Ottawa's economy expected to weather pandemic better than other Canadian cities

Ottawa's local economy is expected to weather the COVID-19 pandemic better than other major Canadian cities thanks largely to the resilience of its public service and high-tech sectors, according to a new report from the Conference Board of Canada.

Public service, high-tech sectors resilient during crisis: conference board report

Parliament Hill is seen in the background as people walk through Major's Hill Park during the COVID-19 pandemic on May 9, 2020. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

Ottawa's local economy is expected to weather the COVID-19 pandemic better than other major Canadian cities, according to a new report from the Conference Board of Canada.

It's expected the capital's large public service sector will retain more jobs during the pandemic, compared to cities such as Edmonton and Calgary, whose economies depend more on the energy sector.

Ottawa's pace of growth in 2020 is still expected to decline, but "it's about half the decline that we're seeing at the national level," said Pedro Antunes, chief economist with the Conference Board of Canada. "So this city will do a little bit better than many other places."

Of the 13 cities listed in the report, Ottawa is ranked as faring the best during the pandemic, and is expected to maintain that position through 2024. Saskatoon, Calgary and Edmonton are at the bottom of the list.

High tech another stronghold

Ottawa's high-tech industry is also expected to keep things relatively stable, and could even see some growth, according to the conference board report.

Antunes noted Ottawa's Shopify, which recently became the most valuable Canadian company, surpassing the Royal Bank of Canada.

"We are seeing bigger and broader adoption of technology to help us deal with the COVID-19 crisis," he said. "I do think that's another obviously great reason why we're not seeing as big of an impact here in Ottawa."

Ottawa likely to see less economic damage than other cities during pandemic, economist says

2 years ago
Duration 1:03
Pedro Antunes, chief economist with the Conference Board of Canada, says certain sectors, such as the federal public service and post-secondary institutions, will bolster the local economy during the pandemic.

But that doesn't mean the city is immune to the economic impact of the pandemic, Antunes noted.

"When we think about all of the festivals that happen in this city over the summer — we can think about Canada Day celebrations, the Tulip Festival — these have big implications on tourism," he said.

Ottawa's food and restaurant industry has also been been hit hard, but isn't as "sizeable in terms of the overall structure of the city," Antunes said.

'A really good thing for this town'

The fact that Ottawa is expected to weather the crisis better because of the strong public service sector is "not really that surprising," according to Debi Daviau, president of the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada.

"This is a really good thing for this town," Daviau said. "Look at the incredible and important work that public servants were able to deliver on during this critical period, and how a strong public service really has created a strong foundation for the entire country during this pandemic."

Daviau said she isn't aware of any federal public service job cuts during the pandemic; instead, members are taking on more "critical tasks" than they're usually assigned, she said. That includes working at call centres to help people apply for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB).

Public service brings ‘stability’ to Ottawa economy during pandemic, union head says

2 years ago
Duration 1:00
Debi Daviau, president of Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada, says federal employees in Ottawa have kept the local economy rolling during the pandemic as staff get important work done from home.

Daviau said she has heard some "rumblings" from outside the federal public sector that it's unfair so many public servants have kept their employment during the crisis, while millions of other Canadians are forced to apply for government aid.

"That just goes against everything we're holding as a principle during this pandemic," she said. "We want to keep people gainfully employed wherever possible. We want to prevent them from having to access all of these other benefits, and creating further burden on the system. And we want to have people in the system that can look after people who can't look after themselves."

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