Northern Economist 2.0

Friday, 26 May 2017

Economic News Around the North: May 26th Edition

It has been a slow start to spring across northern Ontario but temperatures are finally starting to warm up.  Environment Canada says warmer weather is on its way.  Here are a few of the stories of economic significance for northern Ontario that caught my attention over the last week or so.

Regarding the Ring of Fire, here is an op-ed by Heather Hall and Ken Coates that essentially makes the point that ultimately, the Ring of Fire will not proceed "without substantial, clear and significant indigenous engagement." In the end as any good economic historian knows, institutional arrangements are important.

How to finally ignite Ontario's Ring of Fire. Chronicle-Journal, May 23rd, 2017.

Given this op-ed, selling yourself as a Ring of fire smelter location may be premature. I am also surprised that in this age of heightened sensibilities and sensitivities one is actually using the term 'smelter' and not something like "Value Added Mineral Processing and Community Economic Enhancement Facility".

Northern Ontario cities try to 'sell' themselves as best place to put Ring of Fire smelter. CBC News Sudbury. May 15th, 2017.

Nevertheless, there is no stopping the sense of optimism when it comes to the Ring of Fire especially in the run up to a provincial election.

Premier repeats Ring of Fire Optimism in Timmins. Sudbury Star, May 26th, 2017.

Sadly, given the presence of the Premier in northern Ontario, there was no reaction in northern Ontario to this item (by yours truly) which Dominic Giroux on Twitter noted as a "blunt assessment".  I think this provides support for a case for a government program to provide northern Ontario media organizations with research support as they are probably stretched for resources in pursuing stories.  This is not that far-fetched given the unfortunate downsizing that has occurred over the years in local media that I am aware of.

When it comes to economic development, human capital is also important and of course education is a key component of any human capital strategy.  Providing government services in northern Ontario is already a challenge given the low population density and geographic dispersion.  Doing so in rural northern Ontario even more so.

'Very frustrating, kind of heartbreaking': Seeking support for northern Ontario rural school,"CBC News, Sudbury, May 25th, 2017.

In terms of regional/local infrastructure, this item was of interest.

"North Shore gas project still in the works," Northern Ontario Business, May 19th, 2017.

And of course, there are under the surface the constant rumblings of the Northern Ontario Party...that are probably destined to remain rumblings.

Northern Ontario Party calls for separation.  May 12th, 2017.

Related to the motif of northern resentment and unhappiness, there was this interesting segment on TVO's agenda hosted by Steve Paikin.  In the interview with former Ontario cabinet minister David Orazietti, the interesting point was made that despite the constant claims of alienation and under representation of northern Ontario interests at Queen's Park, on a per capita basis the north has more provincial cabinet ministers than Toronto.  Of course, the related news item is the by-election in the Sault for David Orazietti's vacated seat.

And there is one final item and this again related to institutions and what can often be their indirect impact on business and the economy.  In Thunder Bay we have the situation where the police chief has been placed on administrative suspension as a result of being charged with breach of trust and obstructing justice "stemming from allegations that he disclosed confidential information concerning Thunder Bay mayor Keith Hobbs."  I must admit this one is quite puzzling to me and comes on the heels of other rather odd stories involving the Mayor.  Without really knowing what is going on here, one must nevertheless express disappointment at a situation involving relationships between the senior figures of Thunder Bay's municipal government that does not reflect very well in the national media on a community constantly trying to sell itself as a good place to do business.  Coming at a time when Thunder Bay is also under scrutiny for its relations with indigenous people, one hopes that this matter is speedily resolved and Thunder Bay's leadership quickly moves on to dealing with better things.

Everyone, please try to have a nice weekend. 

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

The Decline of Saving


Most of us are aware that Canadian households have reached record levels of indebtedness over the last few years.  Household debt in Canada is now over $2 trillion and household debt to disposable income ratios in Canada are now at 170 percent.  Less discussed is what has happened to savings.  While low interest rates have been a factor in Canadians being able to carry substantially larger debt burdens, they have also been a factor in reducing the interest income from saving and as a result have led to a drop in the number of savers.

The Bank of Canada rate dropped from 6 percent in 2000 to 0.75 percent in 2015.  Over the same period, the total number of savers in Canada as reported by Statistics Canada from data compiled from Income Tax returns (Table 1110036 - Canadian savers, by savers characteristics, annually) dropped from 4,808,930 to 3,356,840 – a decline of 30 percent.  Over the same period, the median annual interest income of Canadians fell from $400 to $230, a drop of 43 percent.

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

The Northern Ontario Growth Plan: A Summary Evaluation


The Ontario government released the Growth Plan for Northern Ontario on March 4, 2011 in response to years of slow growth and economic stagnation in northern Ontario. In an effort to improve the economy of northern Ontario, the 25-year plan was to guide provincial decision-making and investment in northern Ontario with the aim of strengthening the regional economy. The goal was strengthening the economy of the North by:
  • Diversifying the region's traditional resource-based industries
  • Stimulating new investment and entrepreneurship
  • Nurturing new and emerging sectors with high growth potential.
After five years, it was worth examining key economic indicators to see what if any improvements have occurred with respect to the economy of northern Ontario.  After a series of posts examining employment, new investment spending, consumer and business bankruptcies and employment composition, what conclusions can be drawn?