Jock Finlayson is executive vice president and chief policy officer of the Business Council of BC. (Submitted)

COLUMN: A mix of good and bad news about B.C.’s economy

Jock Finlayson is executive vice president and chief policy officer of the Business Council of BC

Amid an escalating U.S.-China trade war, a decelerating global economy, and a steadily diminishing B.C. budget surplus, the provincial government recently published its revised economic outlook. As usual, the picture is mixed, although with more downside than upside risks.

Drawing on the government’s updated forecast and other recent data, below I list a few positive features of today’s B.C. economy. A follow-up column will look at areas where the economic news is far less cheerful.

In B.C., the biggest driver of economic growth tends to be the expanding population. More people mean a greater demand for goods, services and housing. Population growth in B.C. is running at 1.4 per cent, well above the figure for Canada. That translates into another 65,000 residents every year. The bulk of this reflects international immigration, which stands at around 45,000 annually. On top of that are thousands more non-permanent immigrants who are in the province on work and study visas.

There is a caveat. What ultimately matters for prosperity is how much GDP the economy produces relative to the size of the population. Adding more warm bodies doesn’t do much to boost prosperity, if GDP and real incomes are barely growing when measured on a per person basis – as is presently the case for Canada.

In the past two years, B.C. has experienced slight gains in both per capita GDP and average incomes, adjusted for inflation. But the gains are considerably smaller than the numbers for total GDP growth would suggest.

A notable bright spot for B.C. is non-residential construction. The value of non-residential building permits hit a record $5.1 billion last year, and a further sizable jump is on track for 2019.

Some examples of significant construction investments are LNG Canada’s huge new project in Kitimat; B.C. Hydro’s Site C dam and reservoir; the expansion and rebuilding of hospitals in several communities; major capital projects underway at the Vancouver and Prince Rupert ports and Vancouver International Airport; and new investments in transportation infrastructure.

At the same time, B.C.’s job market has also been healthy. So far in 2019, employment has been growing at an annualized rate of more than three per cent. At 4.4 per cent, B.C.’s unemployment rate is the lowest in the country. More recently, there has been an easing in the pace of job creation. This may signal weaker economic conditions going forward.

Finally, business has been brisk in several industry sectors.

Tourism, which accounts for almost six per cent of GDP, has been booming, though there are signs this year that that activity is levelling off. As economic growth slows in the U.S., China and Europe, B.C. tourism operators may have less reason to smile.

The advanced technology sector (representing seven per cent of provincial GDP and 110,000 direct jobs) is growing and continues to show strength in several sub-sectors, notably clean technology, digital services and other IT-producing industries.

The film and television industry is another growth star, with revenues expected to reach $4 billion in 2019. It’s operating at full capacity, which may limit the prospects for further growth in the near-term.

Agri-food is another growth engine. The value of B.C. agri-food exports has increased sharply in recent years. And the medium-term outlook is positive, notwithstanding restrictions on imports of some Canadian agricultural commodities recently imposed by China.

Add it all up, and there is evidence that the province’s financial health will continue to chug along even as the global backdrop becomes less favourable. But B.C. faces several home-grown problems that are weighing on the economy. I will explore some of these in my next column.

Jock Finlayson is executive vice president and chief policy officer of the Business Council of British Columbia

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Just Posted

NDP leader Jagmeet Singh to campaign in Port Alberni

Singh joins Courtenay-Alberni candidate for rally to kick off final weekend before election

Comox Valley Regional District agrees to Union Bay governance study

Process will consider whether community should convert services to the region

Betties face some bumps from Cumberland Rec Centre deal

Roller derby group gets hit with schedule changes, rental hikes as ‘team’ rather than ‘drop-in’ program

Infrastructure upgrades will mean truck traffic increase around 19 Wing Comox

Over the coming weeks and months, the public may see an increase… Continue reading

ELECTION 2019: Have Justin Trudeau’s Liberals really cut middle-class taxes?

Conservative Andrew Scheer vows to cut bottom bracket, NDP’s Jagmeet Singh targets wealth tax

Talk to your kids about vaping, B.C.’s top doctor says

B.C. health officials have discovered the first vaping-related illness in the province

Alberta truck convoy plans counter-protest at climate rally with Greta Thunberg

United We Roll organizer says similar protest planned for Swedish teen’s event in Edmonton

Scheer, Trudeau, Singh haggle over potential minority government outcome

If you believe the polls, it appears the Liberals and Conservatives are neck-and-neck

British family deported after ‘accidental’ U.S. border crossing

U.S. officials deny it was mistake, release video of vehicle crossing into Washington from Langley

Kamloops man hangs on to back of stolen truck as suspect speeds away, crashes

The pickup truck was seen leaving the roadway before bursting into flames

‘Sky didn’t fall:’ Police, lawyers still adjusting after pot legalization

Statistics Canada says 541 people were charged under the federal Cannabis Act between Oct. 17, 2018 and the end of the year

Fewer people prescribed opioids in B.C., but other provinces lack data: doctors

Patients who began taking opioids were prescribed smaller doses for shorter duration

Electric cello, stolen from vehicle in Williams Lake, returned to U.S. owner

Rita Rice of Texas said she and her husband had given up hope of ever seeing it again

Most Read