The COVID-19 pandemic represents an opportunity to “reposition” the Canadian economy to take full advantage of the low-carbon transition, the new chair of the Canada Infrastructure Bank said June 3.
The economic crisis resulting from the pandemic has forced corporations and governments to deviate from their standard operating procedures, opening up an opportunity for innovation and creativity, said Michael Sabia, who was recently appointed by the federal government to head up the infrastructure bank.
“We need to seize this moment to be creative about how we reposition the national economy for a world that is going to be different, and a very important part of that [effort] is repositioning our economy to be a significantly lower carbon economy,” Sabia told a virtual roundtable hosted by Corporate Knights.
Sabia said that there is plenty of potential for the Canada Infrastructure Bank (CIB) to participate in clean energy projects but that the federal Crown corporation has underperformed to date.
The CIB has a mandate to invest $35 billion in federal funding by 2027/28 but has been criticized for its slow start.
Sabia said the bank should focus less on traditional infrastructure like roads and ports and more on stimulus projects that accelerate the energy transition, including renewable power, interprovincial transmission, low-carbon transportation and digitalization efforts to ensure all Canadians have access to high-speed internet.
The Corporate Knights roundtable was part of its seven-part Building Back Better project that urged the Liberal government to ensure that any economic recovery plan have a climate-change focus.
Addressing the roundtable, Industry Minister Navdeep Bains said Canada will have to be innovative in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic and the climate crisis.
He said hundreds of Canadian businesses have responded to the need for medical equipment by changing their operations to produce new products. “That’s the same mindset we have to have when it comes to confronting the climate crisis.”
In a white paper released Wednesday, authors Ralph Torrie, Céline Bak and Toby Heaps said the federal government should allocate $106 billion over the next 10 years for a host of clean energy projects that would create the equivalent of 670,000 full-time jobs per year. More than a third of the federal government investment, $40 billion, would be frontloaded in the first two years (with half dedicated to grants to finance a green renovation wave). Over 10 years, the white paper estimates, the federal investment and complementary policies would crowd in a further $730 billion in mostly private sector investment.
All told, the investments would reduce greenhouse (GHG) emissions by 236 megatonnes annually by 2030, from 2018 levels of 729 megatonnes. That scale of GHG reductions would put the country on track to meet the Liberal government’s target of net-zero emissions by 2050, Bak told the roundtable.
Proposals have included support for a major retrofit program to improve energy efficiency in buildings, planting an additional 800 million trees a year for 10 years, and investments in coast-to-coast electric-vehicle (EV) infrastructure, as well as interprovincial transmission lines to deliver low-carbon electricity and a $40 billion Energy and EV Innovation Fund to help create Canadian champions in fast-growing low-carbon markets where Canada has strong assets, including bitumen-derived carbon fibres, green hydrogen, renewable jet fuels, batteries and EVs.
Other speakers suggested that a green stimulus plan should have goals beyond job creation and emission reductions.
Canadians are now confronting a triple whammy of the COVID-19 pandemic, the climate crisis and the vivid reminder of the systemic racism embedded in the country’s attitudes and institutions, said Catherine Abreu, executive director of Climate Action Network Canada.
Any green stimulus programs must be based on a “just recovery” Abreu said. Her group was one of 150 civil society organizations that released a document this week proposing “Six Principles for a Just Recovery” for a more equitable and sustainable future.
“This moment is forcing us into confrontation with the vulnerabilities that are built into our economic and social systems,” she said. “There are ongoing crises that lurk behind the current health and economic emergencies . . . So if we are going to tackle issues like climate change, we have to come at them fundamentally as a fight for justice.”
The federal government can pursue reconciliation with Indigenous communities by partnering with them on clean energy projects that deliver health, economic and social benefits to the people, said Terri Lynn Morrison of the Indigenous Clean Energy network.
Morrison said Indigenous people are already major developers and partners in clean energy projects across the country. “They’re ready to seize the opportunity,” she added.
Some economists have questioned whether stimulus spending on clean energy infrastructure is the optimal way to respond to an economic slump precipitated by a health crisis that has forced Canadians into social isolation. Sectors like retail, restaurants and tourism have been hit hardest with job losses, and it’s not clear they would benefit from traditional – or even non-traditional – stimulus spending.
In a blog post last month, economists Dale Beugin and Mike Moffatt argued that green stimulus spending should target areas such as infrastructure, while government should continue to rely on regulation and carbon price to drive climate policy.
Trying to meet the requirements of both recovery and emissions reductions would result in an approach that fails to do either efficiently, they argued.
