This piece first appeared in the Canadian Chamber of Commerce's Five Minutes for Business June 14, 2018
Tariffs. Trade talks. Pipelines. Electoral change. While the Canadian economy continues to grow (albeit somewhat slowly), these are just some of the factors that might slow it down. As we head into summer, and the mid-point of 2018, now is a good time to take stock of Canada’s economic performance and consider what the latter half of the year might have in store for us.
The economy stumbled into 2018, slogging its way through weak consumer spending and housing markets. Real GDP increased at a pace of 1.3 per cent in the first three months of 2018 — the slowest quarterly growth in nearly two years. The Canadian economy grew at less than a two per cent rate for the third consecutive quarter, a far cry from the nearly 4 per cent average between July 2016 and June 2017.
The good news is that economic growth seems poised to accelerate. While the cumulative result was disappointing, the quarter finished strong with February GDP up 0.4 per cent month-over-month, followed by a 0.3 per cent increase in March. Exports increased 1.6 per cent in April, a good sign for an economy that will need export markets to make a bigger contribution to growth in place of consumer spending. This encouraging finish has hastened confidence that the economy is improving with stronger momentum going into Q2.
The bad news is that uncertainty about a variety of economic issues is weighing on business investment. Any optimism about the economy taking a turn for the better is tempered by the risk that uncertainty will drive investment away from Canada. Imports declined in April, indicating that business investment and domestic demand were scaled back during the month.
Ongoing insecurity about trade policies continues to cast a shadow over Canada’s outlook. The recent steel and aluminum tariffs imposed by the United States—and the Canadian retaliation— are increasing investors’ concerns about the future of NAFTA, and even what a U.S. withdrawal would mean for Canada. With a new government in Ontario, Canada will have its work cut out to maintain a united front in response to further possible retaliatory measures.
Further complicating matters are the extraordinary measures taken by the federal government to buy the Trans Mountain pipeline — a step that never should have been necessary. This is another sign that we need to take a long hard look at our broken regulatory system and ensure Canada remains an attractive place to invest and do business.
These developments have heightened the existing doubts about Canada’s business competitiveness. The Canadian tax system is losing relative competitiveness compared to its peers due to recent tax reform in the United States and France. Significant uncertainty also surrounds how the Canada Revenue Agency will assess the new small business tax changes in the 2018 Budget. These factors are causing business investors to seek other markets or sit on their wallets.
The outlook for business investment is crucial because everything else the Bank of Canada usually considers in monetary policy decisions suggests the economy can handle higher borrowing costs. The central bank has been cautious thus far but recently signalled that higher interest rates will be warranted and that the governing council will take a gradual approach to policy adjustments.
The current data on economic growth supports this. Canadian households may be able to manage rising mortgage and consumer debt, as long as Canada’s economy continues to grow and unemployment remains relatively low. However, the risk that Canada’s economic prospects and investor confidence can be derailed by any number of uncertain issues remains high. The IMF’s recent mission to Canada concluded that our economic outlook is subject to significant risks—including a sharp correction in the housing market and a banking system with heavy exposure to household and corporate debt.
The Canadian Chamber of Commerce’s Crystal Ball Report predicted uncertainty for Canada’s economic and political outlook in 2018. Financial and economic imbalances have created a tenuous economic recovery. Rising protectionism has the potential to escalate into a trade war. Markets and business models are being disrupted by new technologies and opportunities. Overall, Canadian businesses are grappling with the speed of change.
Adding to this, Canada’s economic performance in the first half of 2018 demonstrates that one of the few certainties in today’s economy is an enduring state of uncertainty.
Thank you to the Crystal Ball Report sponsors
“We’re looking to create careers, not jobs.” – Minister Pedersen.
Recognizing the economy’s health is tied to the health of our communities, The Winnipeg Chamber has been an outspoken advocate for a comprehensive provincial strategy to support Manitoba business. We’re deeply pleased with the province’s recent work to build that plan (including a summit co-hosted with The Chamber for private business owners) as we look for action that leverages our strengths, addresses modern opportunities and shares prosperity with all Manitobans.
That dialogue and relationship with Minister Blaine Pedersen and the team at Growth, Enterprise and Trade continues. Today we hosted the Minister, Deputy Minister Dave Dyson and a number of our members for a wide ranging discussion, including
Online submissions to shape Manitoba economic strategy are open until May 18. You can share your insights, priorities and feedback here.
