Canadian Housing Remained Strong in November
Today’s release of November housing data by the Canadian Real Estate Association (CREA) shows national home sales continued to run at historically strong levels last month. Competition among buyers remains intense in the detached-home market and townhouses. Still, condo apartment sales-relative-to-new-listings have slowed as new listings surged, especially in the City of Toronto.
Thanks to the lack of tourism and the reduced influx of immigrants, rents in Toronto have declined, changing the economics of condo investing. Many Airbnb properties in the short-term rental pool are now available for long-term rental, and the supply of newly built condos continues to rise. Lower rents have created a negative cash flow situation for some investors who are now anxious to sell. As the supply of condo listings rises, demand has also slowed as many buyers look for less densified space. Combine that with the dearth of tourists and new immigrants, and it’s no wonder that the condo sector–especially smaller condos, is the weakest in the housing market.
The Canadian federal government has committed to increased immigration targets for the next three years to make up for the shortfall in 2020. this was featured in a Government of Canada news release stating, “The pandemic has highlighted the contribution of immigrants to the well-being of our communities and across all sectors of the economy. Our health-care system relies on immigrants to keep Canadians safe and healthy. Other industries, such as information technology companies and our farmers and producers, also rely on the talent of newcomers to maintain supply chains, expand their businesses and, in turn, create more jobs for Canadians”. Canada aims to welcome 401,000 new immigrants in 2021, 411,000 in 2022 and 421,000 in 2023.
The newly available vaccine will also encourage a return of short-term renters, but probably not until 2022 at the earliest.
Home sales edged down moderately for extremely high levels in both October and November. Notwithstanding this, monthly activity is still running well above historical levels (see chart below).Actual (not seasonally adjusted) sales activity posted a 32.1% y-o-y gain in November – the same as in October. It was a new record for that month by a margin of well over 11,000 transactions. For the fifth straight month, year-over-year sales activity was up in almost all Canadian housing markets compared to the same month in 2019. Among the few markets that were down on a year-over-year basis, it is likely the handful from Ontario reflect a supply issue rather than a demand issue.
This year, some 511,449 homes have traded hands over Canadian MLS® Systems, up 10.5% from the first 11 months of 2019. It was the second-highest January to November sales figure on record, trailing 2016 by only 0.3% at this point.
Shaun Cathcart, CREA’s Senior Economist, said, “It will be a photo finish, but it’s looking like 2020 will be a record year for home sales in Canada despite historically low supply. We’re almost in 2021, and market conditions nationally are the tightest they have ever been, and sales activity continues to set records. Much like this virus, I don’t see it all turning into a pumpkin on New Year’s Eve, but at least vaccination is a light at the end of the tunnel. Immigration and population growth will ramp back up, mortgage rates are expected to remain very low, and a place to call home is more important than ever. On top of that, the COVID-related shake-up to so much of daily life will likely continue to result in more people choosing to pull up stakes and move around. If anything, our forecast for another annual sales record in 2021 may be on the low side.”
The number of newly listed homes declined by 1.6% in November, led by fewer new listings in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) and Ottawa.
With sales and new supply down by the same percentages in November, the national sales-to-new listings ratio was unchanged at 74.8% – still among the highest levels on record for the measure. The long-term average for the national sales-to-new listings ratio is 54.2%.
Based on a comparison of sales-to-new listings ratio with long-term averages, only about 30% of all local markets were in balanced market territory in November, measured as being within one standard deviation of their long-term average. The other 70% of markets were above long-term norms, in many cases well above.
There were just 2.4 months of inventory on a national basis at the end of November 2020 – the lowest reading on record for this measure. At the local market level, some 21 Ontario markets were under one month of inventory at the end of November.
The Aggregate Composite MLS® Home Price Index (MLS® HPI) rose by 1.2% m-o-m in November 2020. Of the 40 markets now tracked by the index, all but one were up between October and November.
