Northern Economist 2.0

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

A Tale of Two Revenue Sources: The LCBO & OLG

With the aversion of a strike by Ontario’s LCBO workers, most of us will probably turn our thoughts to immersion in our favorite beverage as we move into the Canada Day long weekend.  What the recent dispute should also spark is some introspection regarding the special importance of Ontario’s crown corporations – namely the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO) and the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation (OLG) – as sources of Ontario government revenue.

Sunday, 25 June 2017

Economic News Around the North: June 25th Edition

Well, I have returned from a rather lengthy set of travels.  My trip home was via the scenic Highway 17 drive through Sudbury, the Sault and around the north shore of Superior to Thunder Bay. There is nothing quite like this drive in terms of the vastness of the land and the vistas of rocks, trees and highway.  I had not done this drive in a number of years and perhaps because of the extra rain this year the landscape seemed a lot greener than I remembered it. The video link here shows a bridge crossing along the way (I was in the passenger seat doing the filming for those of you who might be concerned about my safety).  Nevertheless, here are some of the economic news items that have caught my interest.

Well, there were a number of not so flattering stories dealing with Thunder Bay in the national media over the last few weeks but the economic news was somewhat more upbeat.

$23M from Ontario government for school upgrades. CBC Thunder Bay. June 19th, 2017.

Thunder Bay Sears Location to Remain Open. Tbnewswatch. June 22nd, 2017.

Thunder Centre shopping area to be sold to new owner. CBC Thunder Bay June 19th, 2017. 

The Thunder Centre has got a new owner and despite Sears Canada's financial woes, the Thunder Bay store at Intercity Mall is to remain open - at least for now.  Sudbury and The Sault were not as lucky.  North Bay's store is also not closing.

As for the new school construction, it comes at the cost of some closures - rule of thumb in Thunder Bay based on this story is close three old schools to get one new one.  While closing schools is one way of generating some new construction activity, in the end, there are only so many schools that can be closed.  Eventually, to get new schools we will have to do it the old fashioned way - boost enrollment.  Other northern Ontario cities also seem marked by the dynamic of out with the old and in with the new.  In the Sault, the original St. Mary's College was demolished to make way for a new elementary school. One wonders when this dynamic will hit the school boards in Toronto. Curious to see when they will knock down stately old Jarvis Collegiate or UTS in order to build a shiny new building.

Also, in Thunder Bay tourism news, the decommissioned icebreaker Alexander Henry has left Kingston Ontario and is set to return to Thunder Bay to serve as a transportation museum on the waterfront. 

In Sudbury, there seem to be a lot of projects coming to a head with respect to community infrastructure.  A key debate is where to build the new sports arena - downtown or outwards.

Sudbury at a crossroads: build downtown or build outwards? TVO. June 23, 2017.

True north wants to convert downtown arena into arts centre. CBC Sudury. June 22, 2017.

Rainbow Centre makes pitch for Sudbury library, art gallery. CBC Sudbury. June 23rd, 2017.

New Casino in Sudbury depends on where city builds new arena. CBC Sudbury. June 14th, 2014.

In other potential infrastructure news from a natural resource perspective:

Noront looks for smelter landing spots in Sudbury, Timmins. Northern Ontario Business. June 20th, 2017.

New gold mine in Timmins by 2018: Gowest CEO. June 4th, 2017.

In other news, North Bay's housing market is still doing well according to this source

Meanwhile, for those of you that missed this, the June 1st provincial byelection in Sault Ste. Marie for the seat vacated by Liberal David Orazietti was won by a Conservative for the first time since 1981.  A sign of things to come? Hard to say.  The election is still officially a year away (though one might see a snap election called in the fall if the governing party feels confident) and alot can happen in a year. Stay tuned.

Thursday, 15 June 2017

Thunder Bay Taxis Stories: The High Cost of Cabs

Well, trying to take a taxi in Thunder Bay can be a bit of a challenge.  Several winters ago, a couple of hours before our flight out we called for a cab and it just did not seem to be arriving.  In the end, we had to drive and park our own vehicle at the airport which had not been our original intention. When we discussed the matter with the company, they mentioned it was mid-afternoon and a lot of their cabs were on “school runs” so it would be best to call the night before to book a cab to ensure a ride.  It turns out a lot of the business for cab companies in Thunder Bay is from the broader public sector – schools, social agencies etc…which limits their incentive to provide more and more  immediate availability for private sector clients. 