Wanted: Public signals, private capital
Meeting the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement’s target of keeping global temperature increase “well below 2 degrees” above pre-industrial levels will require private and public leadership to shift financial flows. Neither government nor the private sector can achieve these ambitious targets without each other, and without relentless pressure from civil society.
In particular, markets need proof and consistent government signals that investing in clean technologies, production methods, products and services will make more money than investing in dirty sectors. That is why countries such as the United Kingdom and France prioritize promoting the recommendations from the high-level Financial Stability Board’s Taskforce on Climate-related Financial Disclosures. And that is why investors also need sustainable asset valuation tools.
Promoting the green
As part of the signalling toolkit, governments can help shape, focus and leverage market action through a new generation of green industrial policy. This so-called renaissance in green industrial policy can, for instance, use government funds to act like venture capital to help kick-start innovative clean technologies and markets.
Mobility is a vivid example in this respect: on the one hand, with the right signals from governments, electric cars have been quickly and firmly claiming ground, not only in the West but also in many developing countries. On the other, Volvo, the formerly Swedish auto manufacturer now owned by Chinese investors, announced that it will sunset all internal combustion engines by 2019.
Electricity generation is another area where markets have seen a dramatic change, prompted by government policies. The cheapest electricity is now from renewable sources, such as wind power at 1.77¢/kWh in Mexico and solar at 3.4¢/kWh in India.
However, a key challenge is aligning public sector leadership with private sector innovation and financing to scale. The October 2017 release of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development's Development Assistance Committee (OECD DAC) High Level Communiqué, including Blending Finance Principles for Unlocking Commercial Finance for the SDGs, is a helpful step in setting out the normative principles to blend or de-risk private sector financing to attract larger pools of private capital. The draft Green Finance Catalyzing Facility of the Asia Development Bank also sets out some operational elements to identify, pool and de-risk low-carbon investments.
China is uniquely placed to demonstrate how to integrate public sector finance with private market innovation in building a systematic approach to scale up green finance. Today, green bonds have reached an estimated USD 95 billion, with China being the largest issuer. While this is a tiny fraction of total bond market liquidity, green bonds in China represent one part of an ambitious systematic approach to building a green financial system that includes banking regulations, insurance, the stock market and other key actors. The potential to align China’s leadership in green finance within the G20 Green Finance Study Group to the Belt and Road Initiative has the potential to amplify green development.
Demoting the brown
Spearheaded by Canada and the United Kingdom, the Powering Past Coal Alliance (PPCA), unites 25 founding governments in phasing out coal. The goal is “to accelerate clean growth and climate protection through the phase-out of… existing traditional coal power” and place “a moratorium on any new traditional coal power stations.” With the PPCA launch seen as a “political watershed,” the emerging sense in the markets is that coal is on the wrong side of history, and even though it is clear in countries such as China and India, the transition away from coal will take much longer than in Canada or the United Kingdom.
But the jury is still out on whether oil and gas will be sun-setting in the same way as coal anytime soon. Norway is an interesting litmus text in this respect. The Norwegian Sovereign Fund, which, at USD 1 trillion, is the largest in the world, started divesting from coal in 2015. Divestment from coal has improved the fund’s financial performance, its managers say. In the same vein, in November 2017, the Norwegian Central Bank announced its recommendation for the fund’s divestment from oil and gas. The recommendation, which has already sent a strong signal to financial markets, relies on the similar —purely economic— assessment that the value of oil and gas assets would experience a permanent decline in coming years.
However, even Norway faces a dilemma about its future energy choices. Statoil, its government-owned company, still continues massive investments in oil and gas exploration and production and the government itself directly subsidizes coal extraction in Svalbard.
By contrast, an integral climate leadership example in this respect comes from France, which has announced a plan to stop granting new exploration permits next year as it seeks to end all oil and gas production by 2040. Although France does not have significant hydrocarbon extraction at present, its new legislation would not only put an end to its domestic debate on shale gas development, but it would also set an important precedent—a G7 country acting on the recognition that carbon pricing and other demand-side policies alone are not enough to respond to the climate challenge.
