Where the big money was in the Manitoba economy in 2012

Statistics Canada released its latest labour force productivity numbers this past week, normally a ho-hum affair. That’s no surprise: the word “productivity” strikes fear in the human heart, having become unfortunately associated with longer days, shorter lunch breaks and lower wages.

In fact, productivity shouldn’t be so scary a word. Higher output per hour worked is positively associated with basic well-being measures such as GDP per capita. And it is the countries that work fewer hours that are more productive, a real-life validation of Parkinson’s Law, which concluded that, “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.”

Now, having made that point, let’s get to what the latest StatsCan numbers reveal about the Manitoba economy.

Overall, Manitobans averaged $45.20 in economic output per hour worked in 2012 — or at least in the 2007 dollars that StatsCan prefers to track productivity levels in. That’s not too bad, as you’ll see further below. It’s interesting to note, however, how widely productivity levels vary by sector.

The biggest boosters to this provincial average were the energy, mining, oil and gas sectors, in which economic output per hour worked was many times the provincial average and well above $100 per hour. Real estate, rental and leasing also produced quite a lot of economic output per hour worked, which might explain that industry’s economic and political sway.

Information and cultural industries and utilities also helped boost the average.

Industries at the lower end of the scale included the retail trade, administrative and support services, arts, entertainment and recreation, and accommodation and food services.

Source: CANSIM 383-0029

Source: CANSIM 383-0029. Click to enlarge.

Unsurprisingly, the high productivity associated with energy and mining put the provinces and territories most involved in those sectors at the top of the national productivity chart. B.C., Ontario, Quebec and Manitoba finished within a fairly narrow band just below the national average, while the three non-resource-rich East Coast provinces trailed a bit further behind.

Source: CANSIM 383-0029. Click to enlarge.

Source: CANSIM 383-0029. Click to enlarge.

Uncouth viewpoints of Morris minority belong to the past, not the future

Does this answer your question, George? (source: CTVNews.ca)

What the chef is really doing in the kitchen. (Source: CTVNews.ca)

“April is the cruelest month,” goes an old saying. It is certainly turning out that way in Morris, Manitoba, whose rise to national prominence in recent days has been painfully embarrassing.

“They should get the hell out of here . . . I don’t really like them, the service and who they are,” Morris area resident Aaron Kleinsasser said to a reporter about the two gay co-owners of a local restaurant.

The two are closing their restaurant, called Pots N Hands, and presumably leaving Morris, having grown tired of what they describe as small-minded and intolerant attitudes on the part of a minority of the local population.

If Kleinsasser’s comments were not enough, a member of Morris’s business community only made things worse with his comments to the Winnipeg Free Press:

George Ifandis, who runs George’s Burgers & Subs in town, said he has nothing against the eatery’s owners, but understands some customers might be uncomfortable with the men’s sexuality.

“A lot of people don’t like it,” said Ifandis. “You don’t know what they’re doing in the kitchen.”

What the two owners of the soon-to-close Pots N Hands restaurant in Morris might have been doing in the kitchen was left to the public’s imagination.

The reaction was fast and furious.

“I’m pretty sure I know what the gay chefs get up to in the kitchen,” wrote Pete Evans in response to Ifandis’s question. “Cooking your #$%^ing food.”

This blog’s opinion, as expressed on Twitter after Ifandis’s and Kleinsasser’s remarks were republished in the Montreal Gazette, Maclean’s and the National Post, is that their comments were uncouth and a stain on the province’s reputation.

Premier Greg Selinger, to his credit,  did not appear to share some townfolk’s concern for what might be going on in the kitchen, quickly promising to visit Pots N Hands in person for lunch in the coming days.

Provincial opposition leader Brian Pallister, Morris mayor Gavin van der Linde and the town council and the local chamber of commerce have also publicly stated their support for the restaurant, and rejected the attitudes prompting the restaurant’s closure and Ifandis’s and Kleinsasser’s inflammatory comments.

It is currently unknown if either Ifandis or Kleinsasser have apologized or sought to retract their statements.

Meanwhile, a game of tit-for-tat unfolded on the Town of Morris’s Wikipedia page as unflattering discussion of the Pots N Hands incident was added, then deleted, then repeatedly re-added and re-deleted.

The Morris incident happened at about the same time as a Winnipeg man’s house was defaced by slurs spray-painted on to the outside walls, and a heated debate over whether a provincial government initiative to reduce sexual orientation-based bullying should apply to religious schools.

With both the town of Morris and the province of Manitoba trying to fight the perception of being laggards in terms of social tolerance, a troubling question needs to be asked: What if the perception is based on reality?

The following graph is based on a question that was asked on the 2011 Canadian Election Survey, a survey commissioned by academics to take the political pulse of the country during and just after every federal election campaign. To measure changing public attitudes on matters related to sexual orientation, they included a question asking respondents to describe how they feel about gays and lesbians. Respondents were asked to use a 0-to-100 scale, where a “0” meant really dislike and a “100” meant really like.

