Fort McMurray fire won't devastate economy, says new report

Despite the Fort McMurray wildfire causing widespread devastation and shutting down about half of all oilsands production, a new report suggests the impact to the provincial and national economy will be minimal.

Impact to Canadian economy 'will hardly be noticeable,' says Conference Board of Canada

Wildfire's costs mount

7 years ago
Duration 5:05
Pedro Antunes of the Conference Board of Canada has been adding up the costs of the Fort MacMurray fire

Despite the Fort McMurray wildfire causing widespread devastation and shutting down about half of all oilsands production, a new report suggests the impact to the provincial and national economy will be minimal.

The Conference Board of Canada expects the fire will translate into a .33 per cent loss to Alberta's projected GDP for 2016 and just a .06 per cent share for the Canadian economy.

The report, released on Tuesday, assumed most of the oilsands producers will return to full production by the end of the month. In addition, the loss of work in Fort McMurray will be offset by increased economic activity elsewhere in the province.

"Families have moved temporarily to other areas, mostly within Alberta, and they will spend on food and accommodations and other services — with much of the spending covered by insurance, donations or government transfers," states the report.

"At the national level, the impacts will hardly be noticeable."

Fires not abating

The Conference Board of Canada admitted on Tuesday the report's findings were based on calculations a few days ago. Since then, the fire led to the evacuation of several oilsands work camps including those belonging to Syncrude and Suncor.

Oilsands production may not return as quickly as initially expected.

"If more workers aren't able to remain at the oil sites, yes, that would have a bigger impact on the economy," said Marie-Christine Bernard, an author of the report, in an interview with CBC News. "So we will watch this closely and we could redo our calculations as we know more information about this."

Could add to economy

Opinions of other economists have varied across the country. The Royal Bank of Canada had said the oilsands shutdowns could subtract 0.5 per cent from May GDP, while RBC cut its forecast for second-quarter annualized growth to 0.5 per cent from a previous expectation of 1.5 per cent growth.

The Conference Board also suggests the Alberta economy could see economic gain from the fire beginning next year.

"Overall, we expect the rebuilding efforts to add roughly $1.3 billion in real GDP to Alberta's economy in 2017 — or about 0.4 percentage points to economic growth. Construction will likely remain elevated in 2018, and possibly into 2019 as well until rebuilding is completed," states the report.

Bottom line

Energy experts say it's a challenge for oil and gas companies to balance costs of re-opening mines and facilities with employees needs such as housing, transportation, fire suppression and prevention.

"These are big financial hits, no question about it," said Robert Bedin from RS Energy group, "their costs are still coming in, but their revenue side has diminished to near zero."

There are 1,919 firefighters, 161 helicopters, 377 pieces of heavy equipment and 29 air tankers currently battling the fires, according to the Alberta government.

Fort McMurray remains under a mandatory evacuation order.


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Account Holder

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?