COLUMN: Perry Bergson — Aug. 27, 2012

Perry Bergson
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I’ve moved to a province with a bit of an inferiority complex. And, quite frankly, it puzzles me.

In many ways, the outsider’s view of Saskatchewan remains that it’s a province of farmers who are fanatical Roughrider fans.

Yes, there are farmers here. And in fact this year Saskatchewan passed Ontario as the biggest food producer in the country.

I won’t even deal with the second part of the sentence two paragraphs up. If anything is self-evident, that would be it.

But as a transplanted Manitoba boy now living and working in Saskatchewan, I’m forever stunned by the economic progress going on here.

I feel like I’ve just moved to Calgary in 1973. The signs of the boom are everywhere.

The people of Saskatchewan should be shouting from the rooftops about the things that have been accomplished in this province during the last decade.

Yet the only people talking about the “Saskatchewan Advantage” — which I consider to be a very real thing, not just more political nonsense — are the folks who we’ve voted into office.

I want to make it clear that this isn’t an endorsement of any particular political party.

I honestly believe that lots of what goes on around us happens because it was its time to happen, not because of enlightened political thought. I find that especially true on the provincial and federal level, where folks are quickest to take credit for themselves and to assign blame to whoever came before.

Let’s look at a few things that the province should be proud of. (The following statistics come from Statistics Canada and the Conference Board of Canada.)

• Employment

In many economic numbers, experts compare that month to the same month a year earlier. Last month, there was an all-time July record set of 542,600 people working, with 462,100 full-time jobs. Overall employment was up 1.9 per cent while full-time employment was up 2.1 per cent over the same month the year before.

So is this a weird stat out of context in one month? If it is, it’s hiding it well. It was the eighth month in a row that the 2012 number trumped the 2011 number.

The overall hike of 1.9 was third best among the provinces.

Sadly the unemployment rate remains at five per cent, although it is important to note that the Canadian average was 7.3 per cent in July.

In June, Employment Insurance claims dropped 14.6 per cent in Saskatchewan over June of 2011, the largest fall among the provinces. The actual number was 910 fewer claims.

• Building permits

Saskatchewan building permits set a new record for June.

Building permits hit $308 million in June, a 33.5 per cent increase over the figure for June 2011. This was the second highest increase among the provinces; the national average was 3.2 per cent.

A nice part of that number is the fact that non-residential construction was up six per cent over the first quarter, which was much higher than the national average of 1.8 per cent. That number shows that business has confidence in the economic climate.

• Retail sector

While retail sales in June dropped 0.1 per cent in Canada over last June, they actually rose 5.3 per cent in Saskatchewan. The money spent in June, $1.44 billion, was also a record.

Provincial retail sales also reached a record $1.4 billion in May, a clear indication of rising consumer confidence and strength in the economy.

Year-over-year provincial retail sales rose 11 per cent, with new auto sales accounting for nearly one-third of the gains. The fact that vehicle sales are driving this figure is encouraging.

Consumer spending is expected to continue rising in the near future as the province’s personal disposable income is expected to grow by 4.4 per cent this year and 3.9 per cent in 2013.

• Export sales

Saskatchewan posted a 3.6 per cent increase in June export sales compared to June 2011. January to June exports totaled more than $16 billion worth of exports — a 16.2 per cent increase over 2011.

And it wasn’t a one-month thing.

In May, Saskatchewan exported $2.8 billion in goods, up 19.8 per cent over the same month in 2011. It was the second highest total gain among provinces.

So where are these numbers coming from? Energy was up 35.1 per cent and agricultural products were up 14.1 in May.

• Economic outlook

The Conference Board of Canada suggested that Saskatchewan's economic growth will be 2.4 per cent in 2012, then speed ahead in 2013 and 2014. Saskatchewan is expected to lead all provinces in the next two years.

• Average earnings

The May numbers were just released in July, so they are the most up to date. In May 2012, the numbers were up 5.4 per cent compared with May 2011. While Newfoundland and Labrador matched that number, the overall growth in Canada was 2.5 per cent.

The actual average weekly earnings for May were $897.80, which is fourth highest in Canada. Saskatchewan has been above the national average since August 2011.

• Agriculture

This province’s roughly 50,000 farmers exported $10 billion in agri-food products in 2011, pushing Saskatchewan past Ontario into the No. 1 spot in Canada for exports.

• Wholesale trade

Again, wholesale trade totalled $1.96 billion in June, a record figure for that month.

Wholesale trade rose 7.1 per cent over June of 2011, the second best among the provinces and topping the 6.3 per cent rise nationally.

In May, the number went up an astonishing 13.2 per cent, which was third best in Canada.

Am I suggesting that this is a paradise on earth, sheltered from problems or inequalities? Of course not.

You’ll do a lot of searching to find that place.

I’ve always had the sense that when the boom finds a way to connect with our First Nations and Métis populations, Saskatchewan will be utterly unstoppable.

But take it from somebody with an outsider’s perspective: Things are pretty darn good here.

Organizations: Statistics Canada, Employment Insurance, Conference Board of Canada First Nations

Geographic location: Saskatchewan, Canada, Ontario Manitoba Calgary Newfoundland and Labrador

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Recent comments

  • Rob Dalziel
    August 27, 2012 - 14:48

    There is a heck of a lot going on here.