Two clusters seemed to emerge here: fairly relaxed attitudes on the coasts, with average scores of between 78 and 80 in Nova Scotia, P.E.I. and British Columbia, and slightly cooler attitudes in the 68-to-72 range in the rest of the country, particularly in the prairie provinces — with Manitoba finishing at the very bottom, tenth out of 10.


(Click to enlarge)

Why might Manitoba be lagging in this area? One strong possibility is the province’s low educational attainment rates, which in most years are either “the worst” or “among the worst” in Canada. As shown below, attitudes toward gays and lesbians — such as the owners of Pots N Hands — strongly correlate with educational attainment.


(Click to enlarge)

Prevailing attitudes also tend to vary by:

  • Religiosity: Canadians who said religion was “very important” in their lives had markedly more traditional attitudes; while attitudes were roughly the same between those who were moderately religious and those who were decidedly secular.
  • Age: Canadians born since 1970 are the most accepting in this regard; those born before 1940 the least accepting. This is a hopeful sign for future improvements.
  • Voting behaviour: More liberal social atittudes were found among those who voted Green, NDP or, to a lesser extent, Liberal in the 2011 federal election. Bloc Quebecois and Conservative voters tended to be a bit more conservative on average.
  • Gender: Women tended to be more accepting than men were.

The negativity the owners of Pots N Hands were exposed to here is, quite frankly, embarrassing for Manitoba.

People throughout Canada and around the world judge us by how tolerant or intolerant we appear to be. They judge us as a place to live, a place to visit and as a place to do business.

Think about the places around the world that people dream of living in someday, the societies people vote for with their feet and even risk their lives to get to, and on the opposite end, the places the young dream of leaving. You will see that the more accepting societies have always had an advantage in attracting the talented people that make their societies better places to live.

What the nation and the world have already read, seen or heard about Manitoba already coloured their perceptions of us in a matter of seconds. If they happen to have come to the unfortunate conclusion that we have a tolerance problem in Manitoba — regardless of whether that is a justified conclusion or not — it is a perception that will take years to reverse.

It is encouraging to see the premier and the Morris town administration take quick action to show the world Manitoba’s decent and gracious side, the same side that continues to welcome newcomers from around the world with an ease that contrasts with the angst over immigration found in many other countries.

Now, the most important thing to do to improve the perception of Manitoba as a fair-minded place where people can get along despite their differences is to work very hard on improving our relatively abysmal educational outcomes, as it is education that changes hearts, souls and minds for the better.

Lifestyle can’t be ignored in bid to cut losses to other provinces

It is a question that has vexed Manitoba for years: How do we reverse the situation where more people move out of Manitoba for other parts of Canada than move in?

It’s a question that comes up practically every year when the interprovincial migration numbers come out. According to the Manitoba Bureau of Statistics, Manitoba has lost more people than it gained from interprovincial migration in 39 of the past 41 years.

The only exception was in 1982-84, when Manitoba and Saskatchewan were the least severely impacted provinces in a deep recession that saw unemployment soar past 10 percent simultaneously in all eight other provinces.

The latest figures from the Bureau show that 2012-13 is not likely to be much different, with the 6,994 who moved into the province from other parts of Canada in the first half of 2012 being offset by the 9,125 who moved out — a net loss of 2,131.

It would be wrong to portray this as a stampede for the exit: the net loss represents less than one-fifth of one percent of the province’s 2011 population, and is more than offset by arriving immigrants.

It’s also a far cry from the worst years — 1978-80 — when the province was not just losing an average of 235 people per week to other provinces, but actually depopulating.

Nevertheless, the annual news stories about Manitobans leaving for other provinces do serve a useful purpose by offering an opportunity to think about what makes a province or a city an interesting place to move to.

In 2011, this blog identified several factors that appear to pull people toward some cities and repel them from others:

  • Jobs: Cities with a good job market — low unemployment rates and large business, financial, construction and scientific sectors — tend to be more attractive to domestic migrants. Manufacturing towns tend to be distinctly unattractive.
  • Location and Climate: Cities closer to the coasts tend to be more attractive than inland cities, perhaps due to a milder climate and a more scenic setting
  • Lifestyle: Cities where larger percentages of commuters walk or ride a bike to work appear to be more attractive than car-dependent cities, all other things being equal. Cities with high self-reported stress levels are more likely to lose people to other provinces than lower-stress cities.

There is also the U.S. Census Bureau’s research, showing that family reasons was the second most important reason, after employment, for Americans moving across state lines in 2010-11. This is likely a factor in Canada as well, both being vast countries with major centres spaced hundreds of miles apart.

More importantly, those most likely to take up the challenge of moving to a new province are not representative of the population as a whole. In 2004, Ross Finnie of Queen’s University looked at 13 years of data on people who moved between provinces between 1982 and 1995, and noticed some patterns.

  • The smaller a province’s population, the more likely people were to move to another one, likely due to the size of the local labour market.
  • Younger adults are the most likely to move, as age, marriage and children in due course become strong incentives to stay put.
  • Unemployment and reliance on social assistance are also strong incentives to move.
  • Small-town and rural Canadians are less likely to move to another province than city-dwellers are.