For governments, giving the right signals to markets is also not only about regulating them, but also about removing subsidies to fossil fuel production (around USD 100 billion per year) and consumption (around USD 260 billion in 2016) as well as stopping public finance to oil, gas and coal projects domestically and overseas. These subsidies artificially lower the cost of fossil fuel energy, leading to its wasteful consumption and, as a result, more emissions. Phase-out and reallocation of fossil fuel subsidies is a low-hanging fruit for financing climate action and implementing the Sustainable Development Goals. Instead of requiring financing, like many other sustainable development policies, fossil fuel subsidy reform could free up hundreds of billions of dollars for supporting health, education, renewable energy and a just transition of workers from brown to green jobs.
For the Earth to remain a safe place for us to live, the leadership bar has to rise much faster than the global temperature.
The Winnipeg Chamber: How does the fact your customers are owners change how you operate?
Nigel Mohammed: As a financial cooperative, ACU employees recognize that we are ultimately accountable to the 120,000 Manitobans who own our credit union together. Understanding that they are our member-owners serves to underscore the importance of providing trusted advice, access to adequate and appropriate credit, competitive financing and investment offerings, exceptional member service, and ensuring bottom line profitability of the credit union to better respond to member and community needs. Our credit union success is measured by our members’ success.
WC: Can you dive into your commitment to be “socially, environmentally, and ethically responsible” in your practices? How has that influenced your choices?
NM: It starts by making sure you have people in the organization (from board to management to employees) who are aligned with our vision of “a world where financial services in local communities contribute to a sustainable future for all.” Then you integrate this commitment into your policies, strategies, and targets and hold yourselves accountable for results on all measures – financial strength, social impact, members, employees, and environment.
For example, we’ve worked together as employees to reduce our GHG emissions by 56 per cent since 2012. We operate branches in communities that have been abandoned by all the banks, like Winnipeg’s North End. We provide over $85 million in financing towards affordable housing initiatives to create homes for over 3,100 of our most vulnerable neighbours. We provide ethical investment fund options so our members can put their money to work in a way that aligns with their values, and we focus our purchasing power as a credit union in a way that also aligns with our vision. And at the same time we were ranked one of the top financial institutions in Canada for member service, while also winning a 2018 Top Employer Award here in Manitoba.
It is about being financially strong so we can provide world-class service and advice to the local owners of our credit union, while making sure we are doing our part to have a positive impact on the environment we all share, and doing our part to reduce poverty and create social and economic inclusion for all in our community.
WC: Finance is one of the most rapidly changing sectors in the world. What are you doing to keep up with evolutions in fintech and cryptocurrency?
NM: As an organization we continuously review and assess new market entrants and changes in technology. Rapid technological change is impacting the way banking is being done, and we need and want to provide our members the most convenient ways to continue to do business with us.
This constant evolution means we need to be responsible and efficient with our technology investments. We view the fintech space as an opportunity to leverage those investments to ensure we are providing effective solutions for our members. With respect to cryptocurrencies, this is an area we are monitoring with a particular focus on research and pilots related to blockchain/distributed ledger technology. We work closely with our Credit Union peers and partners at a local and national level to leverage economies of scale while also looking internally as to how we can most effectively deliver services to our members.
We know technology will continue to evolve our business model and we have multiple ongoing strategic initiatives that - at their core - are focused on how we can use technology to better serve our members.
WC: As an organization that helps people manage their finances, what’s your view on the current debt load Canadians have? What tools do you provide to help people manage their finances better?
NM: The current debt load carried by Canadians is at an all-time high and is concerning for both individuals and businesses, questioning how long it can be sustained. At ACU, we provide our members with MoneyFit.
MoneyFit is a simple, convenient and easy-to-understand set of tools that supports and guides our advisors through the collection and analysis of their members’ personal financial information. MoneyFit also helps our advisors present their findings to our members in such a way that they:
WC: What should attendees expect at the Member MeetUp on April 25?
NM: Chamber members can expect to hear an overview of banking solutions available through ACU’s Business and Community Financial Centres that support the success of local businesses and non-profit organizations. We look forward to welcoming all in attendance and sharing what ACU has to offer.
On Wednesday, April 4, your Winnipeg Chamber hosts one of Canada's busiest leaders and the person tasked with guiding national interests through NAFTA negotiations - Minister Chrystia Freeland.
With a mandate that includes rapidly developing geopolitical events and relationships, it's hard to keep up with Ms. Freeland. Check the headlines - her To Do list likely overlaps with several breaking items.
