Northern Economist 2.0

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Will It Be a Wynne Win Situation in June?

The consensus seems to be that Ontario’s current Liberal government and Premier Kathleen Wynne are headed for defeat come the June 2018 election.  Recent polls have seen the government trailing third behind the Conservatives and the New Democrats.  An IPSOs poll in mid-September also suggested that most Ontario voters –- 76 percent -- want a change in government.

Two cabinet ministers (Treasury Board President Liz Sandals and Deputy Premier Deb Matthews) recently announced that they will not be seeking re-election which some may interpret as a signal that there is not a lot of confidence in the government’s future past June.  This is on top of Economic Development Minister Brad Duguid who announced last month he won’t run for re-election and Environment Minister Glen Murray in the summer.

As well, the Premier’s personal approval rating is low.  There is the baggage of nearly 15 years of Liberal government rule including the demise of the manufacturing sector, high electricity prices, the high debt and deficit, and the gas plants scandal to which can be added the current trial underway in Sudbury.  And the electricity sector seems to be a problem that never seems to diminish in scope given the recent Auditor General’s report that the Wynne government’s plan to reduce electricity prices will eventually be higher cost in the long run.

Yet, one should not count Kathleen Wynne and the Liberals out yet.  Recent polls have suggested there has been a bit of a rebound in Liberal support with a September 30th Forum poll suggesting the Liberals and PCs are tied for support in the vote rich Toronto area. Given the recent rebound in Ontario’s economy, the electorate may be less keen to turf the governing party in favor of gambling the PCs might do a better job with the economy.   As well, there have been a range of initiatives –the minimum wage hike, changes to real estate rules, the basic income pilot that are likely to sway NDP supporters.  And most Ontarians will not understand that a lower electricity bill today will eventually mean much higher bills tomorrow under the current Liberal plan. As for the departing cabinet ministers, another interpretation is that after 15 years one can expect to see the departure of veterans and renewal of candidates.

It all comes down to the campaign.  The Liberals in Canada, whether at the provincial level or the federal level tend to campaign from the left and then govern from the right.  They are usually quite successful in running campaigns with policies that take enough votes from the NDP to gain office.  They are somewhat less successful in governing like PCs when it comes to economic matters given that seems to be a congenital Liberal predisposition to grand social, economic and industrial interventionist strategies.  However, demonstrating this to the public requires a strong, inspiring and methodical policy campaign by the PCs and to date PC leader Patrick Brown despite any lead in the polls has yet to capture the imagination of Ontario voters.

In the end, one can imagine that Liberal support bottomed early enough this summer to allow the Liberals to position themselves as “the underdog” and come back from behind.  Indeed, one wonders if this was not the strategy all along to allow the opposition parties to capture the lead in the polls and peak early.  Of course, such a strategy can still backfire despite the recent policy stage being set by the Liberals if events deal them economic or political shocks.  And there is always the strong possibility that the opposition leaders might finally get their act together and campaign more effectively. 

It is going to be an entertaining next few months in the lead up to the election.

Sunday, 8 October 2017

Porter Airlines Says it's Sorry But Is it Enough?

Well, we had quite the flight delay with Porter Airlines yesterday.  Our flight to Billy Bishop from Thunder Bay was supposed to depart at 11:10 am and when all was said and done it did not leave until nearly 6:00 pm meaning that from start to finish our trip to Hamilton in the end took twelve hours.  We have traveled to Europe in less.  Indeed, you can drive to Hamilton from Thunder Bay in about 14 hours straight if you put your mind to it.  Still, compared to others on the packed flight with small children or who were traveling on tighter schedules to attend weddings or were unable to go back to their house and spend some time for the extended wait – we were fortunate.  And Porter has demonstrated its concern and sympathy and very quickly emailed us with a 100-dollar voucher each (it came in at 4:52am this morning) to be used on future bookings with Porter.  Based on the length of the delay and the amount of the compensation, it seems that Porter already complies with the new proposed Ontario minimum wage at least when it comes to the value of passenger time.

In the end the delay was for a “mechanical issue” and as one of the flight attendants who took the elevator with us at the end of the flight remarked it is better to be safe than sorry.  I agree.  Still, this is not the first mechanical delay with Porter on a flight to or from Thunder Bay that I or other members of my family have encountered.  Indeed, over the last year there have now been about four such issues involving us with the most recent delay the longest.  In each case, the weather was excellent and the plane on the tarmac and then suddenly…the dreaded delay due to a mechanical issue.  However, if you are in Thunder Bay it is even more ominous because Porter Airlines must fly in the mechanic from Toronto on its next available flight.

Why Porter airlines and the other two airlines in Thunder Bay (Air Canada and Westjet) who also fly nothing but Q400s there could not get together to chip in and maintain one mechanic on a standby contract to service their planes is beyond me.  Perhaps the recent announcement from Porter that they are making Thunder Bay a crew base will also mean they are going to keep a mechanic and parts on hand.  I hope that is the case because I like flying Porter and the convenient access to downtown Toronto.

At the same time, I think Porter has had an awful lot of “mechanical issues” and having so many really is ultimately their fault. I think they have an aging stock of aircraft given that the planned beefing up with the C-Series fell through and they now need to renew their aircraft stock in a very competitive airline world.  It's tough I know.  Still, here is the thing.  You can’t keep telling people they have a delay due to mechanical issues.  It has happened often enough to me and my family now that inevitably I am starting to wonder if an airline with so many mechanical issues is the one I should keep selecting for my travel.  I am already booked on a few more flights with Porter for the next couple of months but after that maybe I should shop around more.  After all, better to be safe than sorry.

Thursday, 5 October 2017

The State of the North

The State of the North conference hosted by the Northern Policy Institute was held in Timmins from September 27-28 with much of the discussion focusing on reversing the north's economic decline.   Charles Cirtwill, President of the Northern Policy Institute sent out the slides of his presentation with an invitation to share and today's post reproduces a few of those slides.  Figures 1-2 present some GDP estimates by sector for the Northwest and the Northeast of Ontario while Figures 3-5 present non-residential building permits for assorted northern Ontario districts.