So far, this gives us a good idea of what prompts people to look elsewhere. The pull is strongest when they need to find work and they have the freedom to move without having to worry about spouses, children or parents.

The pull is particularly strong in smaller provinces, where opportunities are more limited. If possible, they would prefer to go to a place that offers a more pleasant lifestyle and climate.

Now, what can be done to give Manitoba the greater pull it needs to turn those net losses in the annual interprovincial migration figures into net gains?

There’s not much we can do about the climate. Climate just isn’t a strong selling point anywhere where the average daily high over the course of the year is a cool 8 °C (46 °F) and the average daily low is a chilly -3 °C (27 °F).

Nor is there much we can do about family reasons for moving.

But governments can help job creation as best they can, by providing a well-educated population, honest, open and transparent government, supportive tax policies, and by cultivating political stability by being predictable and by consulting as widely as possible on major policy changes before putting them into law.

In fact, the job picture works in Manitoba’s favour right now, with the province’s five percent unemployment rate in September 2012 being the country’s third-lowest after Alberta (4.4%) and Saskatchewan (4.7%), and well below the 7.4 percent national average.

But what about lifestyle?

Some aspects of the Manitoba lifestyle have been much-touted, such as Winnipeg’s proximity to “cottage country” and the province’s less-hurried way of life. But these don’t seem to match up well with what many non-Manitobans are looking for.

No doubt, it would be interesting to do a focus group with people who have moved to or from Manitoba to get a better sense of what draws them across provincial lines — but that would be well beyond this blog’s budget.

So let’s enlist some help from a site called SperlingViews.

There are hundreds of sites on the web that allow people to write reviews of their favourite restaurants, travel destinations, movies or businesses. SperlingViews allows people to write reviews of the cities they live in.

Regrettably, SperlingViews only covers the United States, and thus has no reviews from this side of the border. Yet, we can get a rough idea of what people might say about Winnipeg if they had the chance by looking at the reviews written about Des Moines, Ia. and Omaha, Nebr., both within 1,000 kilometres (621 miles) of Winnipeg, and similar to Winnipeg in size.

For this exercise, I specifically sought out those reviews that appeared to be written by those who had also experienced living in another city and were thus more likely to see things from an outsider’s perspective.

Comments have been cleaned up a bit for readability.

The Positives


  • I used to live in Park Slope in Brooklyn, have been in DSM since 2003 now and I love it here. I pay in mortgage and for a 2011 vehicle what I paid there in rent for a studio appt.
  • I know that the price of homes is very affordable in comparison to other major cities. Also, the cost of living is good.
  • The cost of living is relatively low compared to many other cities.

Short Commutes

  • I have a short commute to work.
  • Unlike a bigger city you can get from one side of the city to the other in no more than 20-30 minutes.

Easygoing, Family-Friendly Way of Life

  • Iowa may not be the most exciting place to live, but it’s easy to live here.
  • You can be happy here — but remember that the overall pace of life is more laid-back, less frantic, and more traditional.
  • [J]ust big enough to have most of everything you would want, and small enough to still maintain that sense of community.
  • [P]eople are more genuine and honest
  • I love to travel and experience many different places, but as far as raising a family and settling down, I want to be in the Midwest.
  • There is a lot to be said for the pace of life there. It may be more family oriented… I’d rather my kids had been reared there.
  • It’s pretty peaceful and quiet here.
  • People here are so nice and the pace is relaxed and you just don’t see the stress that you find in most cities.

The Negatives

Limited Cultural and Nightlife Scene

  • Having lived in multiple Major cities in North America (Canada and the U.S.A.) I’d rank Des Moines as a 2, no more than 3 for Culture, Arts, Theatre, Events and Night Life. However it is trying to improve.
  • This city appeals more for family oriented people. Not too much for singles, but most people are nice.
  • For young, unmarried people, there is not much to do. This is a great place to raise a family, but not so good for younger people.
  • If you are single and want 365-day access to every “single-friendly” event possible, then Des Moines won’t work.
  • There is not as much for a single person to do, I agree, except socialize/party.
  • The zoo is nice, the Old Market can be fun, and they have a few events like the College World Series, concerts, and theatre shows every now and then. Outside of those things, not much else.
  • Occasional good concert comes through town now and again not a whole lot else going on.
  • [W]e are too young in spirit to go quietly into the night of typical Midwestern pastimes such as scrap-booking, watching sports, eating, etc.
  • It’s not a terrible place by any means, but there’s just not enough to do.
  • [E]veryone loves eating and watching the boob tube to pass the time. Obesity is a rampant problem here.

Getting Around Town

  • Public Transportation is a JOKE, the majority of the bus routes shut down after 7:30 AM, return for approx 2 hours in the evening, and then you are on your own.
  • A poor bus system, tons of gridlock on the side streets, too few expressways, pot holes, pot holes pot holes!
  • Drivers often view pedestrians and cyclists as a nuisance and often cruelly display their displeasure by blaring on horns inappropriately, cutting you very close as they drive by, etc.