The non-seasonally adjusted Aggregate Composite MLS® HPI was up 11.6% on a y-o-y basis in November – the biggest gain since July 2017 (see chart below).
The table below shows the changing preferences of homebuyers for less densely populated areas outside the city core. With more people working from home, shorter commuting times don’t seem to be as important as before.
The largest y-o-y gains – between 25- 30% – were recorded in Quinte & District, Tillsonburg District, Woodstock-Ingersoll, and many Ontario cottage country areas.
Y-o-y price increases in the 20-25% range were seen in Barrie, Bancroft and Area, Brantford, Huron Perth, London & St. Thomas, North Bay, Simcoe & District, Southern Georgian Bay and Ottawa.
Y-o-y price gains in the range of 15-20% were posted in Hamilton, Niagara, Guelph, Cambridge, Grey-Bruce Owen Sound, Kitchener-Waterloo, Northumberland Hills, Peterborough and the Kawarthas, Montreal and Greater Moncton.
Prices were up in the 10-15% range in the GTA, Oakville-Milton and Mississauga.
Meanwhile, y-o-y price gains were in the 5-10% range in Greater Vancouver, the Fraser Valley, Chilliwack, Victoria and elsewhere on Vancouver Island, the Okanagan Valley, Regina, Saskatoon, Winnipeg, Quebec City and St. John’s NL. Price gains also climbed to around 1-2% y-o-y in Calgary and Edmonton.
The MLS® HPI provides the best way to gauge price trends because averages are strongly distorted by changes in sales activity mix from one month to the next.
The actual (not seasonally adjusted) national average home price was just over $603,000 in November 2020, up 13.8% from the same month last year.
Housing strength is largely attributable to record-low mortgage rates and strong demand for more spacious accommodation by households that have maintained their income level during the pandemic. The hardest-hit households are low-wage earners in the accommodation, food services, non-essential retail and tourism-related sectors. These are the folks that can least afford it and typically are not homeowners. The good news is that the housing market is contributing to the recovery in economic activity.
The level of sales is firm and holding up better than most pundits had expected. Despite the historic setback to the market earlier this year caused by the pandemic, CREA projects national sales will hit a record of 544,413 units in 2020, representing an 11.1% increase from 2019, and rise again next year by 7.2% to around 584,000 units.
Dr. Sherry Cooper
Canada’s Jobs Recovery Slowed Again in November With Second Wave
The November Labour Force Survey, released this morning by Stats Canada, showed an employment increase of 62,000 compared to 83,600 in October–well below the 378,000 gain in September. This was the weakest job growth in the past six months since the economic recovery began (see chart below). The rapid runup in COVID cases continues to dampen the recovery.
Virtually all of the job gains last month were in full-time work. Among those who worked part-time in November, more than one-fifth (22.6%; 808,000) wanted full-time work (30 hours or more per week) but could not find it. This was up 5.2 percentage points from 12 months earlier, with above-average increases among men aged 25 to 54 (up 13.2 percentage points to 46.4%).
Among those who worked at least half of their usual hours, 4.6 million worked from home in November. This was an increase of approximately 250,000 from October and included 2.5 million who do not usually work from home. Among the same group, the number of people working at locations other than home fell by approximately 100,000 to 12.2 million.
The unemployment rate fell to 8.6% in November, compared to 8.9% in October–well below the record-high 13.7% in May.
HOSPITALS AND SCHOOLS DRIVE GROWTH IN PUBLIC SECTOR EMPLOYMENT
The number of public sector employees grew by 32,000 (+0.8%) in November and exceeded its pre-COVID February level by 1.5%. On a year-over-year basis, the number of public sector workers was up 61,000 (+1.6%), driven mostly by increases in hospitals and elementary and secondary schools (not seasonally adjusted).
The number of private-sector employees was little changed in November but was down by 411,000 (-3.3%) compared with 12 months earlier. This decline was largest in accommodation and food services, while employment in professional, scientific and technical services increased (see chart below).
