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  • Vermilion Voice

Partnership Breakfast Economist Says Alberta Needs To Refocus

The crowd who came out early for the Vermilion Region Partnership Breakfast listened attentively to ATB Financial Chief Economist Todd Hirsch’s predictions for the future at the Vermilion Regional Center on April 6.

“2017 is going to be a re-building year, it might feel a little sluggish but growth is coming back modestly, and things are moving in the right direction!

It’s not unusual for Alberta to see a recession, about every 6/7 years. What is unusual is that we had two consecutive years of contraction, which is what we experienced in 2015 and 2016, you need to go back to the 1980s to find something comparable,” said Hirsch, who has over two decades of experience as an economist, professor, and commentator.

“You cannot anticipate some factors with the economy like who is going to be elected President or the Fort McMurray wildfires,” he added.

Hirsch outlined three aspects of the provincial economy; ‘where we were, where we are at currently and what we can expect in 2017 and beyond.’

(Pictured) Alberta Economist and Public Speaker Todd Hirsch at the 2017 Region Partnership Breakfast in Vermilion on April 6.

Photo Marie Conboy

“The job market is going to remain a bit weak for a while. The oil and gas sector take home the highest weekly earnings in the province, although it is not the biggest employer, twice as many people work in the construction sector, and the wages are less. The employment pyramid is the same today as it was three years ago. There was a 23 per cent drop in the oil and gas employment sector, and the total wages of the province are down almost 6 per cent,” informed Hirsch.

He talked about the factors influencing oil prices including U.S. Shale production and oil based discoveries with new technologies in Texas and added that oil prices will remain stable for the rest of the year.

“Geopolitics will be a great influencer in 2017. We are not out of the woods; the new U.S. President Donald Trump has shown that he is going to lead with Twitter and no one knows what he is going to do next. There is very little solid platform. There are big risks for Canada in 2017, especially within the agriculture and forestry sectors, concerning trade relationships with our U.S. partners.

“2017 will be a slow down for construction in Alberta, but not a disaster. Building permits are good indicators of construction in the province. There has been a 4 per cent drop compared to the 10 year average,” he said.

Hirsch added that the oil sector is not the engine driving Alberta the way it used to but there are other non-energy sectors doing great.

“Alberta needs to step back and look at our economy from a different perspective and imagine what our economy can also include. Tourism is doing great, 2016 was a record high, and with Canada 150 this year it is going to be even better. Agriculture and Agri-Food are growing and have lots of scope to expand,” said Hirsch.

Economic Development Coordinator for the Town of Vermilion Mary Lee Prior said that she was happy with the turnout.

“I think we had a fabulous crowd and a great breakfast. It’s nice to see the larger picture and hear early in the year how the economy is going to work for us in 2017,” said Prior.

“It’s nice to see on a provincial level that there are diversities, options, and opportunities in the growing sectors in Alberta. It’s great to remind everyone that the tourism and the Agri-Food sectors are growing and doing well all across the province, and that maybe there are some opportunities for us here,” said Community Development Coordinator with the County of Vermilion River, Corinne McGirr.

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