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Downtowns seek federal dollars to boost recovery of Atlantic Canada's economy – TheChronicleHerald.ca

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Downtowns have been ailing for a while — and not just because of COVID-19.

In St. John’s, offices were already emptying due to a downturn in the oil industry. The pandemic-prompted move toward working from home only made matters worse.

“It’s kind of like us and Calgary were hit with our own oil-bust pandemic prior to the COVID pandemic,” said Scott Cluney, executive director for Downtown St. John’s, a business improvement area organization.

In Halifax, Paul MacKinnon likens the city’s downtown core to a 20,000-person town, with those people coming in every day and supporting the local businesses.

“Overnight, that turned into a town of 5,000 people, and so the impact on a lot of businesses has been pretty horrendous,” said MacKinnon, CEO of the Downtown Halifax Business Commission and president of Downtowns Atlantic Canada.

Paul McKinnon is the CEO of the Downtown Halifax Business Commission. — CONTRIBUTED - Contributed
Paul McKinnon is the CEO of the Downtown Halifax Business Commission. — CONTRIBUTED – Contributed

 

Uniting as one

Recognizing their voices are stronger when united, groups representing downtown and main street business communities are joining forces on a campaign directed at the federal government. In her fall economic statement delivered a few weeks ago, Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland outlined government’s vision for a three-year plan to aid recovery in the country. Knowing that’s the case, these organizations are making a joint pitch to government, asking federal officials to collaborate with them on creating programs that can address the needs of downtowns and main streets throughout Canada.

According to Ken Kelly, a Halifax-based project manager for the Canadian branch of the International Downtown Association, downtowns and main streets are a community focal point and a barometer for a place’s well-being.

“If you enter any community, whether it’s a smaller one or a larger one, you really can base your impressions on the community in what you see in the downtown or on the main street,” he said. “It’s a focal point for the community and it reflects the ideals, the aspirations, the achievements of any community. If you look at the buildings, the businesses that populate those buildings … I’ve got a pretty good sense if this is a robust community or this is a community that’s trying, but needs a little bit more work.”

These areas also draw in people, whether it’s for work, shopping or entertainment. That’s why Kelly believes it’s in the government’s best interest to listen.

“Work with us — we’re the ones who are closest to these issues,” he said. “We’re the ones who can provide insights that you haven’t thought of. We want to work with you as partners. We can not only contribute the intellectual. We can contribute the financial.”

Ken Kelly is a project manager for IDA Canada based in Halifax. — Contributed - Contributed
Ken Kelly is a project manager for IDA Canada based in Halifax. — Contributed – Contributed

 

Ideas brewing

Downtown St. John’s and the City of St. John’s already have some infrastructure projects in development for 2021, and Cluney said having multiple levels of government on board is a must to make them happen.

“Otherwise, we’re back to the drawing board if it’s just us and the city,” he said, adding such projects would need to be pushed back to 2022 or phased in over multiple years if other governments are not on board.

IDA Canada and its partners have areas they want government to help address — community well-being, community vitality, urban mobility, infrastructure and entrepreneurship. Kelly said social, cultural and economic matters impacting downtowns and main streets merit attention and that good things can spinoff from programming devoted to those issues.

In Charlottetown, retail and restaurants have managed OK, according to Downtown Charlottetown executive director Dawn Alan. But the hospitality sector was hit hard by a lack of tourism, and Alan expects that situation will not change until safe travel resumes. She would welcome opportunities to collaborate with decision makers.

“When monies come forward, we can be at the table to help make those decisions as to how it would be best spent,” she said. That holds true regardless of how many levels of government are involved.

“We’re the ones who have our ears to the businesses and talk with them daily and know how they’re being impacted and maybe how best they can be helped.”