  • Living in temperatures below 0C (32F) can be very frustrating. Des Moines is a nice city, but I’m planning to move back to Florida. Too cold.
  • My only personal dislike is the humidity of the hot summer months…
  • The climate is horrible and inconsistent. One day it could be 85 and 90% humidity and the next 65, no humidity. The winters are harsh with terrible winds and a lot of snow.
  • The summers are unbearable and the winters are unbearable.
  • [W]e have a temperature fluctuation of 150 degrees [Fahrenheit] throughout the year.
  • The bugs are terrible here too (hornets the size of your thumb, tons of wasps and creepy spiders too), and prepare to be eaten alive by mosquitos and gnats.
  • The weather is unpredictable.
  • Cold in the winter, hot and humid in the summer.

Limited Career Options

  • A few industries dominate this town. (It is not Los Angeles with EVERY kind of industry.)
  • Job opportunities are limited to only a few industries and are not well paying positions.
  • Sure 5% unemployment sounds good, but the jobs don’t pay enough to make a decent living on.


  • Very hard to meet people as many people are insular and very close with their cliques from high school.
  • It is really, really difficult to make friends here. Most people really keep to themselves and are wrapped up in their own home lives and the groups that they’ve been with since they were born pretty much.
  • People here tend to ascribe to a “herd mentality” and would not think of bucking convention.
  • The town is catered to about 30 people that are millionaires and are able to use the things like Qwest Center, the pork-spending bridge, the unnecessary baseball stadium or one of the other frivolous things that gets built here.

Though these comments originate from the U.S., could they just as easily apply to Winnipeg? Many would say so.

As with climate and family issues, many of these factors are difficult to fix through public policy. Some things, like the climate, we can really do nothing about.

But if we seriously want to see more people move into Manitoba than move out to other provinces, we do have to pay attention to lifestyle issues in the province’s largest city. This includes:

  • Building a better nightlife scene.Winnipeg lacks a default, year-round place to go to see and be seen, aside from The Forks during operating hours. We are pretty much a town where dinner is served at 6 p.m. and bedtime is at a sensibly early 10:30 or 11 p.m. Progress is likely to be made through the development of the Sports, Hospitality and Entertainment District (SHED), but how much progress is yet to be seen.
  • Continuing to work to make Winnipeg the kind of place where those who want to can get some exercise as part of their daily commute or going about their daily errands. In fact, the first thing you notice upon returning from a city where walking or cycling is a key feature of daily life is how devoid of life most of Winnipeg’s neighbourhoods are. The Winnipeg lifestyle is not necessarily conducive to keeping healthy. (And, yes, crime reduction also has to be a part of this. Fear of crime does keep people off the streets.)
  • Reducing the level of insularity. This requires a culture change that extends beyond what public policy can allow for. As discussed before on this blog, and reinforced by comments seen and heard elsewhere, the province’s “Friendly Manitoba” moniker tends to obscure the fact that Winnipeg is not the easiest place for outsiders to fit in — Winnipeg is more “nice” than “friendly”, and this is a big small town where middle-aged people still hang out with their high school friends, limiting social opportunities for newcomers. Perhaps the influx of immigrants in recent years will force change through a composition effect, but perhaps Winnipeggers also need to pay more attention to how the city looks and feels through a newcomer’s eyes.

If we can do some self-improvement in these areas, emphasize the city’s positives such as its low cost of living, short commutes and easygoing Midwesterness, and stay competitive in job creation, then perhaps there is hope of someday turning the population losses to other provinces into handsome gains.

Audience Participation Time: Make up your own list of Winnipeg’s or even your own home town pros and cons in the comments section. After all, if no one speaks up, people will tend to assume that everything is just fine.

The best job-creation strategy: Getting rid of corruption

“We stand by the Constitution as inherently conservative,” says the U.S. Tea Party web site. “We serve as a beacon to the masses that have lost their way, a light illuminating the path to the original intentions of our Founding Fathers.”

Now there’s something you don’t hear every day about the Canadian constitution, which hasn’t been a topic of much interest, even to political buffs, since prime minister Brian Mulroney drove the whole country nuts by talking about it nonstop 20 years ago.

Yet the constitution is a hot topic in the United States, where many on the political right see a more literal reading of the document — with a special emphasis on looking for areas where the federal government has overstepped its authority — as the way to restore optimism in a country exhausted by terrorism, war, recession and political dysfunction.

They are, in a way, both right and wrong.

Let’s start with the wrong. Constitutional fundamentalism won’t do much to restore American prosperity or hope. Neither will abolishing the Federal Reserve, reinstating the Gold Standard or eliminating anti-poverty safeguards.

Now here’s what right about it.

The U.S. constitution was designed in a world where monarchs and warlords ran roughshod over everyone else. Laws were written, enforced and tossed aside whimsically. Corruption and violence were rampant. Human rights were non-existent.

Suddenly, a new concept: a written constitution that would apply some discipline and consistency to law creation and enforcement, rein in the corruption a bit, offer some protection from anarchy and guarantee some basic rights.

In the world of the 1780s, this was a truly innovative idea.