“Climate considerations should be less constraint and more a radar to help identify non-traditional but job-rich investment opportunities, such as deep retrofits and flood protection for homes and workplaces,” Heaps said via email. “Climate can also be a tiebreaker where two recovery options offer similar economic benefits.”
“In addition to the large investments in green infrastructure, the ‘shecovery’ will likely require significant investments in eldercare and childcare,” he added.
During the roundtable, Ivey Foundation president Bruce Lourie noted that countries like Germany and South Korea have succeeded in providing support for key clean energy sectors. The refrain that “governments shouldn’t pick winners” is a “tired and misguided refrain for us to be using,” he said.
As an example, he cited the promising opportunities for Canada to be a global leader in the emerging market for hydrogen-powered buses and trucks.
Environmental economist David Sawyer said proponents of green stimulus plans should emphasize “co-benefits” that come with investment in emission-reduction projects. They can include not only more jobs but also health benefits from reduced fossil-fuel pollution and greater resiliency to withstand the severe weather impacts of the climate crisis.
Dianne Saxe, Ontario’s former environment commissioner, said Canada needs to find a way to maintain long-term climate-change policies so businesses and consumers have confidence that investments made today are not undermined tomorrow.
“The biggest challenge is how to have stable policies that survive government changes,” she told the roundtable. Canadians need to be active, she said. “Fundamentally, to get durable public policy, we need strong, loud public demand for it.”
Canadian regulator lifts banks’ capital buffer to record, priming for post-pandemic world
Canada‘s financial regulator raised the amount of capital the country’s biggest lenders must hold to guard against risks to a record 2.5% of risk-weighted assets, from 1% currently, in a surprise move that could pave the way for them to resume dividend increases and share buybacks.
The new measures, which take effect on Oct. 31, is a sign that the economic and market disruptions stemming from the coronavirus pandemic have abated and banks’ capital levels have been resilient, the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions (OSFI) said in a statement.
But the regulator acknowledged that key vulnerabilities, including household and corporate debt levels, as well as asset imbalances caused by steep increase in home prices over the past year, remain.
In a sign of concern about the housing market, OSFI and the Canadian government raised the benchmark to determine the minimum qualifying rate for mortgages, starting June 1.
The increase in the Domestic Stability Buffer (DSB) to the highest possible level raises the Common Equity Tier 1 (CET1) capital – the core bank capital measure – to 10.5% of risk-weighted assets; a 4.5% base level, a “capital conservation buffer” of 2.5%, and a 1% surcharge for systemically important banks, plus the DSB.
The change “gives OSFI more leeway to loosen a restriction down the road, namely the freeze on buybacks and dividend increases,” National Bank Financial Analyst Gabriel Dechaine said.
OSFI felt it was “useful for the banks to understand what our minimal capital expectations are and to give them time to adjust to that… ahead of any lifting of the temporary capital distribution restrictions,” Assistant Superintendent Jamey Hubbs said on a media call.
Even with the higher requirement, Canada‘s six biggest banks would have excess capital of about C$51 billion, dropping from C$82 billion as of April 30, according to Reuters calculations.
That was driven in part by a moratorium on dividend increases and share buybacks imposed by OSFI in March 2020, although a pandemic-driven surge in loan losses has so far failed to materialize.
The Canadian banks index slipped 0.25% in morning trading in Toronto, while the Toronto stock benchmark fell 0.1%.
The increase is the first since the last one announced in December 2019, which did not come into effect as planned in April 2020, as OSFI made an out-of-schedule change https://www.reuters.com/article/canada-mortgages-regulation-idUSL1N2B636J that dropped the rate to 1% in March. It has maintained that level at its twice yearly reviews.
Prior to that, OSFI had raised the required level by 25 basis points at every twice yearly review since it was introduced at 1.5% in June 2018.
($1 = 1.2326 Canadian dollars)
(Reporting By Nichola Saminather; Editing by Marguerita Choy and Jonathan Oatis)
Canada Economic Indicators
The economic indicators used to gauge the performance of an economy and its outlook are the same across most nations. What differs is the relative importance of certain indicators to a specific economy at various points in time (for instance, housing indicators are closely watched when the housing market is booming or slumping), and the bodies or organizations compiling and disseminating these indicators in each nation.