Dawn Alan is the executive director of Downtown Charlottetown Inc. — SaltWire Network file photo - File Photo
Dawn Alan is the executive director of Downtown Charlottetown Inc. — SaltWire Network file photo – File Photo

 

Inclusivity, accessibility

MacKinnon considers creating more inclusive spaces and maintaining downtown vitality major issues for Halifax and something the federal government has to address for most Canadian cities.

“That doesn’t mean saving every business — that’s probably not going to be possible,” he admitted. “But it means when making infrastructure investments, what are those best ways that we can make those investments — we know they’re coming — to really help the downtown.”

Over the summer, MacKinnon noticed parts of downtown Halifax adjacent to scenic areas — including Argyle Street and the waterfront — did pretty well. He suggested further infrastructure work to help beautify the downtown would benefit the city.

Cluney said it would be great for the three levels of government to work with Downtown St. John’s on accessibility issues dually hindered by local geography and the age of many buildings. With the general population of the province aging rapidly, he said it’s important for the downtown area to get with the times and be accessible to everyone.

“All the new builds in our downtown are all accessible from the time you come in the front door right on through,” he said.

MacKinnon and Cluney both noted that the federal government has been less involved with urban downtowns in recent decades. A main streets program in the 1980s poured a lot of money into cities and larger municipalities and helped establish many downtown development groups.

“That investment is now 30, 40 years old. It’s time for a renewal of that and some new thinking,” MacKinnon said, pointing out the help is especially needed now given municipal governments are dealing with their own financial issues as a result of the pandemic.

Discussions are already moving forward with the federal government. MacKinnon and Kelly were scheduled to take part in a virtual meeting with Infrastructure and Communities Minister Catherine McKenna on Friday, Jan. 8, and more meetings with federal officials are scheduled this month.

Andrew Robinson is a business reporter in St. John’s.

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Economy

China Says Its Economy, Recovering From The Pandemic, Grew 2.3% Last Year – NPR

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People walk in Wuhan on Jan. 10, the eve of the first anniversary of China confirming its first COVID-19 death. Chinese officials said on Monday that its economy managed to grow 2.3% in 2020.

Nicolas Asfouri/AFP via Getty Images

Nicolas Asfouri/AFP via Getty Images

Just over a year after the world’s first coronavirus cases were identified in China, the country’s economy has bounced back from the ravages of the pandemic.

China’s economy grew by 2.3% last year, according to data published Monday by the country’s National Bureau of Statistics. The steady economic recovery was largely expected, and puts China on a track that other countries haven’t achieved.

“It’s likely that China could be the only major economy that has significant positive economic growth in 2020,” Nicholas Lardy, a China specialist at the Peterson Institute of International Economics, told NPR in May. “The U.S. is clearly going to be negative. Europe is negative. Japan is going to be negative.”

When the pandemic first hit, however, China’s economic outlook was a lot less sunny.

Thanks to sweeping and strictly enforced lockdowns, the country’s year-on-year GDP for the first three months of 2020 shrank 6.8%, its biggest drop in decades. And as the economy constricted and unemployment rates rose, officials in the spring took the unprecedented move of scrapping their annual economic growth targets.

As the year progressed and the pandemic receded in China, the country saw an economic upturn helped largely by an increase in consumer spending. Its GDP went up by 3.2% in the second quarter, 4.9% percent in the third quarter and 6.5% for the fourth quarter.

China also reported a record $75.4 billion surplus in November, after exports to the rest of the world jumped $21.1% compared to the previous year. As NPR’s Scott Horsley reported, much of that increase was accounted for by exports to the United States, despite the tariffs imposed by President Trump.

Still, an English translation of the statistics bureau report noted that “the changing epidemic dynamics and external environment pose a multitude of uncertainties and the foundation for economic recovery is yet to be consolidated.”

As NPR’s Emily Feng has reported, Chinese policymakers have pledged to continue policies that support private businesses and consumer demand, but will scale back certain credit-boosting policies in the months ahead.

