Todd Hirsch, ATB Financial’s vice-president and chief economist, spoke at the Red Deer and District Chamber of Commerce luncheon Tuesday. Photo by SEAN MCINTOSH/Advocate staff

ATB chief economist says Alberta economy to remain ‘kind of sluggish’ in 2020

Todd Hirsch speaks at luncheon in Red Deer Tuesday

Don’t expect Alberta’s economy to boom any time soon, says ATB Financial’s vice-president and chief economist.

“Our GDP growth for 2020, at the moment, we’ve got 0.9 per cent, so (it’s) very, very weak,” Todd Hirsch said at a Red Deer and District Chamber of Commerce luncheon at the Gasoline Alley Holiday Inn Tuesday.

“If we see some better progress on the Keystone XL pipeline or continued progress on the Trans Mountain pipeline, I might be prepared to raise that a little bit, maybe to one or two per cent. But overall, 2020 is likely to still feel kind of sluggish.

“Going into the future, 2021 and beyond, we’ve raised our forecast to somewhere close to two per cent, which isn’t too bad. But I think slower growth, between one and three per cent, for Alberta is going to be the new norm.”

Hirsch said he doesn’t expect to see the economy “go back” to the four to six per cent growth seen in the early 2010s.

“I don’t think those growth rates are coming back anytime soon, so we can anticipate slower growth, however that slower growth is more likely to bring more balance and diversity,” he said.

Hirsch also discussed three “mega-trends” for the decade ahead at the luncheon.

“I know we get really focused in Alberta in what’s happening in there here and now, for obvious reasons. Our economy is in a tough spot right at the moment. But I wanted to bring a message and talk about some of the big trends that are affecting Alberta and Canada,” said Hirsch.

Those themes discussed were:

  • The need to build and strengthen communities for economic reasons;
  • The changes in employment and what jobs will look like in the future;
  • The impact geopolitical situations have on Alberta and Canada.

During a question and answer session after his presentation, Hirsch discussed whether he saw Alberta separating from Canada as an economically viable option for the province.

“I understand the frustration that so many Albertans are experiencing right now. There’s disappointment, there’s anger and I get that. For Alberta and the west, this isn’t really new. Western alienation has always been sort of simmering,” he said.

“Nonetheless as an economist, I come back to the big picture and say, ‘Is Alberta as a separate country likely to be viable?’ We’d be landlocked, we’d be negotiating with now foreign countries on our borders to the south and every other direction. I think the uncertainty we would create by talking about separating … would be enough to drive a lot of investment and corporate presence out of Alberta and into other jurisdictions.”

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Todd Hirsch, ATB Financial’s vice-president and chief economist, spoke at the Red Deer and District Chamber of Commerce luncheon Tuesday. Photo by SEAN MCINTOSH/Advocate staff

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