Not much else to think about

By Dian Cohen
Not much else to think about
Dian Cohen (Photo : Courtesy)

It’s almost exactly one year since the world heard about COVID and it’s hard to think of anything else. Just about everything business or economic hangs on the news about COVID and the vaccines: indications are that governments are overpromising on timelines for inoculating front-line workers, the vulnerable population and ordinary folk; alarm bells are going off as regulators change their minds on when you should get your second shot.
Statistics Canada releases data on the economy every Friday afternoon – sometimes it gets more play than other times, but nowadays, it’s almost all related to COVID. For example, house prices are soaring as the part of the population that has money coming in looks to trade up for extra space so they can work at home or get into the market for the first time. This is happening as year-end statistics indicate that thousands of people are moving out of urban centres into smaller cities and town, where land and house prices are cheaper than Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver.
Canada’s Chief Statistician, Anil Arora, has a “top ten” list of statistical facts. He says is amazing just how much physical distancing measures have changed the way people spend their time: 34 per cent of Canadians spent more on their home and mobile Internet connections, and 44 per cent of Canadians spent more online on computers, laptops, tablets and accessories. About 12 per cent of the population – 4.6 million Canadians – worked from home in November 2020. This was an increase of approximately 250,000 from October and included 2.5 million who don’t usually work from home. But risks and opportunities are unevenly distributed, says Arora. Workers at the bottom of the earnings distribution may be more vulnerable to job automation and have less opportunity for telework.
Another highlight for Arora — International migration. Ordinarily, most of our population growth comes from immigration. Now we know that COVID has made many Canadians reluctant to have more children. Arora says that last year Canada’s immigration reached record levels but growth in 2020 has come to a grinding halt. International border restrictions that reduced immigration levels and the entry of temporary workers and students – combined with both a declining fertility rate and a heightened mortality rate due to COVID-19 – has led to record-low population growth.
Of course, there are lots of stats that we don’t even have to look at because we can guess the new data. Investment in office buildings, hotels and restaurants for example, is down as lockdowns and working from home continues across many parts of the country. Food sales are up a lot – not many restaurants to go. Employment in the natural resources sector rose 2.5 per cent and job recovery was highest in the forestry subsector because of increased demand stemming from the housing subsector.
Exports of gold, silver and platinum and their alloys are up over 25 per cent, no doubt related to banks and others wanting more bullion. Exports of aluminum products are down by half, related to the fact that the US put tariffs on them. And travel services exports remain low, at less than one-third of the value recorded in February 2020 – makes sense considering the border has been closed for close to a year.
The Bank of Canada will tell us this week what they intend to do with interest rates. But Governor Tiff Macklem has already told us: interest rates are down to their lowest levels ever and that’s where they’re going to stay.
And one more first for the pandemic: an extraordinary demand for data. Thanks to StatCan’s web-panel and crowdsourcing initiatives, Canadians have been able to share how COVID-19 is affecting their mental health, finances, domestic situation, and even their ability to finish school. StatCan has created new tools, like the Canadian Economic Dashboard and COVID-19 and the Canadian Statistical Geospatial Explorer. The 2021 Census of Population questionnaire has
been released — it will better reflect Canada’s evolving demographics and capture the sheer scale of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Canadians.
Dian Cohen is an economist and a founding organizer of the
Massawippi Valley Health Centre. Cohendian560@gmail.com.

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