The guarantee of somewhat fair treatment — at least compared to the abysmally low standards of the 18th century — made the United States an extremely attractive place to do business, and gave that country a tremendous economic advantage that lasted well into the 20th century.

But somewhere along the way, the U.S. stopped leading on that front.

By world standards, still abysmal after all these years, the United States still has excellent constitutional safeguards that broadly ensure basic human rights and the rule of law.

Yet, it falls short of being the cleanest place to do business in the world, or even the Americas. According to Transparency International’s 2011 Corruption Perceptions Index, Canada, Barbados, Bahamas and Chile all have less corruption.

Corruption matters. It’s not just a matter of bribes and kickbacks to get government contracts, the protection of favoured businesses from competition, or the patronage appointments. (That the Canadian Senate is still filled with partisan appointees in this day and age is deplorable.)

It’s about government actively seeking good advice, and being frank with the public about what it wants to do, why it wants to do it, and letting people know what to expect well ahead of time.

It’s what divides relatively successful northern Europe, where unemployment is still only five percent in the Netherlands and eight percent in Denmark, from southern-tier countries like Greece and Spain, where the official unemployment rates are 22 percent and 24 percent, respectively.

Spain is only the 31st least-corrupt country in the world according to Transparency International, while Greece ranks a miserable 80th — tied with Colombia, El Salvador, Morocco, Peru and Thailand.

In corrupt countries like Greece, where six-in-ten citizens supposedly bribed  public officials in 2011-12, good advice doesn’t get heard or acted upon by those at the top if it conflicts with the interests of those few who benefit handsomely from the corruption.

And it shows in the local job market. The graph below shows the relationship between a country’s reputation for not tolerating corruption and the health of its job market.

Corruption perceptions and employment/population ratio, based on entire population aged 15-64. (Click to view full-sized image)

About 60 percent of the difference between job markets can be accounted for by  a country’s level of freedom from corruption, with the cleanest countries having the most jobs to go around.

How can corruption hurt the economy, and by extension, job markets?

  • In 2009, the Oxford Review of Economic Policy found that corruption “leads to pure waste and to misallocation of resources” and is “a likely source of unsustainable development”.
  • “When a culture of corruption in a state raises uncertainty or the cost of doing business, capital flows to more amenable institutional environments,” noted a 2009 working paper written by researchers at  Virginia’s George Mason University. “[E]ntrepreneurs may respond to corruption by choosing ‘fly-by-night’ technologies with too little fixed capital so they can credibly threaten to disappear should bribe demands become too high.”
  • “Corruption makes local bureaucracy less transparent and hence acts as a tax on foreign investors,” two researchers from Oxford University and Columbia University wrote in 2009.  [C]orruption decreases the effective protection of investor’s intangible assets and lowers the probability that disputes between foreign and domestic partners will be adjudicated fairly . . .”

In every country, the honesty and openness of government can no longer be treated as an issue not relevant to job creation and economic growth — it is at the heart of both issues.

All places, including Canada, Manitoba and Winnipeg, can always take steps to make government ever more open and honest, and benefit from the resulting job creation. Here’s how:

  • Wherever possible, laws against basic forms of corruption — such as bribes, kickbacks and influence-peddling — should be toughened up and more rigorously enforced.
  • Freedom of Information laws should be brought up to high Scandinavian standards — and it should not cost $1.9 million to get information. Federal and provincial Transparency Commissioners should be established to nag governments on issues like this.
  • Political life should be organized less on hierarchical lines, given a 2005 study’s finding that “the level of political corruption is higher in hierarchical societies” (and almost certainly in hierarchical organizations as well). Thus, governmental pleas for greater public deference — “just trust us” — should be greeted with scepticism. So too should claims by public figures that they speak on behalf of an entire group of people, which is another common plea for deference to those at the top of a hierarchy.
  • Protectionist policies should be eliminated as much as possible, given that a 2009 study found “strong evidence suggesting that corruption is significantly higher in countries with activist trade and industrial policies” on the grounds that these give government officials greater discretionary power.
  • Major legislation and regulatory changes should be subject to public hearings, with presentations for and against the legislation being posted online for public viewing.  This lends itself to good decision making and allows important information to be brought forward by those without the funds to run a public awareness campaign.

Who wants to be a Premier? Anyone? Anyone?

Five months have passed since the Oct. 4, 2011 Manitoba provincial election — the night on which Progressive Conservative leader Hugh McFadyen announced that he would step down after fighting two election campaigns at the party’s helm.

The chances of whoever succeeds McFadyen becoming Premier in 2015 are not too shabby. The best predictor of whether or not a government will get re-elected is its age. By the next provincial election, the NDP government will be, after 16 years, the second longest serving administration in Manitoba history.

The longest serving administration was the United Farmers-turned-Liberal Progressive dynasty which governed Manitoba (thanks to a gerrymandered electoral map) from 1922 to 1958 under premiers John Bracken, Stuart Garson and Douglas Campbell.

Though governments occasionally win one more election after celebrating their 10th anniversaries in office, no provincial government outside of the Alberta political aberration has survived 10 years in government and then gone on to win two more elections since the Newfoundland Progressive Conservatives won a fifth and final term in 1985.

