Business

Digital economy is bigger than mining, forestry, oil and gas, StatsCan says

Canada's digital economy is growing much faster than the rest of the economy and is already bigger than staple industries such as mining, forestry and oil and gas.

886,114 people work in Canada's digital economy, figure has grown by 37% since 2010

A technician inspects the backside of bitcoin mining at Bitfarms in Saint Hyacinthe, Que., last year. The scale of the digital economy in the economy is growing, new numbers from Statistics Canada suggest. (AFP/Getty Images)

Canada's digital economy is growing much faster than the rest of the economy and is already bigger than staple industries such as mining, forestry and oil and gas.

That's one of the main takeaways from a new Statistics Canada report released Friday that looked at the impact of technology-focused parts of the economy that are becoming increasingly important in the country's overall economic picture.

While it's not an industry on its own per se, the data agency defines the digital economy as any economic activity that is either affected by or enabling digitization. So the term would include everything from e-commerce to telecommunications, and software to consumer and business services that are provided over the internet.

Digital economy worth over $109B

All in all, Statistics Canada calculates that as of 2017, Canada's digital economy was worth $109.7 billion, or about 5.5 per cent of the entire economy that year.

That's a bigger economic bite than mining, quarrying, and oil and gas extraction (4.8 per cent), or retail (five per cent) or the agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting sector took (at 1.8 per cent.)

It still lags behind manufacturing (10 per cent), construction (8.1 per cent) health care (7.5 per cent), and finance and insurance (6.7 per cent).

The digital economy includes everything from telecommunications to services delivered over the internet. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)

Between 2010 and 2017, Canada's digital economy grew by 40.2 per cent, Statistics Canada said. That compares with 28 per cent in the rest of the economy. The digital economy outpaced the rest of the economy every year in that time frame except in 2011 and 2017, two years that saw strong growth in the energy sector.

E-commerce more than triples

Within the digital economy, telecommunications is the biggest sector, but it's getting caught by other parts. E-commerce is the fastest-growing segment, going from $4.2 billion in 2010 to more than $13.6 billion in 2017.

All that economic activity is leading to jobs, too.

Economist Brendon Bernard at job search firm Indeed Canada says he was glad to see Statistics Canada attempt to quantify the nebulous world of the "digital economy" because it's hard to track what's happening in it without reliable data.

"In some cases, what's included in the digital economy isn't actually particularly new and isn't growing particularly quickly," he says, noting that sectors such as telecommunications and hardware have been around for a while and aren't exactly growing by leaps and bounds at the moment.

The growth in things like e-commerce and online services will be the ones to watch in the future, he says — because they've even changed the way things work at his company's core business: recruitment.

As recently as 2016, Bernard says about two thirds of job vacancies were posted on digital job boards. Today that ratio is up to three in four, and it's not industry-specific: whether it's an oil company trying to find a welder for a pipeline or a tech firm in search of a coder, when it comes to hiring, "We also see that increasingly shifting online," he said.

Statistics Canada tabulated there were 886,114 jobs in the digital economy in 2017, about 4.7 per cent of all the jobs that year — and almost three times the 329,600 people who worked in forestry, fishing, mining, quarrying, oil and gas that year.

The digital job market is growing faster than the regular one, too. Its job market grew by 37 per cent between 2010 and 2017. That compares to 8.6 per cent growth in the rest of the economy over that period.

The digital economy also grew in every province and territory, except in three places — Manitoba, Yukon and Nunavut — it grew by less than the rest of the economy did.

Ultimately, Bernard says while it's nice to see growth in the digital economy, the sector still has a long way to go before replacing the manufacturing and natural resource pillars of Canada's economy. "So much investment in the Canadian economy really is driven by natural resource extraction," he said. 

"Even during down times, it has a huge footprint."

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