BC Business Matters:
Is the U.S. Economy Poised for Multi-Year Boost from the Housing Sector?
Is it possible that America’s economy might surprise us with a sustained growth surge? The question came to mind as I recently slogged through a series of blog entries and reports on the web site of the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies. The Center’s researchers keep close tabs on U.S. housing markets and have a particular interest in the factors believed to influence the demand for housing.
Too Little Investment Puts Prosperity at Risk
Canadian economists and policymakers have long worried about the country’s sluggish productivity growth and a seemingly ever-widening gap with the United States on this important measure of economic performance. At the heart of Canada’s poor productivity record are relatively low levels of investment, particularly in certain categories of assets that are strongly associated with productivity improvements in modern economies – machinery, equipment, software, and business research and development. A decline in investment in physical infrastructure as a share of gross domestic product over the past several decades is another aspect of Canada’s broader capital spending shortfall.
Climate Progress in BC
If you read the recently released 2014 Progress Report on Climate Action in BC and some of the related commentary, one would think BC is doing really well on meeting its climate objectives. It’s not surprising to see the government pat itself on the back, but the self-congratulation is overdone in the context of the 2020 33% legislated reduction target that was put in place in 2007. We have only run 2.4 km of a 40 km marathon race. It was clear in 2007 that the government of the day was too ambitious in adopting the 33% goal, and the latest data confirm this.
The Tsilhqot’in Decision – 10 Suggestions for What's Next
There can be little debate that the Tsilhqot’in decision is a landmark case in aboriginal law - creating greater clarity around the nature of aboriginal title under Canada’s Constitution; largely confirming past jurisprudence, and thereby providing important clarity with respect to the Crown’s (limited) ability to ‘justifiably infringe’ on aboriginal title rights; and resolving in the affirmative the application of provincial laws on the land base relative to aboriginal rights and title interests, subject to certain conditions.
The Tsilhqot'in (William) Decision - a Diversity of Views on Implications
For the past three decades determining the extent and nature of aboriginal rights and title in Canada has been an increasingly important component of natural resource development. British Columbia, with its abundance of natural resources, diversity of First Nations and limited treaties, has been at the forefront of not only important legal decisions (Calder, Sparrow, Gladstone, van der Peet, Delgamuukw, Haida and now Tsilhqot’in) but also a rapidly growing number of collaborative economic initiatives between First Nations, government and industry that are designed to ‘reconcile’ economic activity with aboriginal rights and title interests.
The Changing World of Post-Secondary Education
Outgoing UBC President Stephen Toope was interviewed for a story appearing in the Globe and Mail on June 27. In the interview, Dr. Toope touched on a number of challenges facing Canadian universities, including rising student expectations, governments’ interest in ensuring that post-secondary graduates are “job-ready,” and heightened international competition for top-ranked faculty and graduate students.
Interprovincial migration is again adding to BC's population
In the first quarter of 2014, BC saw 1,300 more people move into the province from other parts of Canada than leave to settle in other provinces. This marks the first time in nearly three years that BC has experienced positive net in-migration from other provinces. The shift from a net loss to a net gain is a positive sign because changes in interprovincial migration are driven largely by working-aged people. A net inflow means there will be more workers available in the BC labour market and also suggests job opportunities are becoming more plentiful – relative to other provinces and in particular Alberta – than was the case over the past couple of years.
Metro Vancouver’s Transportation Choices: How the Mayors got it right and wrong at the same time
Last week the Mayors’ Council, representing 23 local governments in Metro Vancouver, released their long term vision for the region’s transportation system. On many aspects of transportation planning the Mayors’ proposed blueprint moved the region closer to a comprehensive vision that could, conceivably, pass the muster of a regional referendum. To their collective credit, the Mayors for the most part resisted the temptation to play politics with the priorities - the investment side of the plan displays a degree of reasonableness that has often been lacking in transportation debates in the region.
What will $48 Trillion get you?
The strong correlation between energy use, economic growth (GDP) and improving standards of living is well documented. All societies that have significantly improved quality of life have relied heavily on energy and energy systems to do so.
Is New US Coal Law All About Smoke and Mirrors?
On June 2, 2014, the US EPA issued a proposed rule for reducing carbon dioxide emissions (incorrectly referred to as carbon by some which is a different element ). The goals for reductions are 25 per cent below 2005 levels by 2020 and 30 per cent by 2030. The rule is solely focused on coal-fired generation plants.