Thus, you would think that any Progressive Conservative with ambitions for the premiership would view this as a golden opportunity.

Not so. Five months after Hugh McFadyen gave PC MLAs and party insiders the official blessing to begin campaigning for the leadership, no one has taken the plunge.

Nor is there much interest in the leadership of the provincial Liberal Party, which has also been up for grabs for five months. This, at least, is understandable. The only redeeming feature of the 2011 campaign, which saw the Liberals finish with one seat and slightly less than eight percent of the vote, was that it wasn’t “1981 all over again”, when the party won just seven percent of the vote and lost its only seat in the Legislature.

What is stopping people from reaching for the province’s top political job?

Part of it could be a sincere conclusion by would-be candidates that they lack the ruthlessness to go the distance. When genuinely nice people do make it to the top in politics, they generally end up regretting having taken the job (as Walter Weir publicly admitted after his 1967-69 stint as Premier of Manitoba) or have difficulty asserting authority over wayward MLAs (as Howard Pawley had at times during his 1981-88 premiership).

Or as former U.S. Federal Reserve chair Alan Greenspan described his dealings with various presidents over the decades: “Jerry Ford was as close to normal as you get in a president . . . There’s a constitutional amendment that I’ve been pushing for years without success. It says, ‘Anyone willing to do what is required to become president of the United States is thereby barred from taking that office.’ I’m only half joking.”

Much the same could be said of anyone wanting to be a Mayor, Premier or Prime Minister. Being a head of government is not for those prone to losing sleep at night because a decision they made will cause someone to lose their home or their reputation.

Another factor that could be inhibiting people from throwing their hats into the ring: the desire for a family life.

Being a party leader or head of government means putting one’s spouse and children second for years on end. Its impact was well summed up by Ros Hawke Dillon, whose father, Bob Hawke, was Australia’s prime minister from 1983 to 1991. In 2003, she explained to an interviewer why she always bought a father’s day card not for her father, but for her mother.

“Dad was there for the fun times but he wasn’t a hands-on dad,” she said, describing the years her father spent on his trajectory toward the premiership while the rest of the family tried to live a normal suburban lifestyle.

“She mowed the lawns, she fixed tap washers, she did everything.”

Politics leaves little time for mowing lawns and fixing tap washers. Even the Parliament of Canada web site cautions would-be MPs that they can expect to have “very little personal time” due to the demands of the job.

The demands are even worse for premiers and party leaders, who are never truly “off duty”.

Such a lifestyle has little appeal to newer generations who often witnessed their own parents’ marriages fail — the so-called “Generation X” born roughly between 1965 and 1980, and the “Millennials” or “Generation Y”, born between 1980 and 1995.

“Generation X’ers are seeking a greater sense of family and are less likely to put jobs before family, friends or other interests,” a 2005 article noted in response to concerns that it was becoming increasingly difficult to fill vacancies in universities’ medicine faculties.

“[Their] first loyalty tends to be to themselves than to any institution. While they may be deeply committed to their work, they are less willing to sacrifice than their parents were, less fixated on titles and the corner office, and less likely to ‘delay gratification'”.

Case in point: former WestJet CEO Sean Durfy. The first “Generation X” CEO of a major Canadian airline, Durfy stunned the industry when he unexpectedly resigned in 2010 at age 43, saying he wanted to have more of a family life.

“I realized quality time with my family was not there,” Durfy told Canadian Business magazine in 2011. “My young fellah didn’t really even know who I was. I stepped back and said, ‘All this stuff is not good. This is not a good place to be.'”.

“In most cases, it’s not the corner office or a large paycheck that drives Generation Y,” a 2006 article for a U.S. defense industry trade publication noted, “but rather, the opportunity to work for a company that fosters strong workplace relationships and inspires a sense of balance and/or purpose.”

“[Millennials] expect a work-life balance unlike what we have seen before,” IEEE Engineering Management Review observed in 2011. “Their teamwork and creative energy is typically not organized well. This generation has the potential to refresh the thinking and core passions that drive just about everything society does in a similar way that large demographic groups like the Baby Boomers continue to do as they now retire and leave the workplace.”

If academia, corporations, the U.S. defence industry and the engineering profession are feeling a pinch because a younger generation wants to make family more important in their lives, then why should it come as any surprise that it’s getting difficult for political parties to attract leadership candidates?

Times and values have changed. The growing number of people taking a pass on the possibility of governing the province suggests that our sclerotic political parties and tradition-bound parliamentary institutions are having difficulty keeping up. That will only make it more difficult to attract good people to public office in the years ahead.

Could an airline be soon cleared for landing at Brandon Airport?

Porter Airlines Dash 8 Q400 cabin (© GrumpyDiver; click for source)

More than a decade has passed since Brandon Airport hosted a major Canadian airline, but that hasn’t killed western Manitoba’s hope of eventually landing something better than a once-a-day air taxi service to Winnipeg and the occasional charter flight.

Brandon’s latest brush with a major airline was in 2001, when WestJet briefly tested out the market during the busier summer months.

