is slowly growing and we have to relearn everything because it’s a different nature of emergency and there is so much uncertainty around the scope of it.”

COVID-19 is taking a direct hit on bookings. Major events like the cross-country skiing World Cup have been cancelled along with countless weddings and special events, the bread and butter for the hotel industry in the mountain town.

Borrowman said hoteliers in his town have temporarily laid off between 50 to 70 per cent of their staff.

“Some are staying in staff accommodations, others are going back to their home countries,” Borrowman said, adding employers are doing everything they can to help staff, even pitching in for plane tickets in one case.

While many businesses have cut staff and are changing the way they do things, Borrowman said most restaurants, bars and shops remain open at this time.

“We are looking at ways we can help residents that are struggling,” he said. “Opportunities to defer taxes and maybe utility payments, maybe there are ways to help the food bank.”

Borrowman said the business sector is determined to come together and get through this and try to keep as many employees around as long as they can.

He said their past experience is helping everyone pull through.

“The beauty is that the municipality has a solid team and most of them were here in 2013, so we are experienced at managing these situations… that’s helping a lot,” Borrowman said.

Council voted against enacting a local state of emergency, but that could change at anytime.

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