Growth in self-employment stalled in November, and this group remained furthest from November 2019 (-4.5%; -131,000) and from the February pre-COVID level (-4.7%; -136,000).
EMPLOYMENT DECLINES IN LEISURE ACTIVITIES & ACCOMMODATION AND FOOD SERVICES
In November, employment in information, culture and recreation declined by 26,000 (-3.5%), the first notable decline for this industry since April. Employment fell for a second consecutive month in Quebec, where restrictions on public gatherings had been notably tightened as of the Labour Force Survey reference week. At the national level, employment in information, culture and recreation was 10.5% lower in November than in February (see chart below).
Employment in accommodation and food services declined for the second consecutive month, falling by 24,000 (-2.4%) in November, with the drop being shared between Ontario, Manitoba and Quebec. Nearly 1 in 10 (8.9%) employees in accommodation and food services worked less than half their usual hours in November—the third-highest share among all industries, following business, building and other support services (10.3%), and transportation and warehousing (9.2%) (not seasonally adjusted).
Statistics Canada conducted the Canadian Survey on Business Conditions to collect information on businesses’ expectations moving forward from mid-September to late October. Almost one-quarter of businesses in accommodation and food services (22.5%) expected to reduce their number of employees over the next three months, more than double the average across all businesses (10.4%).
SECOND CONSECUTIVE EMPLOYMENT INCREASE IN RETAIL TRADE
In retail trade, employment grew for the second consecutive month, rising 1.5% in November (+32,000), with most of the month-over-month increase in Ontario. Shutdowns of in-person shopping at non-essential retailers were introduced in Toronto and Peel on November 23, after the LFS reference week. They may be reflected in the December LFS results. December results may also shed light on the effect of tighter restrictions in other provinces such as Manitoba and Alberta.
At the national level, the employment increase in November brought retail trade within 3.7% of its pre-COVID employment level.
EMPLOYMENT GROWTH RESUMES FOR CONSTRUCTION AND TRANSPORTATION AND WAREHOUSING
Employment in construction rose by 26,000 (+1.9%) in November, the first increase since July, largely due to a 5.5% (+28,000) increase in Ontario. Nationally, employment in construction was 5.7% below its February level.
After pausing in October, employment growth resumed in transportation and warehousing in November (+20,000; +2.1%). The increase was largely the result of gains in Ontario and British Columbia, bringing employment in this industry to within 6.4% of its pre-COVID level.
FINANCE, INSURANCE, REAL ESTATE, RENTAL AND LEASING NOW EXCEEDING PRE-COVID EMPLOYMENT LEVELS
Employment rose for the third consecutive month in finance, insurance, real estate, rental and leasing, up by 15,000 (+1.2%). The recent employment growth in this industry pushed it fully into recovery territory, surpassing its February level by 2.3%.
EMPLOYMENT UP IN NATURAL RESOURCES FOR THE SECOND CONSECUTIVE MONTH
In natural resources, employment rose for the second consecutive month, rising 3.1% in November (+10,000) and returning to its pre-COVID level. The month-over-month gain was nearly equally split between Alberta and British Columbia. Data for this industry over the next few months may shed light on Alberta’s impact, ending its limits on oil production in December, allowing producers to utilize available pipeline capacity and increase employment.
Labour market conditions vary across provinces
Employment increased in six provinces: Ontario, British Columbia and in all four Atlantic provinces. Manitoba experienced its first employment loss since April, while the number of people with a job or business held steady in Quebec, Saskatchewan and Alberta.
By November, employment levels in Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick had returned to pre-COVID levels. Employment was nearest February levels in British Columbia (-1.5%) in November and farthest in Manitoba (-4.8%) and Alberta (-4.9%).