Since then, Brandon’s odds of supporting a major airline usually looked grim. Air routes typically follow business and government traffic, and that all pointed toward Winnipeg: so close by that flying would save little time or hassle. (Red Deer, a substantially larger city, suffers the same problem due to its proximity to both Calgary and Edmonton.)

Brandon’s ties to other cities were too tenuous to support airline service.  The business travelers who were willing to pay a premium to stick to a schedule — what the airlines refer to as high-yield traffic — were few and far between. The price-sensitive leisure travelers who buy their tickets during seat sales — known in the industry as low-yield traffic — would happily go to Winnipeg to catch their flights if it meant saving $100. So why bother flying to Brandon at all?

Alas, Brandon’s odds of landing a much-wanted airline might be getting better, thanks to the energy boom in western Manitoba.

As long as Brandon had few economic ties to any city other than Winnipeg, the dearth of premium-fare passengers killed hopes of sustaining airline service.

Western Manitoba’s growing energy-based economy, however, holds out the hope that Brandon might eventually support nonstop service to Calgary, Canada’s energy and resource extraction capital.

This hope is based on what happened across the border in June 2010, when United Express launched nonstop regional jet service from its Denver hub to Minot, N.D. based on demand for better service to the heart of North Dakota’s booming energy sector.

Mining, oil and gas extraction was the star performer of the Manitoba economy in 2010, its contribution to the provincial economy growing 11 percent over 2009 levels while most other industries grew at the more typical two to three percent.

There are two other reasons for Brandon to get its hopes up.

The first is the recent installation of an Instrument Landing System, which is an important selling point with airlines. An Instrument Landing System, or ILS for short, allows an airliner to follow a radio beam straight in to the runway. This allows for a successful landing in low-visibility conditions, where an aircraft might otherwise be forced to make an expensive diversion to another airfield until the weather improves.

The second is the development of the Canadian-built Bombardier Dash 8 Q400 turboprop. This relatively new aircraft, which typically carries 70 or 74 passengers, can fly 2,400 kilometres (1,500 miles) nonstop. That’s more than enough to fly from Brandon to Calgary, with enough fuel remaining to divert to Edmonton or Saskatoon if they can’t land in Calgary for some reason.

The Q400 burns so little fuel per mile that, with the right mix of business and leisure passengers, a flight can be profitable with 40 passengers aboard. A 70-seat regional jet flying the same route, by comparison, would almost certainly lose money with only 40 passengers aboard.

Air Canada Express started using Q400s on eastern routes in 2011, with the aircraft likely to start showing up in the western provinces as older equipment is retired. WestJet is said to be considering the Q400 for routes that cannot be served profitably by their Boeing 737s, which seat 119 to 166 passengers, depending on model.

Even if WestJet orders the Q400, service to Brandon is no sure bet. The city was not even mentioned by CEO Gregg Saretsky when he recently rattled off a list of cities — all in Ontario, Quebec, Alberta or B.C. — that WestJet might eventually serve.

Nevertheless, things are looking better for Brandon and its neighbouring communities than they have been in a long time.

Fixing “Under-Educated Manitoba” could help ensure that Jets, Ikea are here to stay

“Stand with me on the top of the Union Bank building, Winnipeg’s new skyscraper, and take a look at the city. You had best pull your fur cap down over your ears and button your coon-skin coat tightly about you, for the wind is blowing a gale,” a writer named Frank G. Carpenter wrote in the Newark Sunday Call on Jan. 7, 1906.

“The air is nipping, but the sky is bright, and there is so much ozone that we seem to be breathing champagne. Have you ever felt so alive before?”

“Take a look over the city,” he continued. “It stretches out on all sides for miles. The new shingle roofs shine brightly under the Winter sun, and we can almost smell the paint of the suburban additions. Winnipeg is a grower.”

By 1992, the Union Bank Building’s condition seemed to symbolize Winnipeg’s deteriorating outlook. By the time the last tenant moved out of the increasingly decrepit building at the corner of William and Main that year, Calgary had long since displaced Winnipeg as the corporate capital of the prairie provinces, a necessary consequence of energy replacing agriculture, and services replacing manufacturing, as the west’s key job and wealth generators.

Buildings once occupied by regional and national head offices stood largely vacant. The provincial unemployment rate was 9.3 percent. The Jets were threatening to leave town, and would indeed do so four years later. The fading glory of the Eaton’s store on Portage Ave. portended the bankruptcy that followed just a few years later. Even the summer was a stinker, bringing one of the chilliest Julys in living memory, with 13 days of daytime highs of less than 20°C (68°F) — and the month’s warmest day only heating up to 26°C (79°F).

Nearly 20 years later, the city’s outlook is considerably brighter. The year 2011 brought the return of the Jets, construction continued at the strongest pace in decades, and the weather has been unbelievably good. The now-defunct Eaton’s chain will never return, of course, but the imminent arrival of Target and Ikea have many retail junkies excited. The main problem facing the local labour market is not unemployment, but skill shortages.

And, I originally forgot to mention, the Union Bank Building is coming back to life, with Red River College planning to move in.

