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As trusted economists and policy advisors to business and government leaders, the Council relies on sound, evidence-based analysis to inform its policy recommendations. Through diligent tracking of BC’s economic performance, we help identify the opportunities and challenges the province must navigate in order to reach its full potential.


Finlayson: US may be poised for economic housing boost (Troy Media)

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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Waiting for Better Days

Some of the optimism about the global economy evident in early 2014 has diminished in recent months, causing forecasters (including the Business Council) to revise down their growth projections. The change is not dramatic, but the tone has shifted in a more cautious direction.

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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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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. 

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Finlayson: BC must up its productivity game (Troy Media)

A fundamental long-term challenge facing British Columbia is to improve upon the province’s lackluster productivity record.   B.C. trails the national benchmark on overall business sector productivity by around 10%.  In 2012, BC ranked sixth among the ten provinces in the level of productivity.  Moreover, the province has had very limited success in boosting productivity since the 1980s.  This is a worrisome trend, since higher productivity will be essential to raising real incomes and living standards as the growth of the workforce slows due to the effects of an aging population.  In the end there are really only two ways to expand the “economic pie”: i) higher productivity, and/or ii) greater “labour input” – i.e., more people working.  The size of the workforce is limited by underlying demographic patterns, whereas in theory there is no limit to future productivity growth.

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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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Finlayson: The New Canadian Pecking Order (Troy Media)

Canada’s economic pecking order is changing, at a pace that raises questions about the country’s economic future as well as the sustainability of current federal-provincial fiscal arrangements.  The picture is summarized in the accompanying table.  It shows where the six most affluent provinces rank on three common economic metrics: output or real gross domestic product (GDP) per person; average weekly earnings for people holding payroll jobs; and labour productivity in the business sector.  Note that the data for the four bottom ranked provinces – Manitoba, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and PEI – are not reported in the table.   

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A Note on Business Tax Competitiveness in British Columbia

It’s slightly more than one year since BC scrapped the Harmonized Sales Tax (HST) and returned to the former Provincial Sales Tax (PST) as the main tax on “consumption” in British Columbia. Now is therefore an opportune time to step back and assess the broader business tax structure and its impact on BC’s attractiveness as a place to invest and do business. This issue of Policy Perspectives considers several features of the tax system that impinge on business investment, expansion, and job creation. We do not examine the taxes paid by households – the focus here is on taxes that apply to enterprises and business activity.

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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.

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D'Avignon: Livelihoods, lifestyle depend on stable supply of industrial land (Vancouver Sun)

Economic forecasters predict an additional million people will live in the Metro Vancouver region by 2040. That’s a population 40 per cent larger than today, and the people will all need housing, goods, retail and other services as well as government-funded services such as education and health care.

Population growth means we need to plan now to have the investment, resulting jobs and infrastructure to support these additional families and enable the region’s economy to grow and generate the revenues required to pay for publicly funded services.

One key challenge is to institute better planning and co-ordinated action to support the efficient movement of goods important to our daily lives, as well as to the foreign customers to whom B.C. and other western Canadian provinces export resources and other products through the Greater Vancouver Gateway.

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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.  


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Finlayson: Rebound in global trade augurs well for B.C.'s economy (Troy Media)

Economic growth has been tepid in B.C. in the past two years, with inflation-adjusted gross domestic product (GDP) eking out an average annual gain of barely 1.5 per cent.  But the picture should brighten over 2014-15, as consumer spending strengthens, some momentum returns to the job market, and the province’s export shipments continue to expand.   

The latter factor – stronger export growth – will be particularly important in creating a more positive economic environment.  According to the latest forecast from the World Trade Organization (WTO), the volume of global trade is on track to increase by 4.7 per cent this year, followed by a 5.3 per cent jump in 2015. This represents a significant turnaround from the sluggish 2.2 per cent annual pace recorded during 2012-13.  It’s also good news for the thousands of B.C. companies involved in selling various goods and services to foreign customers.

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Should We "Green" Gross Domestic Product?

What exactly is GDP, or gross domestic product? Where did it come from? Why is it important? Does it measure what we want it to? How might it be improved to provide a more comprehensive measure of human well-being?

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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. 

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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? 

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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.

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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.

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Finlayson: Higher minimum wages not the best answer to reducing poverty (Troy Media and The Province)

Proposals to boost the minimum wage have been drawing attention on both sides of the Canada-U.S. border.

In January, U.S. President Barack Obama called for lifting the U.S. federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour. Since 2011, several American states and cities have increased minimum wages in their jurisdictions.

In Canada, four provinces are raising their minimum wages in 2014 — Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland. Ontario is taking the biggest step, hiking the minimum wage to $11 an hour and indexing it to the Consumer Price Index going forward.

Are higher statutory minimum wages an effective way to improve the economic well-being of low- to moderate-income workers and families? Will some businesses respond to escalating minimum wages by shedding jobs? These questions have been extensively studied by academic economists in the past decade. Overall, the research yields mixed results.

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Finlayson: Return to PST has hurt BC's competitiveness (Vancouver Sun)

April 1 marks the one-year anniversary of the return of the Provincial Sales Tax following B.C. voters’ decision in 2012 to scrap the Harmonized Sales Tax. It is a good time to reflect on the province’s competitive position in a world where many jurisdictions are aggressively seeking to attract private sector investment and the jobs and economic activity that come with it.

There can be no doubt switching back to the PST altered the business landscape in a way that left the province at a competitive disadvantage. That’s why virtually all economists supported the HST. The situation varies by sector, and not all industries have been hurt by restoring the PST. But most have been.

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