Northern Economist 2.0

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Research Chair Infrastructure in Northern Ontario Universities: A Quick Inventory

The end of the year is a good time for taking stock and research infrastructure is something worth considering.  The economic future in northern Ontario will be in services and the knowledge economy will feature heavily in this sector.  Creation of new knowledge and its application in the servicing of population needs as well as servicing the traditional transportation and resource sectors will be the future.   Northern Ontario universities are on the front line when it comes to research and the knowledge economy and they have been successful in boosting their research activity.  One measure of research success is their ability to attract funding for and then recruit research chairs. 

The role of a research chair is to boost research activity in a specific field or specialty by providing a faculty member with concrete resources to conduct their research as well as provide teaching release that enables them to focus more on their research.  A research chair can often be financed by the public sector:  for example, Canada Research Chairs.  They can also be from private donors as the result of fund raising activity by universities or by universities investing their own budgetary resources.

In the case of federal Canada Research Chairs (CRC), there are two types: Tier 1 Chairs, tenable for seven years and renewable, are for outstanding researchers acknowledged by their peers as world leaders in their fields. For each Tier 1 Chair, the university receives $200,000 annually for seven years. Tier 2 chairs, tenable for five years and renewable once, are for exceptional emerging researchers, acknowledged by their peers as having the potential to lead in their field. For each Tier 2 chair, the institution receives $100,000 annually for five years.

A list of research chairs at northern Ontario universities was compiled from the Canada Research Chair web site as well as university research pages and is presented at the end of this post.  Research chairs in northern Ontario universities are primarily dominated by CRCs.  There are 24 CRCs currently listed as being held at northern Ontario universities: 1 at Algoma, 10 at Lakehead, 9 at Laurentian and 4 at Nipissing.  Northern Ontario accounts for just under 2 percent of Canada’s population and holds just over 1 percent of CRCs.  As well, most of the CRCs held at northern Ontario universities are generally more junior Tier 2 Chairs.

Along with these 24 CRCs, there appear to be another 14 assorted research chairs listed on university websites as currently being held.  These are funded internally (for example a Lakehead University Research Chair), by the Ontario government (Ontario Research Chairs) or other funding agencies or resources (for example, Fednor or the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund).  These additional research chairs bring the total in northern Ontario up to 38.

What is conspicuous by their absence in this list of northern Ontario research chairs is private donor financed named chairs in which an endowment is donated to finance a named research chair in perpetuity.  This is something that is more common at much older, more established and more research-intensive universities. All these northern Ontario chairs ultimately rely on short-term financing, which once expired ends the chair meaning there is fragility to the current research chair infrastructure at these universities. 

A challenge for northern Ontario’s research future is for its universities to engage in efforts to attract larger endowments to fund more permanent research chairs.  This is of course a great challenge for any university in the current fund raising environment.  In general, the weaker economy in northern Ontario poses unique challenges that are reinforced by the absence of corporate headquarters in the region.  There are two other more specific challenges.

First, it is often easier to raise money for things rather than human resources.  Donors can see the outcome from a new building or piece of scientific equipment but it is more of a challenge but not impossible to sell a research chair.  Very often, private donors with a passion in a certain area of study will look for an opportunity to fund their passion.  Finding and building such relationships is a long-term investment of development office resources.

Second, given current conservative rates of return – circa 4 percent – it would take an endowment of four million dollars to generate $160,000 in income.  The salary, benefits and research funding such an amount can support at best means a relatively junior hire. It goes without saying that the fund-raising required to attract a more senior scholar near the top of their field is much more substantial.

Knowledge intensive economic activity will be the front edge of economic activity in northern Ontario.  The challenge for northern Ontario universities is to grow their investment in research activity with research chairs representing key anchor points in their research infrastructure.  Part of this growth must involve greater efforts to attract private donor funding to support those research chairs.


Algoma University
Canada Research Chairs

Antunes, Pedro         
Tier 2, Natural Sciences and Engineering, Plant and Tree Biology

Lakehead University
Canada Research Chairs

Chen, Aicheng           
Tier 2, Natural Sciences and Engineering, Analytical Chemistry

Fatehi, Pedram         
Tier 2, Natural Sciences and Engineering, Chemical Engineering

Greenwood, David    
Tier 2, Social Sciences and Humanities, Education

Levkoe, Charles        
Tier 2, Social Sciences and Humanities, Geography

Mushquash, Christopher    
Tier 2, Social Sciences and Humanities, Health Psychology

Rakshit, Sudip
Tier 1, Natural Sciences and Engineering, Chemical Engineering

Rennie, Michael D.    
Tier 2, Natural Sciences and Engineering, Evolution and Ecology