EMPLOYMENT GROWTH CONTINUES TO SLOW IN CENTRAL CANADA
Following average monthly employment growth of 3.1% from June to September, Ontario saw slow growth in October. This continued in November, as employment rose by 37,000 (+0.5%), mostly in full-time work. Employment in the Toronto CMA was at a standstill in November after increasing for five consecutive months. The Ontario unemployment rate fell 0.5 percentage points to 9.1%.
The largest employment gain was in construction, an industry not affected by recent restrictions. Simultaneously, there were declines in accommodation and food services amid the tightening of public health measures in the City of Toronto and the Region of Peel.
Employment in Quebec was little changed for the second consecutive month. In the Montréal CMA, employment was flat for the second consecutive month following average monthly growth of 3.8% from May to September. The Quebec unemployment rate fell 0.5 percentage points to 7.2% as fewer people were on temporary layoff.
Employment fell in accommodation and food services and information, culture and recreation, coinciding with the targeted public health measures since October. Employment increased in professional, scientific and technical services.
CONTINUED EMPLOYMENT GROWTH IN BRITISH COLUMBIA
Just before the start of the LFS reference week of November 8 to 14, the Vancouver Coastal Health Region and the Fraser Health Region introduced new restrictions on social gatherings, travel, gyms, and indoor sports facilities as new COVID-related workplace safety requirements.
Despite these new restrictions, employment in British Columbia grew by 24,000 (+1.0%) in November, adding to the gains over the previous six months (+335,000). Losses in part-time employment partly offset gains in full-time work. Several industries saw increases, including accommodation and food services, transportation and warehousing, wholesale and retail trade, and construction. The unemployment rate fell 0.9 percentage points to 7.1%.
Employment grew (+1.2%) in the Vancouver CMA, albeit slower than in the previous two months.
MORE PEOPLE WORKING IN ATLANTIC CANADA
Newfoundland and Labrador, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick all had employment gains in November.
Nova Scotia posted the largest employment increase among the Atlantic provinces, up 10,000 (+2.2%), continuing the upward trend since April. The increase in November was mostly in full-time work. The unemployment rate fell 2.3 percentage points to 6.4%, the lowest since March 2019 and the lowest among the provinces.
New Brunswick posted its first significant employment gain (+4,200; +1.2%) since the substantial increases in May and June. The increase in November was nearly all in full-time work, and the unemployment rate fell 0.5 percentage points to 9.6%.
Employment in Newfoundland and Labrador rose for the seventh consecutive month, up 2,300 (+1.0%) in November, and regained all of the losses sustained since February. The unemployment rate in November was little changed at 12.2%. Industries with employment losses at the start of the pandemic, such as natural resources, construction and manufacturing, saw small increases in subsequent months and offset the declines in March and April. Others, such as healthcare and social assistance and public administration, continued to gain employment in recent months, pushing their employment above February levels.
Prince Edward Island also had more people working in November (+1,000; +1.3%), and the unemployment rate was 10.2%.
EMPLOYMENT LOSSES IN MANITOBA
Employment in Manitoba decreased by 18,000 in November, nearly all in part-time work. This was the first notable decline since April and coincided with tighter public health measures introduced in early November for the Winnipeg metropolitan region and the rest of the province by the LFS reference week. The largest employment decrease was in accommodation and food services. The unemployment rate was little changed in November at 7.4% as fewer Manitobans participated in the labour market.
In both Saskatchewan and Alberta, there was little employment change in November. As of the LFS reference week of November 8 to November 14, both provinces had largely avoided introducing tighter public health measures. The unemployment rate in Saskatchewan increased 0.5 percentage points to 6.9%, with more people looking for work, while the Alberta unemployment rate was little changed at 11.1%.
The economic recovery remains dependent on the evolution of the pandemic. The best news we’ve had in the past month is the successful development of efficacious vaccines. The timing of approvals and distribution is uncertain, but it is safe to say that the worst of the pandemic will continue this winter, with a seasonal reprieve in the spring and summer. By then, the distribution of the vaccine will hopefully be well underway. That means that 2021 will be a transition year, and in 2022 we can expect the economy can move from recovery to expansion.
