Governor of the Bank of Canada Tiff Macklem holds a press conference at the Bank of Canada in Ottawa on Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Economic recovery threatened if some workers, households left behind, Macklem says

OTTAWA — An economic rebound that leaves behind parts of the Canadian labour force in the short term could end up jeopardizing the recovery from COVID-19 in the long run, Canada’s top central banker says.

Bank of Canada governor Tiff Macklem says the pandemic has widened divides in the country that could worsen further without the right response.

He says the longer people hit by the pandemic are out of work, the harder it will be for them to find new jobs and the more likely they are to give up looking for work.

The combined effects on workers and businesses could weigh down the economy, harming even those who are doing comparatively well.

It’s why Macklem has been talking recently about inequality, and why he thinks the central bank should be making the argument.

“Our mandate is to support the economic and financial well-being of Canadians. It doesn’t say some Canadians, it’s all Canadians,” he says over a video conference from his office.

“What we see right now, as a result of this pandemic, are growing divides.”

Low-wage workers are still about 20 per cent below their pre-pandemic levels of employment, Macklem notes, whereas other workers with higher incomes have recouped job losses from the spring.

“High-touch” sectors like restaurants and accommodations are lagging behind as restrictions limit customers and consumers stay home.

The way back isn’t a sprint but a long slog, Macklem told The Canadian Press hours after the bank said it’s expecting to take until 2022 for the economy to get back to pre-pandemic levels, with some scarring from closed businesses and unemployed workers taking even longer to heal.

“It’s not going to be possible to fully recover the economy until we have a vaccine, but we want to try to reduce the negative effects,” he says.

“Once there is a vaccine, we want to make sure we get back to our full potential.”

Macklem took over the central bank’s top job in June. He had been the bank’s second-in-command during the last economic crisis a decade ago.

One of the bank’s key functions is to keep inflation at a moderate level, which it does by controlling a key interest rate. The lower the interest rate, the more appealing it is to borrow, invest and spend.

Macklem inherited a key policy rate slashed to 0.25 per cent, which he has said is as low as it will go and where it will stay, likely until 2023, to keep interest rates low so households feel comfortable spending.

He has overseen the bank’s foray into “quantitative easing,” which is a way for central banks to pump money into the economy, and mass buying of federal debt to effectively lower borrowing costs for the government.

It has put him in a political hot seat, with Conservatives on Parliament Hill warning the bank about appearing too cosy with the Liberals and wanting Canadians to take on debt to finance a recovery.

Macklem says the bank’s actions are independent of whatever the government might want, and have to do with its mandate of keeping inflation at two per cent a year. Inflation is close to zero because of the pandemic.

“We have a lot of unemployed Canadians. That’s putting downward pressure on inflation. So we need to put a lot of monetary stimulus into the system to achieve our objective,” he says.

“I don’t want to pretend that there aren’t some difficult decisions to take, but our objective is clear.”

Near, the end of the interview, Macklem takes a breath to think over a question that he repeats out loud: “How am I coping?”

He speaks slowly about getting fresh air, eating right and getting enough sleep. He says he misses talking to colleagues in person, and the worry the bank could lose some creativity in its thinking without people in the same room, sharing thoughts and ideas.

“We’ve got to guard against that,” he says.

He pivots to the uncertainty facing Canadian households: Parents whose children might be at school one day, home another, or others with elderly parents who need help getting essentials from the store.

Every Canadian is dealing with extraordinary demands, he says, and no one knows how this pandemic is going to play out. That leads to anxiety.

“I gained a lot of experience particularly in the ‘08-‘09 financial crisis. This crisis is very different. But you know, that feeling you get in the pit of your stomach is not that different,” he says.

“Some of the lessons from that crisis and also some of the things that we did that were not as effective, I think, are very valuable in dealing with this pandemic.”