Reznik, Alla    
Tier 2, Natural Sciences and Engineering, Physics

Sameshima, Pauline
Tier 2, Social Sciences and Humanities, Education

Tocheri, Matthew W.            
Tier 2, Social Sciences and Humanities, Anthropology

Other Research Chairs

Dr. Peter Hollings, Geology, Lakehead University Research Chair in Geochemistry and Ore Deposits (2017-2019)

Dr. Sandra Jeppesen, Lakehead University Research Chair in Transformative Media and Social Movements (2017-2019)

Dr. Kristin Burnett, Department of Indigenous Learning: Lakehead University Research Chair in Indigenous Health and Well-Being (2014-2017)

Dr. Doug Morris, Department of Biology, Research Chair in Northern Studies

Dr. Mitchell S. Albert, Department of Chemistry, Thunder Bay Regional Research Institute, Chair in Molecular Imaging and Advanced diagnostics

Dr. Lew Christopher, Director of the Biorefining Research Institute and Senior Ontario Research Chair

Laurentian University
Canada Research Chairs

Basiliko, Nathan        
Tier 2, Natural Sciences and Engineering, Soil Science

Crozier, Gillian          
Tier 2, Social Sciences and Humanities, Philosophy

Gunn, John    
Tier 1, Natural Sciences and Engineering, Evolution and Ecology

Kraus, Christine       
Tier 2, Natural Sciences and Engineering, Astronomy and Astrophysics

Merritt, Thomas       
Tier 2, Natural Sciences and Engineering, Molecular Biology

Schinke, Robert        
Tier 2, Social Sciences and Humanities, Other in SSH

Schulte-Hostedde, Albrecht
Tier 2, Natural Sciences and Engineering, Evolution and Ecology

Walker, Jennifer       
Tier 2, Health Health Services Research – General

Ye, Zhibin      
Tier 2, Natural Sciences and Engineering, Chemical Engineering

Other Research Chairs

Dr. Doug Boreham
Radiation and Health

Dr. Greg Ross
FedNor Algae and Environment

Dr. Michael Lesher
Mineral Exploration

Dr. Nadia Mykytzuk
NOHFC - Biomining, Bioremediation and Science Communication

Dr. Nancy Young
(No Specification)

Dr. Serge Miville
Franco-Ontarian History

Dr. Sheldon Tobe
HSF/NOSM Chair in Aboriginal and Rural Health

Dr. Tammy Eger
Occupational Health and Safety

Nipissing University
Canada Research Chairs

Bruner, Mark
Tier 2, Social Sciences and Humanities, Psychosocial Behavioural Research - General

Greer, Kirsten           
Tier 2, Social Sciences and Humanities, Geography

James, April   
Tier 2, Natural Sciences and Engineering  Hydrology

Zarifa, David
Tier 2, Social Sciences and Humanities, Sociology

Monday, 19 December 2016

Maclean’s Charts 2017 and Some Implications for Northern Ontario’s Economy in 2017

Jason Kirby at MacLean’s Magazine has been putting together year-end chart extravaganzas for the last few years and his 2017 list of charts to watch has 75 contributions.  They are of course designed to help make sense of the Canadian economy in the year ahead but they also are useful in understanding regional economic performance. 

There are contributions dealing with trends in population aging, business investment, government debt, employment, housing markets, wage growth, export performance, trade, service sector growth, electricity prices, stock markets, environment, and manufacturing.  Indeed, my own contribution to this year’s chart collection  was a simple one showing Canada’s manufacturing to GDP ratio and the exchange rate since 1950. My point?  A low dollar may not help Canadian manufacturing and by extension what remains of the manufacturing sector in northern Ontario.


As I note in the write-up: “A high Canadian dollar is often blamed for Canada’s manufacturing malaise and with its recent depreciation there is hope that a renaissance will be sparked in Canadian manufacturing. The long-term evidence suggests otherwise. While Canada’s manufacturing output per capita has grown in the long term, manufacturing’s share of national output has fallen quite steadily from 27 per cent in 1950 to 11 per cent today. Our dollar in terms of its exchange rate with the U.S. dollar (our major trading partner) was relatively stable from 1950 to the late 1970s, and then began depreciating from the mid 1970s to the early 2000s.  It then appreciated again during the commodity boom of the 21st century and has been depreciating recently. Fluctuations in our currency’s value (relative to the U.S. dollar) may have some short-term effects on manufacturing production.  The period from the late 1970s to the early 1990s does seem to have seen some stabilization of the share of manufacturing in our GDP. However, Canada’s manufacturing decline is rooted in long-term economic factors such as productivity growth—which slowed substantially after 2000—and the trend of developed economies around the world toward service production.”