There was good news in this Labour Force Report. Although job gains slowed, total hours worked rose by an impressive 1.2% m/m. Following a decent 0.8% rise in the prior month, this big gain “builds in” a strong 14% annualized gain for all Q4 for hours worked. Note that total hours are one of Ottawa’s three new “guardrails” for judging when to rein in fiscal stimulus; both of the other two also improved, with unemployment falling 81,000 and the employment rate nudging up 0.1 tick to 59.5% (it’s still 2.3 ppt below pre-Covid levels). Average hourly wages eased again, as expected, but remain robust at 5.0% y/y.
We suspect the job cuts in the hospitality sector, and possibly retail, will bite much deeper in next month’s report, as restrictions tightened notably immediately after this survey period. Overall, the report is firmer than expected and suggests that the economy is dealing a bit better than anticipated with the early stages of the second wave.
Rebounding Q3 Canadian Economy Stalls in Q4
The Canadian economy rebounded sharply in the third quarter, posting its most rapid expansion ever. Still, it was a lower than expected gain, and early data show that momentum is quickly fading in the face of a second wave of the pandemic.
Gross domestic product rose by a massive 40.5% annual rate in Q3, reversing much of the historic 38.1% plunge in Q2 (revised from -37.8%). No matter how impressive the Q3 bounce was, it fell short of well-telegraphed expectations—even yesterday’s Fall Fiscal Statement assumed a 47.5% surge, reflecting the widespread reopening of the economy. Still, thanks to the magic of upward revisions to prior quarters (stretching back years), it appears that the economy is headed for roughly an annual decline of about 5.7% this year. The rebound brings total output to 95% of pre-pandemic levels.
With the huge second wave in COVID cases, renewed restrictions have been implemented across the country in recent weeks, assuring that the Q3 rebound has stalled in the fourth quarter. Today’s news that September’s monthly GDP growth was a solid +0.8% and October’s first estimate is +0.2% is moderately encouraging. Even so, economic activity is likely to flatten in November and decline in December, holding Q4 growth to a 0-to- 2% annual pace.
The big bounce in Q3 left GDP down 5.2% from a year ago for the quarter. But the gain in October brings the latest monthly tally to down less than 4% y/y.
As shown in the table below, the big “miss” in Q3 GDP growth was mostly attributed to the decline in inventories. Otherwise, the picture was one of a massive snap-back in activity from the spring shutdowns. There were triple-digit annualized rebounds in housing, capital spending on machinery & equipment, and imports. Housing grew at a record 187.3% q/q annual rate, the strongest component of the economy. Housing was also up 9.5% year-over-year.
Consumers Led the Way
Consumption, which led to the contraction in the second quarter, rose 63% (annualized) as consumers rushed to spend after being shutout from most stores during the lockdown period. Shifts in spending patterns due to health concerns and ongoing restrictions on businesses most affected by the pandemic (i.e. restaurants, travel, tourism) resulted in consumers spending lavishly on durable goods (+263%). Non-durables also saw strong growth for the quarter (+19%). The level of durables and non-durables spending was 7.7% and 3.7%, respectively above pre-pandemic levels. On the other hand, with the pandemic weighing on demand for high-contact services, total spending on services was still well below pre-pandemic levels (-12.4%), despite growing quickly in the third quarter (44.3%).
There has been intense focus on household finances through the pandemic, and while the savings rate pulled back in Q3, it remained at very high levels at 14.6% (versus the record 27.5% in Q2). Compared with pre-virus trends, household savings have swelled at least $150 billion above where they may have expected to have been in more normal times (i.e., excess savings). While disposable incomes dropped last quarter, they were still up a towering 10.6% y/y, compared with a modest 3.8% rise in 2019.
