Here’s another headline to add to your top-10 list of not surprising news. It’s from the Royal Bank: “Economy in Maritimes Slowest Growing.” That’s right up there with Politician Makes Promise and Celebrity Makes Fool of Self.
RBC’s economic analysis unit surveyed the country and as the headline suggests, it predicts the Maritimes will lag the rest of Canada, yet again.
New Brunswick will have the slowest growth of any province with Nova Scotia and Prince Edward tied with the distinction of second slowest. It’s not a recession and not quite stagnation, but there’s not much to cheer about coming in the year ahead.
In fact, the bank is predicting slow growth right across Canada and only those provinces with strong resource industries will prosper. Guess which provinces they mean? Yeah, right: Alberta, Saskatchewan and British Columbia, even Manitoba.
But that’s all right. It’s better to have some growth in Canada than none at all. The issue down east is that there’s just no spark that could get things going anywhere in the region.
Like the people who live here, RBC is waiting on new projects to boost the region’s economy. Energy projects in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia are at various stages of development: the proposed Energy East pipeline benefits the economy in Irving-dominated Saint John and a new offshore gas field southwest of Sable Island will help in Nova Scotia.
But Energy East is still far from a sure thing: it needs buy-in from every province from Alberta on east, including the ever-problematic Quebec. That said, the federal Conservative government will do all it can to move the proposal along because it’s seen as a way to boost prices for western oil.
It’s an ambitious undertaking and the benefits are still fairly far off in the future, 2018 or so. But the bank’s experts suggest that any progress on Energy East could build business confidence in New Brunswick, which has been lagging.
For the time being, sadly, RBC sees little growth in employment for New Brunswickers.
That means more skilled workers will head down the road for jobs in Ontario and the West. It also means the economy will grow at an anemic .8 per cent in the coming year.
Things are looking better for 2014 in New Brunswick, but even with a doubling of the rate of growth, it’s still only forecast to grow at 1.5 per cent in 2014. The bank says that won’t do much to stem the tide of out-migration.
Nova Scotia is also in a state of suspended animation, but it’s a bit better off than its neighbour to the west. Production is expected to begin this fall at Encana Corp.’s Deep Panuke offshore gas field, which might help grow the economy in 2014 by 2.3 per cent.
But as with New Brunswick, job-seekers will be singing the blues in the Bluenose province.
“We expect the economy will edge out fewer than 500 jobs in 2013 to mark the province’s fifth consecutive year of sub-one per cent employment growth,” the report said. No wonder the NDP government is in trouble.
The forecast for all three provinces hinges to a greater or lesser degree on the American economy getting some of its mojo back. There are signs that’s happening, but just last week the Federal Reserve signalled that the rebound is still a little way off.
It defied most of the forecasters by saying it will keep its low-interest policy in place. Good news for the stock market, not so much for the economy.
“Prince Edward Island’s economy hit a speed bump this year,” is how RBC sums up the Island’s economic performance for 2013. The bank predicts potato exports, dented by a bumper U.S. crop in 2012, will pick up next year as will aerospace.
But the real problem in P.E.I. is the local economy, which remains sluggish. While employment grew by 2.6 per cent — best in the Maritimes — the outlook for next year is for a bit of a slump.
“Adding to the pullback, (P.E.I.) continued to face an outflow of Islanders who are relocating to other provinces, most notably to Ontario, after 2012 saw the largest net outflow of migrants to other provinces since 1969,” the bank said.
All three Maritime provinces also have this in common: governments that are flailing about trying to stimulate employment but, if RBC is to be believed, achieving precious little success.
Dan Leger is a Halifax-based writer and commentator.