Canada has high levels of well-being and solid growth but trade tensions and housing market pose risks while inclusiveness could be improved

Canada G7 2018

2018 G7 Summit (g7.gc.ca, 2018)

This article is brought to you in association with OECD.

Canada is one of the OECD economies delivering the best outcomes for its citizens, according to a new OECD report presented in Ottawa today by OECD Chief of Staff and G20/G7 Sherpa Gabriela Ramos. Canada scores highly in all dimensions of the OECD’s Better Life Index, especially in regards to self-reported well-being, personal security and health status. Canada is also undertaking several programmes to foster inclusive growth – with respect to childcare benefits, gender equality and social housing – in line with the OECD Framework for Policy Action for Inclusive Growth.

The 2018 OECD Economic Survey of Canada finds the macroeconomic situation to be broadly favorable, with low unemployment, inflation on target and growth expected to remain solid over 2018-19.

The greatest uncertainty weighing on the growth outlook stems from the possibility of new trade restrictions, principally in relation to the ongoing renegotiation of the North America Free Trade Agreement. The Survey points out that outcomes will depend on political decisions, notably in the United States, while showing that business investment is already being negatively affected. A second risk underlined in the Survey concerns the combination of elevated household debt and high housing prices, which could lead to a disorderly market correction, potentially reducing residential investment and household wealth and dampening consumption.

The Survey emphasises that the rapid growth of Canadian housing prices in recent years not only represents a macroeconomic risk but has also created affordability challenges that are most acute in fast-growing major cities. Since 2016, both the national and provincial governments have responded to housing market pressures with policies that have helped to cut the national average growth rate of real estate prices to 2.9% in the year to June 2018 from 14.2% in the previous twelve-month period. The government should monitor the effects of recent targeted regulations, paying close attention to high-debt, low-income borrowers most vulnerable to high debt-service loads as interest rates rise, the Survey says. It also recommends increasing the supply of affordable housing and better maintaining the existing social housing stock.

Much of the Economic Survey is devoted to improving inclusiveness for women, youth and older people. The report welcomes many of the efforts of the federal government to achieve more inclusive growth, including through the 2017 National Housing Strategy, the increase in parental leave benefits in the 2018 Budget and the establishment in 2017 of the Multilateral Early Learning and Child Care Framework. “Canada should continue leading by example and walk the extra mile to ensure inclusive labour outcomes for underrepresented groups such as women, youth and seniors. This will not only contribute to a more inclusive society, but also to a more productive economy, in the context of low productivity growth and the ageing of the population”, Ms Ramos said.

The gender employment gap remains virtually unchanged since 2009, and women, particularly mothers, continue to earn significantly less than men, in part due to a large disparity in unpaid childcare responsibilities. Outside the province of Quebec, low (but increasing) rates of government support for childcare should be expanded considerably, as should incentives for fathers to take parental leave. Skills development among youth should be prioritised to arrest declining skills and weak wage growth among young males with low educational attainment. Improving labour market inclusion of Indigenous Peoples in Canada is another way to boost labour force participation and well-being, and the Survey argues that better alignment between federal and provincial Indigenous labour market programmes, targeted work experience, expanded access to higher education and rigorous monitoring and evaluation are all important.

Growth in old-age poverty is linked to the indexing of minimum public pensions to the consumer price index, which has meant that they have grown more slowly than earnings. This should be tackled through further increases in basic pension payments over time. Increasing the age of eligibility for public pensions, in line with life expectancy, would boost growth by increasing the employment rate of older Canadians still willing and able to work. This should be accompanied by greater flexibility in working arrangements for older workers.

The Survey also devotes special attention to Canada’s immigration system, which has been highly successful, welcoming large numbers of immigrants from diverse backgrounds who contribute to the economic dynamism and cultural diversity of the country while maintaining high levels of social cohesion. With the introduction in 2015 of the Express Entry system, the focus has been on the selection of immigrants with higher levels of human capital and earnings prospects. Canada has also developed a range of successful settlement programmes and initiatives to facilitate immigrant integration.

To further enhance the benefits immigration generates for the Canadian economy, the Survey suggests increasing the weight given to skilled Canadian work experience in selection processes and prioritising applications from candidates with skilled work experience and relevant job offers before others. Canada should also expand bridge and mentoring programmes, which help immigrants with post-secondary credentials gain recognition and develop professional networks, and redirect resources for settlement programmes so that utilisation patterns better reflect needs. Immigration policy will also need to continue to strike a balance between maximising ease of integration through selection of highly skilled immigrants and maximising the welfare gains for migrants by supporting migration of less-skilled migrants.

On the key challenge of climate change – an area where Canada has scope to do better- the Survey welcomes the launch of the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change and recommends further steps by governments to progressively increase the carbon price, which would make it possible to reduce overlap between other measures and allow Canada’s greenhouse gas abatement objectives to be met in the most efficient way.

The Survey also notes Canada’s disappointing productivity growth, and reiterates past recommendations to close the gap with the OECD economies having the highest productivity levels. These include reducing barriers to entry in network industries and services as well as restrictions on internal trade.

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