Productivity and Wages
An important long-term challenge facing British Columbia is to improve upon the province’s rather lackluster productivity record. In recent years, BC has trailed the national benchmark on overall business sector productivity by around 10%. In 2012, BC ranked sixth in the country in business sector productivity. Moreover, the province has had very limited success in boosting economy-wide productivity since the 1980s.
Overqualified Workers and the BC Government’s “Skills for Jobs Blueprint”
Late last month the provincial government provided some details on its planned re-engineering of the public post-secondary education (PSE) and training system, which will see additional funding directed to expand capacity to educate/train young people in high-demand occupations – and, presumably, result in fewer dollars being available to fund programs in other parts of the PSE system. One of the key factors behind the revamp is a belief among policy-makers that the “supply” of and “demand” for skills are out of alignment in the current labour market.
On the Size Rankings of National Economies – and Where Canada Stands
The World Bank has just released updated estimates of the size of all national economies for which reliable data could be collected. A much remarked finding of the Bank’s new report is that based on one set of projections, China will soon overtake the United States as the world’s biggest economy.
The shifting meaning of 'market access'
Canada is an open and trade dependent nation – a significant portion of our jobs, wealth and government revenue derives from trade and other forms of commerce with markets around the world. In the simplest sense, market access in this context means the ability to have Canadian goods and services ‘freely’ enter foreign markets – and to ensure we have cost-effective access to imports from elsewhere. By any measure, market access is therefore essential for our economic well-being.
Climate Assessment for the United States
The United States has been internally conflicted about climate change, until now, it seems. With the release of the Third National Climate Assessment, the Obama administration has drawn on a wide range of observations about weather, precipitation patterns, water quality and availability, health, infrastructure, agriculture and the oceans to arrive at firm conclusions about humanity’s responsibility for increasing levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. The arguments in the assessment report are bolstered by including descriptions of impacts and feedback loops that are specific to each region of the United States. There is nothing like examples to demonstrate concreteness. Overall, the conclusions echo those of the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) but with a uniquely American flavour. Despite its 800+ pages, it is written in a way that is accessible to general readers.
In 2013, BC's economy was stronger than estimated
According to figures recently released by Statistics Canada, BC’s economy grew by 2.0% in 2013. Considering that prior to the official data being released the consensus estimate was that economic growth would come in at 1.4% in 2013, the above-expectations 2% expansion looks pretty good. In a historical context and relative to other provinces, however, BC’s economic performance was more on the modest side. Over the past decade and a half, real GDP growth has averaged 2.4% so 2013’s gain was a little subpar. And in comparison to other provinces BC ranked fifth among the ten provinces.
BC's growing orientation towards Asia
The ascent of China and other Asian countries more generally is transforming the global economy and reshaping trade patterns. The extent of this shift is exemplified by the fact that last year China overtook the United States to become the world’s largest trading country. This historic reorientation of trading patterns is certainly being felt here in British Columbia. BC’s merchandise exports to China have soared over the past decade, rising from just over $1 billion to $6.6 billion last year. Other Asian countries are also buying more BC products. Collectively, Asia Pacific countries now account for as big a share of BC’s exports as the United States, despite the natural trading advantages that BC has with the US – geographic proximity, a common language, similar institutions and business practices, a comprehensive free trade agreement (NAFTA) and a long history of close commercial and people-to-people ties.
Women, Work and the Economy
In Canada and British Columbia, males and females are more or less equally represented in the total population (50% to 49%), and the picture is broadly similar in the labour force (52% men and 48% women). However, females occupy a disproportionate percentage of part-time jobs, at 65%. At the same time, females now receive 60% of all post-secondary degrees, diplomas and certificates awarded by universities, colleges and technical institutes. Even so, on average women earn only ~68% of what male workers do, while having a life expectancy of 83 years – four years more than males. What does this say about the lost opportunity for the Canadian and BC economies?
Exportable Services: An Important Source of Job Growth for BC
More than three-quarters of all employed people in British Columbia are engaged in producing “services” rather than “goods.” Services span a wide array of industry sectors, everything from retail and wholesale trade to professional services (engineering, law, accounting, architecture, etc.), scientific and technical services, transportation, financial services, accommodation and food services as well as services that are mainly delivered or at least largely funded by governments (public administration, education, and health and social services). Many of these service industries loom large in the labour market. Retail and wholesale trade, for example, together employ 350,000 British Columbians, another 200,000 or so toil in the broadly-defined education sector, 150,000 work in financial services, and 275,000 earn their livelihood by providing health-related services.
Business Growth, Job Creation and Innovation
Canada ranks as one of the best places in the world to start a new business, according to an annual survey done by the World Bank. But the country does less well when it comes to encouraging enterprises to grow – and in fostering private sector innovation.