Nevertheless, as we prepare to discuss NAFTA, supporting rules-based international order and increasing gender equity in Canadian leadership (whether the boardroom or the caucus meeting), we'd like to offer some suggested reading.
Earlier today Mayor Brian Bowman gave his fourth State of the City address to 1,200 business and community leaders at the RBC Convention Centre. The Mayor announced several new initiatives, some of which were based on Winnipeg Chamber policy. They included:
It is also exciting to see Winnipeg take a leadership role with the new national committee, and it is always good for governments to share best practices. As well improving online services is much needed, especially as more and more of those citizen requests are taking place on mobile devices.
Other announcements focused on working to electrify our transit system, reducing aggressive panhandling and the creation of an illicit drug strategy. A lot was announced in the speech, but the real work begins now.
Later this week Mayor Brian Bowman delivers his last State of the City address before Winnipeggers go to the polls on October 24, 2018. Chamber members are hoping to hear the Mayor speak to a variety of issues, but what is the state of our economy?
This past week the Conference Board of Canada released their 2018 outlook for 13 major Canadian cities. One standout from the report is Winnipeg’s economy expanded by 3.7% in 2017, the highest rate in close to 20 years. While economic growth is expected to slow to 2.2% in 2018, that growth rate is still largely in line with the forecasted rates for other prairie cities.
Driving that growth was strength in both the labour and construction markets. Over 7,000 net new jobs were created last year in Winnipeg, and the various construction projects around our city also helped stimulate growth. Also last year housing starts topped 5,500, the highest rate in 30 years.
In 2018 Winnipeg is again forecasted to create over 7,000 jobs. However slowdowns in the construction sector and lower consumer spending partially caused by higher interest rates are expected to be a drag on growth. However the 2.2% growth rate forecasted for 2018 is in line with what the City has averaged over the past 20 years.
Looking a little farther ahead, the Conference Board also predicts that Winnipeg will grow by over 50,000 people in the next five years. While we are still decades away from being a city of a million plus people, it is imperative that we start planning for that growth now.
On March 12, the provincial government tabled the 2018 Budget, highlighted by record deficit reduction, a restocking of the Fiscal Stabilization Fund (aka the Rainy Day Fund), strategic and responsible social investments, strong measures to support small business and a series of milestone taxation measures, in particular the introduction of the provincial carbon price. Many of these measures are consistent with changes long advocated by your Winnipeg Chamber.
Overall, The Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce gives the budget a grade of B- (with a B+ in economics and a C- in environmental studies).
Positive Business Tax Changes
The Chamber will continue to work with government on their carbon pricing policy. There is still time to support our trade exposed sectors and provide additional accounting clarity.
Taken as a whole, Budget 2018 delivered a sound fiscal blueprint and positions Manitoba well on its road to fiscal recovery.
Yesterday the federal Finance Minister released his much anticipated third budget. While there are many details to pore over, two things jump out: more deficits, and a lack of focus on our country’s competitiveness.
The federal budget deficit is scheduled to increase from $17.8 billion in 2016-2017 to $19.4 billion this fiscal year, a nine per cent increase. Budget forecasting documents only go out to the year 2022-2023, when the government projects an over $12 billion deficit. Over that time almost $100 billion will be added to the federal debt.
Those budget numbers also assume our economy will experience real GDP growth of 2.0 per cent a year from 2017 through 2022. Given the fact we are entering the tenth year of economic expansion, many (myself included) find those growth projections overly optimistic... and a recession would blow a huge hole in those deficit numbers...
Every 0.1 per cent decrease in annual GDP growth leads to an increase in the federal deficit of around $500 million. Given this is already one of the longest periods of economic expansion on record, continued straight-line GDP growth for five more years seems unlikely.
Irrespective of a recession, our economy is facing considerable uncertainty brought on by NAFTA renegotiations. The Bank of Canada has already said they are projecting this uncertainty will reduce investment and export growth. The longer those negotiations drag on, the greater the damage.
A rainy day will undoubtedly come at some point, and our government is choosing to not pack an umbrella.
On the taxation side, this federal budget left a lot to be desired. With the U.S recently increasing their competitiveness by reforming their tax system, our federal government instead chose to sit on their hands.