Here are the 12 key economic indicators for Canada, the world’s 10th-largest economy:1
Statistics Canada, a national agency, publishes growth statistics on the Canadian economy on monthly and quarterly bases. The report shows the real gross domestic product (GDP) for the overall economy and broken down by industry. It is an accurate monthly/quarterly status report on the Canadian economy and each industry within it.2
Employment Change and Unemployment
Key data on the Canadian employment market, such as the net change in employment, the unemployment rate, and participation rate, is contained in the monthly Labour Force Survey, released by Statistics Canada. The report contains a wealth of information about the Canadian job market, categorized by the demographic, class of worker (private sector employee, public sector employee, self-employed), industry, and province.3
Consumer Price Index
Statistics Canada releases a monthly report on the consumer price index (CPI) that measures inflation at the consumer level. The index is constructed by comparing changes over time in a fixed basket of goods and services purchased by consumers. The report shows the change in CPI monthly and over the past 12 months, on an overall and core (excluding food and energy prices) basis.4
International Merchandise Trade
This monthly report from Statistics Canada shows the nation’s imports and exports, as well as the net merchandise trade surplus or deficit. The report also compares the most current data with that for the preceding month. Exports and imports are shown by product category, and also for Canada’s top ten trading partners.5
Teranet – National Bank House Price Index
This composite index of house prices across Canada was developed by Teranet and the National Bank of Canada and represents average home prices in Canada’s six largest metropolitan areas. A monthly report shows the change in the index monthly and over the past 12 months, as well as monthly and 12-month changes in Canada’s six and 11 largest metropolitan areas.6
RBC Manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index – PMI
Released on the first business day of each month, this indicator of trends in the Canadian manufacturing sector was launched in June 2011 by Royal Bank of Canada, in association with Markit and the Purchasing Management Association of Canada. RBC PMI readings above 50 signal expansion as compared to the previous month, while readings below 50 signal contraction. The monthly survey also tracks other information pertinent to the manufacturing sector, such as changes in output, new orders, employment, inventories, prices, and supplier delivery times.7
The Conference Board’s Consumer Confidence Index
The Conference Board of Canada’s Index of Consumer Confidence measures consumers’ levels of optimism in the state of the economy. It is a crucial indicator of near-term sales for consumer product companies in Canada, as well as an indicator of the outlook for the broad economy since consumer demand comprises such a significant part of it. The index is constructed on the basis of responses to four questions by a random sampling of Canadian households. Survey participants are asked how they view their households’ current and expected financial positions, their short-term employment outlook, and whether now is a good time to make a major purchase.8
Ivey Purchasing Managers Index – PMI
An index prepared by the Ivey Business School at Western University, the Ivey PMI measures the monthly variation in economic activity, as indicated by a panel of purchasing managers across Canada. It is based on responses by these purchasing managers to a single question: “Were your purchases last month in dollars higher, the same, or lower than in the previous month?” An index reading below 50 shows a decrease; a reading above 50 shows an increase. Panel members indicate changes in their organization’s activity over five broad categories: purchases, employment, inventories, supplier deliveries, and prices.9
Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) issues a monthly report on the sixth working day of every month, showing the previous month’s new residential construction activity. The data is presented by region, province, census metropolitan area, and dwelling type (single-detached or multiple-unit). The indicator is an important gauge of the state of the Canadian housing market.10
This key indicator of housing activity is compiled by the Canadian Real Estate Association (CREA) and is based on the number of home sales processed through the MLS (Multiple Listing Service) Systems of real estate boards and associations in Canada. The monthly report from the CREA shows the change in home sales across Canada, as well as for major markets, from month to month. The report also includes other important housing-related information, such as the change (as a percentage) in newly listed homes, the national sales-to-new listings ratio, months of housing inventory, the change in the MLS Home Price Index, and the national average price for homes sold within the month.11
Statistics Canada releases a monthly report on retail sales activity across Canada, with changes shown on month-over-month and year-over-year bases. The headline number shows the percentage change in national retail sales on a dollar basis; the percentage change in volume terms is also shown. The retail sales figures are shown by industry and for each province or territory, and provide insights into Canadian consumer spending.12
The building permits survey conducted monthly by Statistics Canada collects data on the value of permits issued by Canadian municipalities for residential and non-residential buildings, as well as the number of residential dwellings authorized. Since building permit issuance is one of the very first steps in the process of construction, the aggregate building permits data are very useful as a leading indicator for assessing the state of the construction industry.13
The Bottom Line
The 12 economic indicators briefly described above show the health of key aspects of Canada’s economy: consumer spending, housing, manufacturing, employment, inflation, external trade, and economic growth. Taken together, they provide a comprehensive picture of the state of the Canadian economy.
Canada adds jobs for fourth straight month in May
Canada added 101,600 jobs in May, the fourth consecutive month of gains, led by hiring in the education and health services sector as well as in professional and business services, a report from payroll services provider ADP showed on Thursday.
The April data was revised to show 101,300 jobs were gained, rather than an increase of 351,300. The report, which is derived from ADP’s payrolls data, measures the change in total nonfarm payroll employment each month on a seasonally-adjusted basis.
(Reporting by Fergal Smith; Editing by Alex Richardson)