Just Posted

Mayor Rick Bonnett. (Screenshot)
WATCH: Ponoka council calls on gov’t to support rural small businesses

Ponoka council is calling on the provincial government to increase funding to… Continue reading

Pumpjacks draw oil out of the ground near Olds, Alta., Thursday, July 16, 2020. A new report suggests the economic impact of the pandemic led to a massive increase in federal aid to Canada's oil patch. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Alberta economy ‘still reeling,’ says ATB Financial

Alberta’s economy is still feeling the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and… Continue reading

Ella Stoner, five, is ready to cut off her hair and donate it to A Child’s Voice Foundation. (Photo by Lauren Stoner Photography)
Central Alberta girl to donate her ‘princess hair’ to A Child’s Voice Foundation

A five-year-old girl from Rimbey has never had a haircut before. Now,… Continue reading

Asymptomatic testing will now be available for "priority groups" who are most likely to spread the COVID-19 virus to vulnerable or at-risk populations. File photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS
Alberta adds 1,195 new COVID-19 cases Saturday

Red Deer has dropped to 760 active cases

The Minnesota Wild celebrate their overtime victory over the Vegas Golden Knights in Game 1 of a first-round NHL hockey playoff series Sunday, May 16, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/David Becker)
Eriksson Ek’s OT goal lifts Wild past Vegas 1-0

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Joel Eriksson Ek’s goal at 3:20 of overtime… Continue reading

Toronto Blue Jays' Lourdes Gurriel Jr., celebrates after hitting a double against the Philadelphia Phillies during the third inning of a baseball game Sunday, May 16, 2021, in Dunedin, Fla. (AP Photo/Mike Carlson)
Girardi, Segura have confrontation as Phils lose to Jays

Blue Jays 10 Phillies 8 DUNEDIN, Fla. (AP) — The injury-depleted Philadelphia… Continue reading

New York Islanders' Kyle Palmieri (21) returns to the bench after scoring during the first period in Game 1 of an NHL hockey Stanley Cup first-round playoff series against the Pittsburgh Penguins in Pittsburgh, Sunday, May 16, 2021. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
Palmieri’s OT winner lifts Isles by Penguins 4-3 in Game 1

PITTSBURGH (AP) — The New York Islanders brought Kyle Palmieri home at… Continue reading

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, speaks during a Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions hearing to examine an update from Federal officials on efforts to combat COVID-19, Tuesday, May 11, 2021 on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Jim Lo Scalzo/Pool via AP)
Fauci says pandemic exposed ‘undeniable effects of racism’

ATLANTA (AP) — The immunologist who leads the COVID-19 response in the… Continue reading

Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin, vice-president of logistics and operations at the Public Health Agency of Canada, participates in a news conference on the COVID-19 pandemic in Ottawa, on Friday, Jan. 15, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
Feds face growing calls for answers after general overseeing vaccine effort sidelined

OTTAWA — The federal Liberal government is facing growing calls for answers… Continue reading

Conservative MP Ron Liepert rises during Question Period on Parliament Hill, Friday, March 10, 2017 in Ottawa. Ron Liepert says these days, the phone calls and emails from people wanting to talk about his party's climate plan have slowed. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
Alberta MP pitches Conservative carbon price with a 24-pack of Pilsner

OTTAWA — Ron Liepert says these days, the phone calls and emails… Continue reading

A sign marks Stairs Place in the Hydrostone district in the North end of Halifax on Thursday, May 13, 2021. The street was named for William Grant Stairs, a Canadian explorer from Halifax who helped lead some of the most controversial expeditions through the African continent. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan
Where the streets have explorers’ names, some Halifax residents call for change

HALIFAX — When builders created Halifax’s distinctive Hydrostone neighbourhood more than a… Continue reading

Riley Oldford, 16, suffers from cerebral palsy. He was the first youth in the Northwest Territories to get a COVID-19 vaccine. Here he receives the needle from nurse practitioner Janie Neudorf in Yellowknife on Thursday May 6, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Bill Braden
People with disabilities even more alone during pandemic: cerebral palsy spokeswoman

YELLOWKNIFE — Riley Oldford is usually out playing sledge hockey or hanging… Continue reading

Most Read