Nothing in the budget responds to the U.S tax moves; just a promise Finance Canada will analyze them. The government also doesn’t step back from their growth-inhibiting small business tax changes. More information on these measures were provided in this budget. They include a phasing out of the small business deduction on passive income earned above the $50,000 threshold. As companies earn above that threshold in a year from passive investments, a straight-line reduction of $5 for every $1 of income will take place. This means companies earning over $150,000 in passive income will lose out on access to the small business tax rate.
While at least the small business tax changes are clearer now, they still move our tax code in the wrong direction. What is urgently needed is a review of our entire taxation system so it best encourages growth and prosperity. We can no longer tweak on the edges - a comprehensive review is needed urgently.
On a positive note for business, the budget commits $11.5 million over the next three years to pursue targeted regulatory reforms with the goal of making our regulatory system “more agile, transparent and responsive.” These measures should help reduce regulations that inhibit business innovation.
Further to reducing red tape, the federal government is planning to reduce the current number of business innovation programs by up to two-thirds. The current 92 different business innovation programs buried across departments represent a virtual maze for entrepreneurs to navigate. Funding won’t decrease, so simplifying and streamlining programming is a positive step.
Locally, the budget includes a commitment to introduce legislation to enable Western Economic Diversification to collaborate more effectively with provinces. With our provincial government currently developing an economic development strategy, the timing couldn’t be better. The more both levels of government collaborate in this area, the more effective business programming we will see.
The budget also makes commitments to improve female entrepreneurship and workforce participation. If successful, those steps could also provide additional economic growth. Improving the Working Income Tax Benefit and making further investments to create a new Indigenous skills and training strategy are both positive steps forward.
On the whole, however, this federal budget doesn’t go far enough to address the competitiveness challenges we face. It continues to strain the government credit card with no end in sight.
Challenges are on the horizon. This federal budget doesn’t go far enough to address them.
As the city’s lead economic development agency, Economic Development Winnipeg (EDW) is a key player in laying the groundwork to grow Winnipeg’s economy. The organization, which also includes Tourism Winnipeg and the YES! Winnipeg initiative, aims to be the experts on Winnipeg and works with both private business leaders and the public sector to encourage businesses to grow, expand or move to Winnipeg.
EDW’s focus is to ensure that what Winnipeg has to offer is recognized both locally and globally, while positioning the city among North America’s top places to do business. We want people to know what is happening here. To achieve this vision, the organization works with the private and public sectors to enable more homegrown wins, while highlighting our many competitive advantages.
One of the benefits of working in a community like Winnipeg is the high importance and value we place on strong relationships between industry leaders, government officials and community stakeholders. Working with our local businesses to support targeted business development and growth not only helps grow our diverse economy, but also lays the foundation for attracting new businesses looking for a competitive location to grow. This requires us to assist in job creation and retention, identify new investment opportunities, while helping local entrepreneurs launch new and exciting commercial ventures.
There are many examples of local businesses accomplishing big things – from industry giants New Flyer Industries and Price Industries, to advanced manufacturing centres like Boeing and Standard Aero, Winnipeg’s local economy is already built on a strong economic foundation. Tech companies SkipTheDishes, Norima Consulting and Bold Commerce are also growing here at breakneck speeds. New opportunities are constantly brought forward and are analyzed by our team. Recent interest from global companies in setting up blockchain and cryptocurrency data warehouses in Winnipeg are being looked at now. These – and countless more examples – demonstrate the success and opportunity Winnipeg businesses are seeing on a daily basis.
Understanding Winnipeg’s strengths allows us to better leverage our competitive advantages. Data warehouses are looking at Winnipeg in part because of our affordable energy prices and our climate – these advantages give us a leg up over other markets. For Winnipeg to win worldwide attention, we need to do a better job selling ourselves. This requires us all to collaboratively work together – among all industries, businesses and levels of government. By working together, we will succeed more often.
EDW is finding ways to help companies to expand their customer base and find new global market opportunities – part of that opportunity involves ensuring we have the right data with which to make informed decisions.
We need to keep going toe-to-toe with the biggest and best cities in North America – we have the resources and capacity to compete on this level. As our city continues to grow and develop even more business ties, world-class infrastructure, and private investment – we will see more business opportunities come our way more and more often.
Whether homegrown or transplanted, Winnipeg provides the opportunity for long-term business growth.