Northern Economist 2.0

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Economic News Around the North: April 25th Edition

It has been a very busy few days when it comes to economic news affecting northern Ontario.  Here is a quick summary of stories:

Well, the softwood lumber dispute is back.  Just as the industry in northern Ontario was beginning to recover from the forest sector crisis, there is going to be a tariff on softwood lumber.  The rates apparently range from 3% to 24%.  Resolute is facing a 12.82 percent tariff with other producers in northern Ontario apparently getting the blanket tariff of 19.88 percent.

Canada vows to fight 'unfair and punitive duty' as Trump slaps tariff on softwood lumber. Financial Post. April 25th, 2017.

Ontario is launching its basic income pilot project and the northern Ontario city selected to participate is Thunder Bay (along with Lindsay and Hamilton) where about 1,000 households will be selected to participate.  According to the news item reported here: "A single person could receive up to about $17,000 a year, minus half of any income he or she earns. A couple could receive up to $24,000 per year. People with disabilities could receive up to $6,000 more per year."

Ontario basic income pilot to launch in Hamilton, Lindsay and Thunder Bay. CBC News, April 24, 2017.

I would imagine that none of the Thunder Bay recipients basic income will be residents of the new housing development approved by Thunder Bay City council this week. A 49 lot subdivision was approved that really is a testament to urban sprawl and an example of poor long-term financial planning given the costs of servicing the infrastructure. Ultimately a three kilometer sewer line will have to be extended from Parkdale to the new subdivision.  That is a long sewer line to put through very low urban density areas.

Maplewood Estates expansion approved by Thunder Bay city council. CBC News, Thunder Bay, April 25th, 2017.

In other news around the north.

New flight training centre could create up to 150 jobs in Sudbury. Northern Ontario Business. April 18th, 2017.

Northern Ontario railway still struggling. April 25th, 2017.

The release of the latest in a series of Northern Policy Institute reports on boosting immigration.

Project aims to attract immigrants to the North. Sault Star, April 20th, 2017.

Decline in available workers a growing concern. April 18th, 2017. 

Also in the Sault:

Ontario Supporting Craft Brewery Expansion in Sault Ste. Marie., April 21st, 2017.

City pleads the need for Essar's tax money. Sault Star. April 19th, 2017.

Some controversy still in North Bay regarding a new casino project.

Casino risky for economy., April 20th, 2017.

Is help on the way for northern Ontario from the federal government?  Apparently: "The federal government is working to attract jobs and qualified people to Northern Ontario in an attempt to turn around the loss of population – particularly young people – according to the federal minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development."

"All-hands on deck" needed to reverse trend-minister. April 20th, 2017.  It was not exactly specified if the ship was heading into stormy waters or was sinking and needed to be abandoned.

And remember, Thursday is budget day in Ontario.  For my take on what to expect? See this.

Have a great week. 

Friday, 21 April 2017

Evaluating Northern Ontario’s Growth Plan-Part IV (Business and Consumer Insolvency)

This is the fourth in a series of posts in which I am presenting evidence evaluating the Growth Plan for Northern Ontario, which was released on March 4, 2011.  The 25-year plan was to guide provincial decision-making and investment in northern Ontario with the aim of strengthening the regional economy. The goal was strengthening the economy of the North by:
  • Diversifying the region's traditional resource-based industries
  • Stimulating new investment and entrepreneurship
  • Nurturing new and emerging sectors with high growth potential.
While the provincial government did commit itself to the development of performance measures for ministry specific initiatives that supported the implementation of the plan, I will be using a broader set of indicators of overall economic performance that are supported by the availability of readily accessible public data.  My first post was an overview while my second post looked at employment and my third post looked at new investment spending as measured by building permits. In this post, I will be looking at consumer and business bankruptcies or insolvencies as an indicator of economic health.  All other things, during times of economic distress, one would expect to see more consumer and business bankruptcies while during better economic times, the numbers should be expected to decline.

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Mortality in the North

Ontario’s Health Quality Council has just released a new report on Health Equity in northern Ontario that shows that Ontario’s northern regions lag behind provincial averages in quality of health and health care.  The geographic focus of the report is on the area that “extends north of Lake Huron to Hudson Bay and James Bay, and from the Quebec border in the east to the Manitoba border in the west, which represent nearly 80% of Ontario’s landmass.”  If you do not want to read the report, there is a pretty good overview in the Globe and Mail.

While northern Ontario has seen health gains over time, it remains that the gap in health indicators between the north and the south is growing and it may be worse than the report suggests because the report’s data is drawn from Statistics Canada’s Community Health Survey, which does not cover Indigenous people living on reserves.  As it stands, the relative gap in mortality rates has grown to 30 percent in 2012 from a 12-17 percent range in 1992.  In 2012, the age standardized mortality rate per 1,000 people was 5.7 in the northwest, 5.7 in the northeast and 4.4 in Ontario.

People in the North West LHIN region have a life expectancy of 78.6 years, compared to 81.5 years in Ontario. People in the North East LHIN region also have a markedly lower life expectancy than Ontario overall, of 79.0 years, or 2.5 years shorter than the Ontario average. The North West LHIN region has nearly double Ontario’s number of potential years of life lost due to avoidable deaths, at 6,023 years lost per 100,000 people over a two-year period, compared to 3,243 years per 100,000 people in Ontario. The North East LHIN region also has considerably higher potential years of life lost due to avoidable deaths than Ontario, at 4,763 years per 100,000 people. People in northern Ontario are more likely to die prematurely due to suicide, circulatory and respiratory disease.

The reasons for these differences are complex.  The north is a sparsely populated region and the vast differences make it difficult to deliver the same level of care one might get in Toronto to smaller isolated communities.  There are also lifestyle factors such as higher smoking, drinking and obesity rates in the north.  For example, the self-reported smoking rate was 26.0% in the North East LHIN region and 22.9% in the North West LHIN region, compared to 17.3% in Ontario.

However, access is also still an an issue.  According to the report: “People in the north are less likely than Ontarians as a whole to report having a family doctor, nurse practitioner or other regular health care provider – 89.2% of people in the North East LHIN region and 83.8% in the North West LHIN region, compared to 93.8% of people in Ontario.”  The Globe and Mail story quotes NDP health critic Frances Gélinas as saying that part of the blame for health-quality gaps between the north and south lies with the Liberal government’s move to concentrate health services and surgeries in “centres of excellence” in big cities in the south.

To that, let me add the following anecdotal observation.  Its not just centralization in the south that may be affecting access to health care in northern Ontario but also concentration of health services and facilities within the north’s few major urban centers themselves.  Take the case of Thunder Bay since the new centralized hospital and new medical school were put into place over a decade ago, there has been a steady migration of health services and facilities to the area around the new hospital on the north side of the city.  Indeed, even the Fort William Clinic is now technically in what used to be the old City of Port Arthur.  Twenty years ago, hospitals, diagnostic facilities and clinics appeared to be much more dispersed across the city’s two north-south population clusters. 

I would like to see a study of if there has been any impact on access to medical services and access particularly for those on the south side of the city to physician visits and diagnostic tests.  Especially, how have seniors with limited mobility and lower income people on the south side continued to access physician appointments and tests.  Do they have a higher rate of cancellation?  Would the south side benefit from having an Urgent Care Access Center like the types that have been springing up in southern Ontario cities? Perhaps there has been no change but I would like to see some evidence based results because my gut feeling is that it is much harder to access care even in the north’s larger urban centers and the result is fewer people going to see doctors and getting tests.  Moreover, those most likely to not make it to the doctor may be among more vulnerable populations. However, gut feelings are not enough to make policy. We need evidence.