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Jock Finlayson

Could Canada Experience a “Technical” Recession in 2015?

Last week’s economic growth report from Statistics Canada casts a cloud over the country’s economic outlook for 2015. Real GDP fell by 0.6% (annualized) in the first quarter, considerably worse than even forecasters of a pessimistic bent were expecting.

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How Big is the Underground Economy?

Statistics Canada recently published new estimates of the size and composition of the “underground” economy. According to the agency, “underground” or “hidden economic” activity amounted to some $42 billion in 2012, equal to 2.3% of Canada’s gross domestic product (GDP). There is some variation among the provinces. In Prince Edward Island, the underground economy is pegged at 3.3% of GDP, while in Alberta it is less than 2%. The figure for British Columbia is 2.7% of GDP, which is somewhat higher than the national average.

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Businesses and Public Policy in Canada…Apparently Smaller is Better

The latest federal budget confirms and reinforces a prevailing belief among Canadian policy-makers that it is better for enterprises to stay small instead of expanding their top lines, bottom lines and employee head count.  Budget 2015 signals that the Conservative government plans to lower the federal small business income tax rate from 11% to 9% by 2019.  The rate reductions will come in four half-point steps, starting in January 2016.  There is to be no change in the general federal corporate tax rate that applies to income above the small business threshold ($500,000) – that rate remains at 15%.

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A Possible Strategy to Improve Post-Secondary Education and Training

The transition from school to work often poses significant challenges both for young people and the employers who hire them. Over time, the economy is generating fewer jobs and career options for young adults who lack any education or credentials beyond a high school diploma. For their part, many university and college graduates are finding the job market tough sledding, and a large proportion of graduates leave school with no clear idea as to what jobs or careers are available. Policy-makers and business leaders are voicing concerns over a perceived labour market mis-match between the supply of and the demand for skills. To the extent that such a mis-match exists and is sizable, it represents a loss of economic opportunity and implies that Canada is failing to fully mobilize its human resource potential.

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A Post-Secondary Education Remains the Key Pathway to Higher Incomes

A recent analysis from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) sheds useful light on the relationship between “tertiary” educational qualifications and employment opportunities and incomes.

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Small Jump in BC’s Minimum Wage Makes Sense

The province has decided to hike the statutory minimum wage to $10.45/hour, effective September 1, 2015. This amounts to an increase of 20 cents/hour from today’s level. Going forward, the government proposes to adjust the minimum wage based on inflation, as measured by changes in the all-items Consumer Price Index – an approach which the Business Council of BC has previously recommended. Assuming that inflation averages around 2% per annum, BC’s minimum wage can be expected to climb by a little over 20 cents per year. Within five years, the minimum wage would be roughly $12/hour.

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An Update on Incomes

Statistics Canada recently published a fresh batch of data taken from the Canadian Income Survey. The picture that emerges is similar to what we have reported before. British Columbia remains a middling income performer within the national context.

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Interest Rates in Canada - Lower for Longer

This week’s decision by the Bank of Canada to trim its overnight lending rate by 25 basis points (from 1% to 0.75%) caught the markets by surprise and also embarrassed the country’s economic forecasting community.

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Charting BC’s Economic Prospects in 2015: Ten Developments to Watch

The Business Council outlines the top ten developments that will affect British Columbia's economy in 2015.

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Income Inequality: Canada and the U.S. Marching to Different Drummers

Canada has long been known as a country that promotes the values of equity and fairness within our society. That helps to explain why the issue of economic inequality resonates with the media and among many of our political leaders. With a federal election expected sometime in 2015, inequality is sure to get more attention in the months ahead.

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A Note on Infrastructure Investment and Government Debt

The Business Council recently published a white paper on infrastructure policy and financing in British Columbia. One of the points made in the paper is that investing in certain categories of infrastructure assets – particularly transportation, communications and energy infrastructure -- can help to strengthen the foundations for prosperity by boosting productivity, expanding the economy’s ‘supply side’ capacity, and improving the competitive position of local industries engaged in global commerce.

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Port Metro Vancouver an Economic Bright Spot for BC

The transportation and logistics industry centred in Greater Vancouver comprises a big part the region’s economic and employment base and also makes significant contributions to the larger BC economy. So it is encouraging to learn that business has been rebounding at Port Metro Vancouver – the most important piece of the Greater Vancouver Gateway cluster.

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Review finds higher pay levels and outsized wage increases in BC's municipal sector

Concerned about rising taxes at the local level?  Employee compensation in your municipality is probably a factor. 

A couple of years ago the Business Council published a report documenting steady and significant increases in local government operating costs in Metro Vancouver’s 20-odd municipalities.  Although the picture varied across communities in the region, collectively municipal expenditures in Metro Vancouver soared by 80% over a ten year period.  Ongoing inflation and population growth mean that municipalities must spend more to meet the service requirements of local residents and businesses.  But we found that even after adjusting for population and inflation, municipal operating costs in the Metro Vancouver area jumped by 32% between 2000 and 2010.  This is three times higher than the comparable rate of growth in provincial government operating expenditures over the same period -- despite the fact that the province pays the lion’s share of costs for health care and education.

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An Aging Population…Let the Games Begin

An update on Canada’s demographic future from Statistics Canada confirms what is readily discernable through casual population: the population is growing modestly but is becoming greyer at an accelerating pace.

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Mixed BC Inflation Readings Signal Stable Overall Picture

BC has recently seen some volatility in the monthly inflation numbers. The July all-items Consumer Price Index (CPI) was up 1.4% from one year ago, which was well below the 1.9% year-over-year increase recorded in June. So far in 2014 inflation has been trending higher after a period of very little change over the second half of 2013.

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Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions - The Costs Vary By Industry

Policy-makers in a growing number of jurisdictions are committed to taking steps to reverse – or at least slow the growth of – greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that are believed to contribute to global warming.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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