The country has largely managed to bring the pandemic under control, allowing many businesses to reopen at pre-pandemic levels, according to Feng. And it still imposes strict lockdowns in regions with an uptick in cases: As of mid-January, a cluster of more than 600 cases in Hebei province has prompted the lockdown of some 11 million people.

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Economy

Brent crude edges up as optimism over economy trumps demand concerns – TheChronicleHerald.ca

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By Florence Tan

SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Brent crude futures edged up on Tuesday as optimism that government stimulus will buoy global economic growth and oil demand trumped concerns that renewed COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns globally could cool fuel consumption.

Brent crude futures for March rose 20 cents, or 0.4%, to $54.95 a barrel by 0351 GMT after slipping 35 cents in the previous session.

U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude was at $52.19 a barrel, down 17 cents, or 0.3%. There was no settlement on Monday as U.S. markets were closed for a public holiday. Front-month February WTI futures expire on Wednesday.

Investors are upbeat about demand in China, the world’s top crude oil importer, after data released on Monday showed its refinery output rose 3% to a new record in 2020. China was also the only major economy in the world to avoid a contraction last year as many nations struggled to contain the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Yesterday’s data out of China was a positive for oil prices,” Michael McCarthy, chief market strategist at CMC Markets in Sydney said.

Investors are watching out for U.S. President-elect Biden’s inauguration speech on Wednesday for details on the country’s $1.9 trillion aid package.

OANDA’s Asia-Pacific senior analyst Jeffrey Halley said: “Like other asset classes, oil has received a gentle U.S. stimulus tailwind in Asia.”

Oil prices have also been supported by Saudi Arabia’s additional supply cuts in the next two months which are expected to draw down global inventories by 1.1 million barrels per day in the first quarter, ANZ analysts said.

Concerns about rising COVID-19 cases globally and renewed lockdowns weighing down fuel demand kept a lid on oil prices.

ANZ analysts flagged concerns about falling fuel sales in India in January from December and rising COVID-19 cases in China and Japan that could dampen oil demand.

“In Europe and the U.S., the slow rollout of vaccines is also raising concerns that a rebound in demand will remain elusive,” the bank said.

(Reporting by Florence Tan; Editing by Richard Pullin and Kenneth Maxwell)

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Economy

Brent crude edges up as optimism over economy trumps demand concerns – Cape Breton Post

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By Florence Tan

SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Brent crude futures edged up on Tuesday as optimism that government stimulus will buoy global economic growth and oil demand trumped concerns that renewed COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns globally could cool fuel consumption.

Brent crude futures for March rose 17 cents, or 0.3%, to $54.92 a barrel by 0150 GMT after slipping 35 cents in the previous session.

U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude was at $52.25 a barrel, down 11 cents, or 0.2%. There was no settlement on Monday as U.S. markets were closed for a public holiday. Front-month February WTI futures expire on Wednesday.

Investors are upbeat about demand in China, the world’s top crude oil importer, after data released on Monday showed its refinery output rose 3% to a new record in 2020. China was also the only major economy in the world to avoid a contraction last year as many nations struggled to contain the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Yesterday’s data out of China was a positive for oil prices,” Michael McCarthy, chief market strategist at CMC Markets in Sydney said.

Investors are watching out for U.S. President-elect Biden’s inauguration speech on Wednesday for details on the country’s $1.9 trillion aid package.

Oil prices have also been supported by Saudi Arabia’s additional supply cuts in the next two months which are expected to draw down global inventories by 1.1 million barrels per day in the first quarter, ANZ analysts said.

Concerns about rising COVID-19 cases globally and renewed lockdowns weighing down fuel demand kept a lid on oil prices.

ANZ analysts flagged concerns about falling fuel sales in India in January from December and rising COVID-19 cases in China and Japan that could dampen oil demand.

“In Europe and the U.S., the slow rollout of vaccines is also raising concerns that a rebound in demand will remain elusive,” the bank said.

(Reporting by Florence Tan; editing by Richard Pullin)

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