‘That’s easy to answer,” said Svanhildur Konradsdottir, when asked what is the most important thing her city does as a business centre. “We promote our artists and we promote our culture. It’s what we are. It’s in everything we do.”
Ms. Konradsdottir is director of culture and tourism for the Icelandic capital of Reykjavik. When she uttered these words at a business breakfast at the Edmonton Chamber of Commerce earlier this month, she may not have been aware how strongly the same sentiment is growing in Alberta’s capital.
You’ve got to hand it to Western Canadian grain farmers – it’s never easy for them. Name another sector that needs to worry about flood, drought, heat, frost, rain, grasshoppers, rising input prices, mice, hail and crop disease. It’s always something.
In 2014, you can add to the list of frustrations an inability to get rail cars. For reasons that vary depending on whom you ask, Canadian National Railway and Canadian Pacific Railway have been slow in delivering grain hopper cars to elevators this winter. Due to the bumper crops that were harvested last fall, elevators across the Prairies are plugged to the gills with grain – they can’t take in any more. And if farmers can’t deliver their grain, they don’t get paid. And then they get mad.
Economically, Alberta is commonly compared to the other provinces with a host of superlatives – lowest unemployment, fastest population growth, strongest investment markets, etc. – and normally, these comparisons place Alberta at the head of the parade. But new research reveals one area where Alberta is, at best, in the middle of the pack. This may have serious implications for the province’s future economic prospects.
A recent report from Statistics Canada on business innovation suggests that companies in Alberta are well behind the national average on investments in advanced technology. The types of advanced technology identified in the survey include computerized design and engineering, automated material handling, information integration and control technologies, biotechnologies and green technologies, to name a few.
We all know the guy. You see him at the wedding reception or summer barbeques – maybe he’s your cousin’s husband or the guy from work a few cubicles down. He’s pleasant enough, but he just doesn’t know quite how to carry himself or hold a normal conversation. He says weird things and has bad breath. We have a term for him: he’s socially awkward.
Recent events have raised an unsettling question about Canada and our role in the global economy. Are we carrying ourselves properly? Do we say weird things? Are we “globally awkward”?
There’s something intuitively appealing about the notion of supporting local businesses. Some municipalities have procurement policies that require local governments to buy from local vendors, or at least give local businesses preferential treatment. It seems only logical to keep those dollars within the community.
Many cities even have advocacy groups that have gone to the trouble of printing their own physical complementary paper currencies as a way of encouraging local commerce. In Calgary, for example, a local grassroots club operates the Calgary Dollars program, which, according to its website, “keeps our money local, which supports local businesses and entrepreneurs, and gives them our money instead of large corporations.”
It’s a well-known truism about economic indicators that one month does not a trend make. That’s encouraging news for Canada’s job market. If the loss of 46,000 jobs in December were to mark a trend, the country would be in serious trouble.
Alberta – the economic powerhouse of the country – also shed nearly 12,000 jobs last month. But trends are built over several months, and December’s loss comes on the heels of five consecutive months of gains in Alberta.
Most of us were taught that price inflation is driven by a fundamental imbalance: too much money chasing too few goods.
In Canada, the data seem to support this theory. Real economic growth wallowed below 2 per cent for most of last year, and average weekly earnings rose a paltry 1.4 per cent in the year to October, 2013. Not surprisingly, consumer price inflation in Canada is benign. Over the past twelve months, the annual inflation rate has averaged a mere 1.3 per cent.
But Alberta appears to be defying economic gravity. Unlike the national economy, Alberta’s real GDP has been expanding at a pace above 3 per cent for the past few years.
When it comes to governments in this country, agreeing to disagree is about as Canadian as maple syrup and hockey.
The latest bickering revolves around an issue that is certain to gain attention in the years ahead: How can we adequately prepare ourselves for financial retirement?
Most of the quarrelling focuses on what to do (or not do) with the Canada Pension Plan. And while there’s more disagreement than consensus, a key piece of logic is missing from the discussion.
Economists love to poke their noses into subject matters they know nothing about. But in defence of economists, there’s usually an economic angle to the debate. So in the time-honoured spirit of intrusion, it’s necessary to weigh in on two news items this week that have enormous implications for the labour market – and the economy – of the future.
The first is the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development’s Program for International Student Assessment, which showed Canada’s 15-year-olds have slipped in the global rankings in math competency. Falling behind countries such as Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea, Switzerland, Estonia and Finland, Canadian scores have dropped 14 points in nine years. Math students in Shanghai performed at the highest level. (Although as Jeff Johnson, chair of the Council of Ministers of Education Canada, correctly pointed out, there is a social equity issue as well. Canada may fall behind Shanghai, but our students still have a better chance of success regardless of socioeconomic background.)
“I’m going for dinner,” my friend said when I asked about her trip to Montreal. She’s the owner of one of Calgary’s finest restaurants and it seemed like a long way to go for something to eat. “There’s a restaurant there that I love and I’ve got to go back,” she explained. She also had a good friend to visit and spent a few days there, but the trip was really motivated by that one particular restaurant.
Fine dining isn’t a new concept, of course; the Michelin Guide started awarding stars to restaurants back in 1926. And the wealthy have always prized a delicious meal in what used to be called “fancy” restaurants. Thirty years ago, many Canadians would dine out only when they travelled or for a special event such as a birthday or anniversary. By the 1990s, dining out had become a common way to socialize. It was recreational.