If you’ve been paying attention to the employment ads in the newspaper over the past few weeks, you’ve probably noticed an increase in job opportunities for workers in Alberta’s energy sector. It dawns like the slow realization that spring is just around the corner: it looks like they’re starting to drill again.
That, if anything, signals the turnaround in the economy that people in this region can feel and understand. It’s surely not a boom (yet), but there seem to be jobs again and, like a spring thaw, it raises a sense of optimism.
It’s been a long winter, hasn’t it? Not least for our provincial and federal governments. But people who read the signs are beginning to think like it’s spring.
Parliament is back from an overlong winter hibernation. The throne speech and budget are expected to contain the last storm of stimulus spending before getting ready to tighten up, to keep inflation from expanding our recovery too quickly.
So how well did we winter? Better than most, by all accounts.
The recession shrank the Canadian economy by 3.3 per cent, measured from the high point at the end of 2007, to the bottom of the trough in the middle of last year. By comparison, the U.S. economy shrank 3.7 per cent — which is a lot, because the U.S. economy is the world’s largest. Through Europe, the drop was 4.4 per cent.
Compared to the other top industrial nations, Canada had more capacity to spend its way out of the recession — and we did. We subsidized the auto industry, home renovations and road building to the tune of four per cent of GDP (figures didn’t show if that was four per cent of peak GDP, bottom GDP or current GDP — you’d think that might make a difference).
It may have been all that stimulus spending, it may have been our superior banking and financial system or it may have been the fact that our economy is more resource-based than other nations, but we came through the recession with lower unemployment than either the U.S. or Europe.
And even though our federal deficit is at a record $56 billion for the current year, it stands as 5.2 per cent of GDP, which is much lower than the U.S. and most of Europe. We’re on a deficit par with Germany, apparently, as a percentage of the size of our economy.
All of these indicators show that Canada weathered a bad winter in decent shape. To use a farming analogy, Canada is the small cow in the herd that looks to do better than the others when the grass starts growing again.
Which brings us back to the newspaper ads. Some analysts are predicting another labour squeeze in Alberta to announce itself this year. Only this time around, our neighbour Saskatchewan will be riding an energy surge of its own and looking for skilled labour.
Plenty of reason for optimism, if you’re connected to the energy biz.
Crude oil prices are currently flickering around the $78-a-barrel mark, but some analysts are predicting another climb. Oilsands development projects that were shelved in the recession are being dusted, polished and put back on the table. If energy prices do rise, interest rates remain low and Canada looks like a nice secure place to invest, that’s surely enough to make the sun shine again.
It could be the recent warm weather. Or maybe it’s just a post-Olympic glow. But don’t you think it feels like spring?
Let’s see what the government signals, now that it’s getting back to work.
Greg Neiman is an Advocate editor.