In the case of northern Ontario, there has been some movement in our forest sector recently with a pick-up in sawmill and pulp sector activity.  However, despite a lower dollar, we should not expect a massive resurgence in this sector.  The fact remains that the sector was hit not only by a higher Canadian dollar during the forest sector crisis but also the effects of environmental priorities, higher electricity prices, weak business capital investment in an aging capital stock, and new and more productive competitors around the world.  As some of the other Maclean's charts show, electricity prices in Ontario are still an issue and business investment in Canada is still weak. Given the permanent shutdown of so much manufacturing capacity in Canada, a lower dollar now is not going to automatically re-ignite production in manufacturing, let along the forest products sector in northern Ontario.  The future of the northern Ontario economy, like the rest of Canada, is going to rely on services.

Sunday, 18 December 2016

Recognition for Economic Blogging

Some news worth sharing.  As you know, I have been involved for a number of years now as a contributor to the economics blog  Worthwhile Canadian Initiative along with my colleagues Stephen Gordon, Nick Rowe and Frances Woolley.  I have always considered our mix of macro, finance, health, social policy and economic policy posts to be Canada's premier economics blog.  However, we also make a mark internationally.  Recently, Feedspot has announced that Worthwhile Canadian Initiative is one of its top 100 Economics Blogs!  We have also made the list of top 100 Economics Blogs for 2016 done by Intelligent Economist.  Moreover, global consulting firm Focus Economics has informed us that recognition is coming our way with their list of top economics blogs coming out in January 2017.  Congratulations to my colleagues on WCI and looking forward to another year of great posts in 2017.

Friday, 16 December 2016

Northern Ontario Employment Growth Lagging...And With Regional Differences

A new Fraser Institute report on recent economic and employment growth in Ontario noted
that it has been disproportionately concentrated in the Golden Horseshoe and Ottawa regions.  Meanwhile, southwestern, eastern and northern Ontario have lagged when it comes to employment growth.  Indeed, as the accompanying figure from the report below shows: “Average annual net employment growth has been negative in Eastern and Northern Ontario between 2010 and 2015. Average employment growth in Southwestern Ontario during this time has been positive, but only barely (0.4% annually)”.  


What is surprising is how relatively little attention the report received in northern Ontario from media outlets and local community economic and business leaders given the usual preoccupation with the northern Ontario economy.  The results of the report are more important than one might expect because the negative aggregate employment performance of northern Ontario is being driven largely by northwestern Ontario.  The two largest urban economies in northern Ontario are representative of this differential performance.

Figure 2 presents monthly seasonally adjusted employment for Thunder Bay (with fitted linear trend) for the period 2001 to 2016 while Figure 3 does the same for Greater Sudbury (Data source: Statistics Canada).   Over the long term, the two cities have travelled different roads with employment growing in Greater Sudbury while it has shrunk over time in Thunder Bay. While employment growth has slowed in Sudbury since 2010 while the decline appears to have flattened out in Thunder Bay, the long-term performance relative to Thunder Bay still stands out.  The long-term  effects of the forest sector crisis in Thunder Bay appear to have been a permanent downsizing of the employment base.



Of course, one might want to counter with the argument that unemployment rates in Thunder Bay and indeed the northwest are quite low but this is misleading.  The fact is that the labour force has been shrinking along with employment over the last decade in Thunder Bay hence improving the unemployment rate.  A shrinking employment base is not generally a cause for celebration even if it comes with falling unemployment rates.  More on this in posts to come.

Thursday, 15 December 2016

The Northern Economy: More Evidence Based Work Needed

Well, it is probably time to resume the occasional post on aspects of northern Ontario's economy as well as broader economic issues from a northern Ontario perspective.  I will do it here on Northern Economist 2.0 to provide continuity with previous posts and material.  The advent of the Northern Policy Institute has provided a welcome supply of reports on northern Ontario issues and policy from a broad perspective but there is room I think for material focusing specifically on northern Ontario economic indicators.  This particularly struck me with the recent publication by the Fraser Institute of an excellent  report on differential economic performance across Ontario.  Needless to say, it appears that the economic situation in northern Ontario has not improved substantially in recent years and indeed the recent mining sector downturn appears to have dealt a blow to the region.  In the months to come, I will once again start providing the occasional post dealing with northern Ontario's economy using available data resources.  Blogging is of course time intensive so I do not plan to resume with the frequency of Northern Economist 1.0 but I will be addressing areas where I think an analytical gap exists.  To the future. Cheers. Livio.