Though it might feel as if the champagne days have returned, this is not a time to coast along, but rather to prepare as best we can for an unpredictable future.

Statistics Canada’s 2008 economic figures for each province should have sounded an alert that Manitoba’s current prosperity is perhaps a little too dependent on cheap borrowing (thanks, Bank of Canada, for the low interest rates!) and a tight labour market (thanks, Boomers, for retiring!) as opposed to solid long-term fundamentals.

In 2008, Manitoba ranked 10th among the 13 provinces and territories in workforce productivity — that is, the average economic value generated by every work-hour. This is an important measure of a province’s overall economic health, future prospects, and skill at getting the best out of its people.

This seems counter-intuitive, given that Manitobans are not particularly work-shy. In 2008, a larger share of Manitoba’s population was in the workforce than was the case in any part of Canada outside of Alberta and the northern territories. The British, whose press have complained for years about the country’s “long-hours culture”, devoted on average 50 fewer hours to their jobs in 2008 than Manitobans did, while the average American only spent about 20 minutes per day longer on the job.

So relax and enjoy your lunch hour away from your desk, and don’t go in to the office on Saturday if you don’t need to:  it’s not a lack of a work ethic that calls the sustainability of today’s economic optimism into question.

Rather, it’s in Manitoba’s traditionally weak education ethic that you’ll find the problem.

We have one of Canada’s lowest post-secondary attainment rates, which sends the message to businesses across Canada and around the world that “Manitoba” is not synonymous with “quality”, at least as far as the labour force is concerned.

In the 2006 census, we ranked 10th among the 13 provinces and territories in terms of the percentage of 25 to 64 year olds with post-secondary credentials in any form, whether it be a college diploma, university degree or a trades designation.

Only Saskatchewan, New Brunswick and Nunavut ranked worse.

If Manitoba had achieved Nova Scotia’s fifth-place ranking — 61% of Nova Scotians aged 25-64 had post-secondary credentials, compared to 54% of Manitobans — prospective investors would have had 37,500 more skilled Manitobans to choose from.

And 37,500 Manitobans would have had a brighter future.

As a community becomes better-educated, the community starts to take on a more winsome image: job growth in the sciences takes off, the city’s arts and cultural community gets larger, more people start living downtown, and public transit use goes up (take note, urbanists).

An October 2011 Statistics Canada study even found evidence that an education ethic improves public health: 25-year old women with university degrees could expect to live four years longer than their friends who never finished high school, while 25-year old men with university degrees could expect a six-year advantage.

But it’s creating more jobs in the sciences, in particular, which could help Manitoba boom — and ensure that the Jets, Ikea and today’s young people will be here to stay.

A strong supply of people with scientific training is what separates the dynamic economies from the rest. It’s why, if you were asked to name Canada’s most successful or appealing cities, you’d likely name the ones with the largest number of science-related jobs as a proportion of the workforce: Ottawa, Calgary, Quebec City, Toronto and Victoria.

Percentage of local workforce in natural/applied sciences occupations (2006 census)

Percentage of local workforce in natural/applied sciences occupations (2006 census)

Science-related jobs can deliver big returns. Among OECD countries — excluding a couple of outliers — every dollar spent on research and development in 2006 was linked to an average of $17 in additional economic activity.

If you could spend $1 and get $17 in benefits from it, would you? Of course you would.

Research and development could be to Manitoba what oil is to Alberta and Newfoundland-Labrador, and what potash is to Saskatchewan.

But it requires easy access to people with professional training in mathematics, computers and information technology, the physical and life sciences, the social and behavioural sciences, and in management and administration.

That’s an area where Manitoba has long fallen short. We’ve traditionally been better at producing high school dropouts than scientists.

That has been changing gradually. Over the past 20 years, recent governments have recognized that the unusually large numbers of Manitobans with low levels of education are holding the province back. They buy less from local businesses, they pay less tax, and they are more likely to become dependent on social services.

Bringing an education ethic back to Manitoba needs to be Job #1 for the next few provincial governments.

This can be done in a couple of ways. One is by continuing the Healthy Child and Career Trek programs aimed at building ambition in young children. Another is by lobbying the federal government to continue allowing Manitoba to take in large numbers of immigrants. As immigrants are more likely to send their children on to post-secondary education than non-immigrants, the current immigration policies bring an excellent hope of achieving cultural change through demographic change.

We need to put as much passion into ensuring that 95 percent of Manitobans born in 2015 will graduate from high school on-time in 2033 — and that 75 percent will have completed some form of post-secondary education by their 25th birthdays in 2040 — as we did into bringing the Jets, Ikea and the Canadian Museum for Human Rights to town.

And we need to embrace the idea that successful cities and provinces are not necessarily defined by the stuff they have, but by how well or how poorly their people are educated.

Because if we don’t have big-city brains, it will be tougher for us to hold on to our big-city toys.

And if we reach these ambitious goals, perhaps someday a foreign correspondent will once again stand atop a Winnipeg skyscraper in the cold winter wind, marvel at how fast the city is growing and how prosperous it looks, and once again proclaim that “Winnipeg is a grower.”