Friday, 9 June 2017

Economic News Around the North: June 9th Edition

Here are the stories over the last little while that I feel are of economic importance to northern Ontario.  Summer is on the way and there is a definite slowdown in defining economic news as everyone starts heading out to camp for the summer. Tourism is going to be a sector of continuing importance to northern Ontario and camp development should be part of tourism development and infrastructure.  Making more camp/cottage lots available for development would certainly be one way of adding to tourism in northern Ontario.
Here is another piece of tourism infrastructure along the north shore of Lake Superior.

Lake Superior Water Trail connects explorers to northern Ontario. CBC News. Sudbury, June 9, 2017.

Of course, tourism development does not always have positive benefits for everyone as this historical example of northern Ontario tourism exploitation illustrates.

Speaking of infrastructure, there is a glitch in the US Soo locks rebuild.  See here.

It was mining day in Thunder Bay recently and there was another mining show in Timmins.  These events are good showcases for the sector.  The Timmins mining exposition was a 3 day event with 400 exhibitors.

Mining Day in Thunder Bay.  Northern Ontario Business. June 1, 2017.

Miners, investors flock to The Big Show. Northern Ontario Business, June 7, 2017.

In terms of developing the northern Ontario economy, another call for some type of tax incentive program from City Council in Sault Ste. Marie.  There was also a harkening back to the Peterson government of the late 1980s with a call more more government office relocation.  I suppose it would not be too tongue-in-cheek to suggest that the Ontario government simply sell all of its land in Toronto - at current sky high prices - use the proceeds to pay off its debt and then relocate the entire Ontario legislature and civil service somewhere in northern Ontario.  Of course the competition among the big 5 northern Ontario cities would be cutthroat so Wawa might have to be the compromise location.  Perhaps they could make the decision as part of a lottery or gaming experience run by OLG.

Of course, if all else fails there is the inevitable fallback to better marketing.  North Bay seems to be going in this direction with its municipal government handing a million dollars to its arms-length municipal economic development agency. 

In northern Ontario institutional news, there is a commission studying provincial ridings and representation in the far part of northern Ontario.  Some think the commission is thinking of splitting the Timmins-James Bay riding in two to provide better representation to indigenous communities. Will be interesting to see what the commission reports back.

Well, that is it for now. Have a great weekend. 

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Thunder Bay Community Foundation Awards Night 2017

The Thunder Bay Community Foundation held its 2017 Scholarship and Bursary Reception at the Thunder Bay Art Gallery this evening and it was an exciting and very well attended event.

I served on the Foundation Board from 2007 to 2010 and this evening was an opportunity to reconnect with the Foundation and its activities. The Foundation was established in 1971 with a gift from Prue Morton and has gone on to build a substantial endowment that funds a program of community grants including a set of scholarship and bursaries to students from Thunder Bay and tnorthwestern Ontario.  This year, thanks to the generosity of many donors over the years, the Foundation was able to present $66,900 in scholarships and bursaries to students in Thunder Bay and the District of Thunder Bay.  

Congratulations to all of this year's recipients and best wishes for an exciting future! 

Sunday, 4 June 2017

Comparing Homicide Rates: Why Thunder Bay Has a Problem

From a peak reached in the early 1990s, police reported crimes rates in Canada have been on a downward trend.  This is also the case for homicide rates, which have been on a downward trend nationally since the early 1980s.  There is of course variation from year to year in homicide rates so some type of regression smoothing procedure is helpful in establishing what the longer-term trends over time are.  What quickly emerges from an examination of long-term trends is that Thunder Bay followed national trends in homicide rates until the early 21st century but that since then there has been a substantial divergence.  It is not a “northern Ontario” thing because the Greater Sudbury CMA tracks provincial and national homicide rates quite closely.

Figure 1 presents LOWESS Smoothed homicide rates for Canada and major regions from 1981 to 2015.  LOWESS is a particularly useful smoothing tool because it helps deal with “outliers” – that is extreme observations that can often distort averages taken over time. The data source is from Statistics Canada (Table 2530004 - Homicide survey, number and rates (per 100,000 population) of homicide victims, by census metropolitan area (CMA), annually).  Canada as a whole has seen a steady decline in homicide rates going from smoothed values of 2.74 per 100,000 in 1981 to 1.51 by 2015 – a drop of 45 percent.  This decline is a feature of the West, Ontario, Quebec and Atlantic Canada though Atlantic Canada sees a sight upturn after 2006.  In terms of regional rankings, homicide rates are now the highest in the West, followed by Atlantic Canada, then Ontario and finally Quebec.