On top of that, overall consumer spending is still down 3.7% y/y in nominal terms, as services spending remains heavily constrained by circumstances. That yawning gap between an income spike and constrained spending has lifted savings massively, reflecting the government programs to cushion the pandemic’s blow, including mortgage and other deferrals and income support programs.
Yesterday’s federal fiscal update confirmed that the government support would be enhanced, taking the federal budget deficit to over $381 billion this year. Canada has already provided the largest COVID-related fiscal stimulus among the industrialized nations. We started the period with the lowest government-debt-to-GDP ratio in the G7 at 31%, but it is expected to rise to over 50% next fiscal year.
Like consumption, business investment also rebounded sharply, growing 82.4% annualized in the third quarter. Machinery and equipment (+91.8%) and intellectual property products (+30.8%) contributed to the pick-up, while investment in non-residential structures continued to decline (-1.2%). The main factor, however, fueling the increase was residential investment (+187.3%). The housing market ran red-hot as pent-up demand, low interest rates, and pandemic-induced shift in preferences sent sales and prices to record-levels this summer.
The upturn in housing investment was led by ownership transfer costs (+109.5%, q/q) and, to a lesser extent, renovations (+17.7%, q/q). The increase in ownership transfer costs was widespread, as home resale activities resumed across the country, with sharp increases in resale units and prices. New construction increased 9.7% q/q, after a 7.6% q/q decline in the second quarter. The increases coincided with low mortgage rates, improved job market conditions, and higher employee compensation in the third quarter.
In terms of trade, exports and imports grew strongly (exports: 71.8%; imports: 113.7%). Given that imports grew faster than exports, net trade weighed on the GDP calculation for the quarter.
Canada’s labour market regained almost a third of the jobs lost during March and April in the third quarter, and as such, compensation of employees rebounded for the quarter (+35.5%). Government transfers through employment insurance benefits, which supported income through the second quarter, declined by 91.9% but remained historically elevated. On the whole, household disposable income declined by 12% in the third quarter. However, the savings rate remained at 14.6% as the rebound in consumption was offset by the bounce back in compensation and still-high government transfers. Finally, the gross operating surplus, a measure of corporate profits, improved by 59.3% for the quarter.
The Canadian economy will decline roughly 5.7% this year before rebounding 5.5% in 2021 (yesterday’s Fall Fiscal Statement was based on a 5.8% drop for 2020 and a 4.8% rise next year). The prior largest yearly decline was a drop of 3.2% in 1982, while the anticipated growth next year would be the best since 1984. And lest anyone doubt the ability of the economy to recover at that pace, consider: a) some of the growth rates seen in Q3, which could be a taste of what could lie ahead later in 2021; b) the added fiscal stimulus still on its way; and c) the degree of excess savings that households now have at their disposal to unleash in the coming year.
Federal Fiscal Update–Finance Minister Freeland’s Debut
Justin Trudeau’s government, which has delivered the biggest COVID-19 fiscal response in the industrialized world, announced plans for another dose of stimulus and vowed to continue priming the pump as long as needed.
Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland unveiled $51.7 billion of new spending over two years in a mini-budget Monday, led by an enhanced wages subsidy for business. Freeland also pledged, without detailing, another $70 billion to $100 billion of additional stimulus over three years to spur the recovery.
But the finance minister clearly heeded calls for fiscal prudence. She put off any major structural spending announcements, promised any additional stimulus will be temporary and introduced new taxes on digital giants including Netflix, Amazon, and Airbnb, to help pay for it all.
“Our government will make carefully judged, targeted and meaningful investments to create jobs and boost growth,” Freeland said. It will provide “the fiscal support the Canadian economy needs to operate at its full capacity and to stop COVID-19 from doing long-term damage to our economic potential.”
Freeland revised higher the nation’s projected deficit this year to $381.6 billion, or 17.5% of GDP. That’s up from a deficit of 1.7% of GDP last year. According to estimates from the International Monetary Fund, no major economy will show a bigger fiscal swing in 2020.
