Focus on growth, stop dwelling on recession mentality: Alberta economist

ATB Financial releases its first Alberta Economic Outlook of 2018
ATB Financial chief economist Todd Hirsch joins Global News Morning Calgary with details on their first economic outlook of 2018.

Albertans should focus on growing the province’s economy rather than dwelling on the past recession, ATB Financial chief economist Todd Hirsch said on Global News Morning Calgary Thursday.

The Crown corporation released its Alberta Outlook report for February 2018 Thursday morning.

As always, the province’s energy sector remained a dominant theme.

“That energy sector as I say, is the dog that wags an awful lot of tails in this province,” said Hirsch.

The sector continues to grow, though at a more stable rate than in previous years.

“Stable is the word, not really runaway growth this year,” he said.

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Major petroleum projects, like the oil sands, will likely not see a lot of growth.

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READ MORE: Alberta clears recession, though challenges remain: ATB Financial 2018 economic outlook

It will be the smaller, more conventional oil and gas projects that will expand this year, he said.

Another sore point for the province: the seven per cent unemployment rate will continue to be an issue this year for some sectors.

“We had a nice lift in 2017 in full-time jobs, but not a lot in the energy sector,” he said. “[In] 2018 we do expect to see jobs grow, but it may feel a little bit sluggish.”

The report also highlighted other challenges for Alberta’s economy, including the ongoing North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) talks with the United States and the pipeline dispute with British Columbia.

“We don’t know how this is going to end up, it’s really difficult to get a read of the White House and how the NAFTA negotiations might go,” he said.

Hirsch added that if the Trans Mountain pipeline doesn’t get built, it will send a negative message to investors about the province’s energy sector.

Outside of the energy industry, Hirsch said Alberta’s real estate market will remain stable and people will feel more confident.

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“The higher mortgage threshold will take some people out of the market,” he said. “[But] we think the real estate prices should be stable to slightly positive this year.”

Overall, Hirsch says it’s important for Albertans to look to the future, with ATB forecasting real GDP growth of 2.8 per cent this year and 2.2 per cent in 2019.

“In 2017 we did see a rebound and we’re looking at some modest growth,” he said. “It’s time to start focusing on that growth even though [there are] some challenges that are still lingering.”
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