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Tom Syer

A tale of 2 countries – Canada and US (reversal of) fortunes in the post financial crisis period


For the majority of the post financial crisis time period, Canada has outperformed the United States on key economic metrics such as GDP growth, unemployment rates and median income growth.[1]

These results were (yes, past tense) impressive:  

  • In 5 of the past 6 years, Canadian enjoyed stronger growth in GDP than the United States;
  • Canada’s employment performance was better than the US, post financial crisis through 2013, reversing a long standing trend of American unemployment rates being lower than Canadian;
  • Over this same time period, Canadian incomes moved up faster than in the US.

However, our half decade of economic success relative to our American neighbours has come to an end.

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Stock Markets at Record Levels, Improving GDP and Low Inflation…
How long will it last?

We head into the Labour Day weekend after digesting a recent barrage of mostly positive economic data for the second quarter of 2014 in North America.  In the United States, after a tough first quarter, the economy posted an impressive performance in Q2 with 4.2% (annualized) real GDP growth, along with low inflation and solid metrics across several other key indicators. This pickup in GDP growth corresponds with accelerating job creation and modest income gains for American households.   

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Business incentives – trade barrier or necessary economic development tool?

“Canada is a guppy in shark infested waters.”  Sergio Marchionne, CEO Chrysler Group

With that remarkably candid assessment of Canada’s ability to compete with automotive industry incentives being offered by Mexico and various American states for a $3.6 billion manufacturing investment tentatively planned for the Chrysler’s Canadian operations, the company’s CEO ensured that his views hit the business pages of newspapers across Canada.  And his comment was made after the Ontario government had already committed to significant tax incentives for the automotive sector and the federal government had just unveiled a budget featuring a half billion dollar Automotive Incentive Fund.

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BP's Global Energy Outlook 2035 - Confirmation of Some Key Energy Trends

Given the critical importance of energy production and use  to our societies (economic , social and environmental), the forecasting of energy supply and demand is an essential tool in helping to shape the myriad public and private sector policies and investment decisions required to ensure energy availability and effective energy resource use.

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What Does BC’s Triple A Credit Rating Have To Do With Dim Sum?

In a world that is riddled with debt-laden governments, BC’s comparatively low debt-to-GDP ratio and coveted triple A credit rating are increasingly being viewed as strategic advantages that can help to promote the province from a fiscal and investment perspective.

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Why electricity rates have to rise - and why little can be done to reduce the impacts

For 50 years BC Hydro has been the jewel of BC's Crown corporations. A source of pride and a foundational source for much of the province's prosperity, BC Hydro provides an array of benefits to British Columbians – from comparatively low electricity rates to significant revenues for government. The tremendous benefits BC Hydro delivers underscore what can happen when big infrastructure planning is done right. However, such legacy assets operating in a dynamic, growing region such as BC eventually must be upgraded and augmented by new sources of electricity to keep pace with economic development and other changes. Failure to do so will result in the erosion of legacy asset benefits and, over time, an unacceptable degradation of the system along with a growing reliance on imported electricity.

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The Skills to Pay the Bills

BC’s post secondary education system is a source of both pride and frustration; thinking about the system can prompt a sense of either optimism or pessimism about the future. On the positive side, BC has a great mix of world class research universities and regionally diverse colleges and technical institutes among today’s 25 publicly-funded post-secondary institutions. The University of BC is consistently ranked in the top 30 in the world (of over 17,000 universities), and BC consistently compares favourably among Canadian institutions on key metrics that measure the quality and effectiveness of its universities. Overall, our post-secondary system has many attractive and in some cases even world-class attributes.

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Building Stronger Relations with Asia - a Strategic Imperative for Canada

For the past 10 years the Asia Pacific Foundation has conducted a comprehensive opinion survey of Canadians to elicit their views about Asia across a variety of topics, primarily economic. With the growing importance of Asia in the global economic context and deeper trade relations developing between Canada and Asia, BC and the West in particular, this opinion research provides important insights for policy makers navigating through complex public views on economic relations with Asia.
This year's research points to some disconcerting trends for those who, believe that Canada and BC need to build closer relations with Asia and the key countries in the region. If we are to benefit significantly from the 'Asian Century,' Canada must forge constructive and more extensive economic, cultural and political linkages with Asia

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Le Nord Pour Tous: Quebec Pushing the Boundaries of Mining Development

Those familiar with mining development in Canada are all too conversant with the tricky juggling act of resource extraction. The demand for social and environmental responsibility, government royalties, and maintaining global competitiveness can all pull in different directions. Government leaders across Canada often pride themselves in having fostered a mining sector that is one of “the most efficient, effective and competitive in the world,” backed by a “world-class environmental protection regime” (Natural Resources Canada, 2013). But despite this optimistic picture, mining development in Canada is often a hotly contested policy arena. Look no further than the Federal government’s push for the rapid development of Ontario’s ‘Ring of Fire’, or the recently rejected coal mine in Comox, to get a flavour for the tug of war between vested interests.

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The challenging reality of global carbon intensity trends

For policy junkies, politicians and citizens interested in global energy trends and climate change issues, there is one resource that should be on everyone’s required reading list – the reports from the International Energy Agency.

In a policy arena that sees the solution side of climate discussions frequently lost in either inaccessible scientific analyses or passionate values debates that substitute beliefs for fact-based dialogue, the IEA provides a welcome array of carefully calibrated data and analysis of energy production and consumption trends. Using relatively easy-to-understand facts on global energy supply and demand, the IEA grounds its climate change analysis through the lens of real carbon output measures, which are then assessed against carbon output trajectories and the policy pathways required for a transition to lower carbon energy systems.

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Global Economic Growth Patterns, the New Middle Class and Some Implications for BC

Many of the world’s advanced economies remain mired in low economic growth trajectories. And as the latest IMF report on global GDP shows, 2013 is shaping up to be a year of stalled recovery and sputtering/no growth in many developed economies.  However, the same report highlights the continued growth of developing economies and notes that this is the main factor that’s keeping the global economy as a whole from slouching further toward stagnation.    

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LNG in a Shifting Global Context

As British Columbians begin to get familiar with the possibility of having a new LNG industry driving our natural gas sector, we would be wise to have a clear understanding of just how tough the competition is within this rapidly developing global sector.

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Why Tax Competitiveness Matters

British Columbia is a small, open trading jurisdiction that relies heavily on natural resource exports to fuel the economy. While our economy continues to diversify (and that is a good thing) into more service oriented sectors, the core driver of the economy remains our exports, and natural-resource based products represent 70-75% of the province’s international merchandise export shipments. These exports, together with our strategic location and high quality of human capital, have combined to create a high standard of living.

In order to realize the theoretical benefits of these resources, there is also a need for sound public policies that enable development through effective planning, infrastructure development and tax/regulatory structures that attracts private sector investment. On this latter point, British Columbia’s historical track record is mixed, with significant improvements occurring in recent years that have helped to stimulate a lot of activity on the land base.

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Understanding the Limitations of Tax Increases – A Critique of CCPA’s Plea for Big Tax Increases on BC Businesses and Households

Recently, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA), a prominent union-backed Canadian think tank, released a study entitled “Progressive Tax Options for BC”. The basic premise of the study is that there is both a serious need and a significant desire among BC citizens for sizable tax increases to fund more services and re-distribute wealth to address inequality. In their words, BC has “plenty of room” to raise taxes. While this has been a common refrain from the CCPA for some time, this position is now backed with further research and the results of an on-line survey.

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