The budgetary red ink is projected at $121 billion next year, before any additional stimulus. In total, spending linked to the government’s COVID response accounted for C$75 billion of this year’s deficit, and C$51 billion next year.
Based on Monday’s projections, the deficit is seen gradually narrowing to about $51 billion in two years and $25 billion by 2025.
The planned stimulus over the next three years will total no more than 4% of GDP, which the document said is in line with the Bank of Canada’s estimate of the level of slack in the economy. Freeland said, “fiscal guardrails” tied to the labour market would help determine the extent of the additional stimulus.
Among the measures announced today, Freeland boosted the government’s wage subsidy program (Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy, CEWS) to cover as much as 75% of payroll costs for businesses and extended its commercial rent subsidy and lockdown support top-ups until March. Both were slated to run out on December 20. The current cap on CEWS was 65%.
The federal government plans to create a new funding program to help restaurants, tourism companies and other businesses in industries hardest hit by COVID-19.
The Highly Affected Sectors Credit Availability Program (HASCAP), which was announced in the government’s fiscal update Monday, will offer eligible businesses loans of up to $1 million, with a 10-year term.
The money will be lent by banks or other financial institutions, but guaranteed by the federal government.
“We know that businesses in tourism, hospitality, travel, arts and culture have been particularly hard-hit. So we’re creating a new stream of support for those businesses that need it most — a credit availability program with 100-per-cent government-backed loan support and favourable terms for businesses that have lost revenue as people stay home to fight the spread of the virus,” Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland said in her prepared speech to the House of Commons.
Establishing a national childcare plan is a key long-term goal, with Freeland vowing a detailed plan in next year’s budget. In her forward to the fiscal update, she described the daycare strategy as “a feminist plan” that also “makes sound business sense.”
As a start, the Liberals are proposing in their fiscal update to spend $420 million in grants and bursaries to help provinces and territories train and retain qualified early childhood educators.
The Liberals are also proposing to spend $20 million over five years to build a child-care secretariat to guide federal policy work, plus $15 million in ongoing spending for a similar Indigenous-focused body.
The money is designed to lay the foundation for what will likely be a big-money promise in the coming budget.
Current federal spending on child care expires near the end of the decade, but the Liberals are proposing now to keep the money flowing, starting with $870 million a year in 2028.
There is also money for action on climate change. The government allocated C$2.6 billion in grants for homeowners to improve efficiency and $150 million over three years for electric vehicle charging stations.
The government also detailed some help for the hard-hit tourism sector, including funding for airports. But with Transport Minister Marc Garneau’s negotiations with airlines underway, there is no specific money for carriers including Air Canada and WestJet Airlines Ltd.
There will continue to be great concern about the largest budget deficits since World War II. Does Canada really need the proportionately largest COVID fiscal response in the industrialized world? The outlook is somewhat less dire than when the government released a fiscal snapshot in July. The unemployment rate at 8.9% is down materially from May’s 13.7% high but well above February’s 5.6%. The economy recovered ground through the third quarter, although the second wave of pandemic and ensuing restrictions undoubtedly will topple economic activity this quarter.
There is little worry that the government can sustain a massive deficit this year. It can, given low debt levels entering the crisis and historically low interest rates. But now that it has no fiscal guardrails, there’s a risk debt-to-GDP will continue to rise in the medium term if it continues to spend ambitiously.
The government is adding a new revenue source by taxing large digital companies. Still, in time, with this level of spending, they will be tempted to raise taxes on domestic sources, for example, hikes in the GST and higher capital gains taxes. This would be misguided, given the fragility of the recovery.
There is a greater risk that the government is overdoing the stimulus with vaccines on the horizon than undergoing it. Canada’s programs have been generous and household-focused compared to our G7 peers. The government must be strategic in assuring that new program spending is focused on future growth, beyond the pandemic, so that our debt-to-GDP will resume its downward trend. The risk is that once created; it is difficult to rein in spending.