Jock Finlayson is executive vice president and chief policy officer of the Business Council of BC. (Submitted)

COLUMN: B.C.’s biggest economic and business stories of 2019

Jock Finlayson is executive vice president and chief policy officer of the Business Council of BC

As the new year beckons, it’s a good time to reflect on the major economic and business stories of the year that’s about to end. To keep the task manageable, the focus here is limited to Canada and B.C.

One surprising development in 2019 was the return to a period of falling interest rates.

When the year began, most economic forecasters were expecting both the Bank of Canada’s policy rate and market-based interest rates to continue creeping higher, on the heels of earlier rate increases in 2018.

Instead, the interest rates facing savers and borrowers dropped over the last half of 2019 – not just in Canada, but in the U.S. too.

As of late November, the market yield on 10-year bonds issued by the federal government stood at a paltry 1.6 per cent.

With inflation running around two per cent, this means buyers of 10-year government bonds are locking in a negative return after inflation. That would appear to be an unappetizing investment. Yet there is no shortage of demand for government bonds yielding microscopic returns.

READ MORE: Bank of Canada holds interest rate, warns economy’s resilience to be ‘tested’

Another notable story in 2019 was the continued troubles afflicting the Western Canadian energy sector, above all the oil and gas industry that accounts for up to one-fifth of Canada’s exports in a typical year.

While the Canadian industry has been innovating and cutting costs in an environment of lower prices, escalating government-imposed regulatory burdens, stalled pipeline development, and rising oil and gas production in the United States mean the overall energy landscape has shifted in ways that disadvantage Canada.

The result is tens of billions of dollars of foregone economic value because of persistent price discounts on Western Canadian oil vis-à-vis oil produced in the U.S., significant job losses in the Alberta energy patch, investment outflows to the U.S., and the departure from Canada of at least one major energy company head office – Encana – with more likely to follow.

All in all, energy policy and recent energy investment patterns show Canada in an unflattering light.

KEEP READING: Encana moves headquarters from Calgary to U.S., changes name to Ovintiv

For B.C., the crisis gripping the forest industry is clearly top of mind.

More than a dozen lumber manufacturing plants in the interior and north have stopped operating – some permanently. Thousands of well-paying jobs have disappeared, and more are at risk. Lumber production and export shipments are down significantly compared to 2018 levels, helping to drive a decline in B.C.’s total exports.

The NDP government has responded by providing some assistance to some laid-off forest workers and forestry-dependent communities. But it seems curiously indifferent to the long-term economic health of the province’s most important export industry.

Policy-makers are overlooking the fact that a viable B.C. forest industry depends on the presence of strong companies with the size and scale to withstand market cycles and invest in developing new markets and in keeping existing mills efficient.

It is troubling to watch the leading firms redeploying capital and shifting management attention to other provinces and the U.S.

READ MORE: Fewer trees, higher costs blamed for devastating downturn in B.C. forestry

Finally, there is housing. The past year brought a sharp decline followed by a jump in home sales, as the market adjusted to an onslaught of new and higher provincial taxes, the mortgage “stress test” introduced by the federal government, and other policy measures designed to cool demand and dampen speculation in the Lower Mainland, Greater Victoria, and the Kelowna area.

Housing prices have dropped markedly at the expensive end of the market, but much less so for the average property.

Homebuilding and housing starts in 2019 have been surprisingly resilient, considering the contemporaneous unwinding of froth in the market.

Some industry experts are forecasting a sizable decline in housing starts in 2020, as developers shelve or delay projects against the backdrop of recent policy measures. If starts do plunge, that will detract from economic growth in B.C. in 2020 and beyond.

But with rock-bottom interest rates and a rapidly growing population fueled by record levels of immigration, the demand for housing in “urban B.C.” is expected to remain elevated – a situation that should continue to support the development of new housing supply over the medium-term.

Jock Finlayson is executive vice president and chief policy officer of the Business Council of British Columbia

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Just Posted

Old Christmas card has ties to Summerland agriculture

Card was sent by former director of Summerland Research Station

Fans sing Canadian anthem after sound system breaks at BMW IBSF World Cup

The Canadians in attendance made sure their team and flag were honoured on the podium

Award-winning musical coming to the South Okanagan

The hit musical Chicago is coming to Penticton for two shows next March

Penticton resident allegedly has rear car tires stolen

The resident woke up today to find their back tires missing and their car on blocks

Funding sought for family of 15-year-old Summerland girl with cancer

Treatment will involve two weeks in hospital, followed by eight to 10 weeks recovery at home

VIDEO: Success of wildlife corridors in Banff National Park has advocates wanting more

Demand for more highway protection escalated after seven elk were killed by a semi-trailer near Canmore

RCMP officer volunteers as designated driver

Princeton’s two largest employers ensure safe rides for Christmas parties

Pacioretty scores 2, Golden Knights top Canucks 6-3

Vegas goalie Fleury gets win No. 452

In Photos: CP Rail Holiday Train lights up the Shuswap

The stop on the train’s Canada-wide journey came with a $5,500 donation to local food bank.

B.C. VIEWS: Hunger does not end with the season

Despite innovations in food distribution, the need is still there in B.C. communities

Kelowna RCMP officer suspended after allegedly sexting assault victim

RCMP confirm investigation but hold back details

Legendary primatologist coming to Okanagan

Dame Jane Goodall, founder of the Jane Goodall Institute, will present in Vernon Tuesday, March 24

Frosty will have to pay rent to stay on Okanagan sidewalk next Christmas

Vernon Teach and Learn allowed to keep Frosty up, but will need a permit come January 1

Prince George RCMP use bait packages to catch porch pirates over the holidays

First-in-Canada program with Amazon looks to combat parcel theft

Most Read