Monday, November 13, 2006

Manitoba's economy seen through the cracked looking-glass

Our eyes bugged out in disbelief this morning reading the Throne Speech preview written by CP scribe Steve Lambert. His lead sentence offers: "Manitoba's NDP government enters the home stretch of its current mandate this week with plans to boost a lagging economy, protect threatened rivers and lakes, and crack down on gangs and guns."

Lagging economy? We hate to start rumours, but he must be on crack.

Manitoba is expected to lead the country in housing starts. We have about the lowest unemployment in the country. Our population is growing and more youth are staying. Ask anyone in the construction sector, they are turning down business hand over fist because they can't manage any more work from both private and public projects going on.

Businesses can't find enough people to hire. Sure this is in part due to overheated economies to the west of us, especially Alberta. We, like every other jurisdition, are having a hard time competing with the super-high wages that even the completely uneducated can get in virtually uncontrolled boomtowns like Fort McMurray.

But saying that means our economy is sluggish? In trouble?


The Sun also tries to take a whack at the latest economic forecasts for Manitoba by noting Manitoba's overall GDP was behind the country's average by a mere 0.2%. What the Sun scribblers don't do is even attempt to tell thereal story.

Here is what Stats Can actually says about us:

"Economic growth in Western Canada outpaced the national average in 2005, while activity east of the Manitoba-Ontario border waned.

"Nationally, real gross domestic product sat at 2.9% in 2005, just off its 2004 pace (+3.3%). High natural resource prices, good growing conditions and strong foreign demand bolstered output in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia," they state (our emphasis).

Look at why the national average is 2.9%: Alberta's GDP is 4.6%; BC's is 3.7%, Saskatchewan's is 3.1%.

Every other province is "behind" the national average (we're not including territorial numbers, as their economies are very small and a burst of public sector spending has sent Yukon's GDP to 5.2%, which hardly means Yukon's economy is outpacing Alberta's -- but it certainly helped raise that national average number).

Manitoba is essentially tied with monster economy Ontario (2.8%), ahead of Quebec (2.2%) and all of the Atlantic provinces. Newfoundland and New Brunswick form the provincial basement at 0.4% and 0.3% growth, respectively.

In 1999, the NDP inherited a true sluggish economy from the PCs. But here's a look at the history of Manitoba's GDP since 2002 as posted on Stats Can's site: 2002-1.6%; 2003-1.3%; 2004-2.5%; and 2005-2.7%.

By comparison, BC's and Saskatchewan's current numbers are down from their 2004 GDP levels, in contrast with Manitoba's steady strong growth.

Of course, the numbers we're quoting aren't even the real GDP growth the Manitoba Bureau of Statistics foresees of 2.9%, but the Sun isn't interested in telling the truth if in any way it would paint the NDP remotely positively.

Fortunately, Manitobans are smarter than the Sun editors and Steve Lambert. They know things on the ground are actually pretty rosy. They don't buy the cranky media's parallel universe -- a cracked looking-glass perception of reality. Or perhaps how reality looks on crack.

To be fair, the Sun editorial has a point. Stats Can projections are often incorrect for Manitoba. They in fact usually underestimate our growth.

So anticipating 3.2% growth for Mantioba in 2006, well above the projected national growth rate of 2.9%, seems like a pretty darn good -- and reasonable -- outlook.

Is Manitoba's economy red hot? No

But sluggish? Hardly.

And we're doing it without spiking oil revenues, thanks very much.