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The skyline of downtown Calgary. (Chris Bolin for The Globe and Mail/Chris Bolin for The Globe and Mail)
The skyline of downtown Calgary. (Chris Bolin for The Globe and Mail/Chris Bolin for The Globe and Mail)

Looking for economic growth in Canadian cities? Look west Add to ...

There are places you look to as financial models. And then there's Windsor, Regina and Sherbrooke.

The Canadian map is being redrawn when it comes to cities that are making the biggest strides in their economic recovery, and the capitals of growth are not where most people might think.

According to a Metropolitan Outlook released by the Conference Board of Canada on Tuesday, only Windsor, Calgary, Oshawa, Regina, Saskatoon, London, Sherbrooke, Winnipeg and Thunder Bay can expect higher growth in their gross domestic product this year over 2010, and the western provinces are rallying faster than those in the East.

Canada's slowing economy, along with disappearing stimulus funds, will weigh on most of the 27 municipalities measured by the report.

And of those that are expected to do well, most benefit from having had some rough years to climb back from.

"A lot of people are surprised that Windsor is on top," said Mario Lefebvre, director of the conference board's Centre for Municipal Studies. "But the city was hit really hard over the course of 2007-2009, so now they're bouncing back."

Windsor, a former automotive town that has been forced to reinvent itself, is forecast to have the fastest growing metropolitan economy in 2011, with its GDP expected to rise 3.9 per cent. Last year, it was named one of the top seven intelligent communities in the world, and it will soon start construction on the $1.6-billion Windsor-Essex Parkway.

Regina and Saskatoon will both do well this year after an agricultural downturn in Saskatchewan in 2010.

Although the list of top-performing cities zigzags across the country, Mr. Lefebvre said the West is emerging as the regional leader when it comes to financial recovery.

Calgary is following a steady upward trajectory, with its energy sector expected to boost its economic growth by 3.7 per cent in 2011 and above 4 per cent by 2012.

Vancouver, Edmonton Winnipeg are all expected to have strong years, benefiting respectively from the afterglow of the Winter Olympics, rising oil prices and a rallying manufacturing sector.

Mr. Lefebvre said he expects western cities to remain on top for the foreseeable future, their success fuelled by the growing demand for commodities in India and China compared with the slower rebound in manufacturing, a predominant industry in the East.

"Put all of that together and you're getting faster growth in Western Canada," he said. "This is a trend we might want to get used to for at least the next couple of years."

Calgary's newly elected mayor, Naheed Nenshi, says that increasing growth in the West makes the country as a whole more resilient to the ups and downs of the economy and that the growth of commodities industries helps cushion the decline of the manufacturing sector.

"It's true that the centre of economic power is shifting westward in the country, but that's not a bad thing," he says.

Of course, a city's economy is influenced by more than just its predominant industry. Halifax's growth has been affected by a slowing housing market, while St. John's will see a decrease in its infrastructure spending from last year, as provincial and federal stimulus expenditures wind down.

Municipalities in the West are also seeing increases in population, which helps fuel economic growth.

The opposite is true in Montreal, where financial strides are being offset by a stagnant population. "The fact that Montreal is constantly battling a population that grows at 0.7 per cent per year, below the national average, it's no surprise to me that they're lagging," Mr. Lefebvre said.

Sherbrooke will exceed Montreal's growth, with its manufacturing and services sectors leading to a 2.6-per-cent increase, compared with Montreal's 2.2.

Of the major cities, Toronto is expected to suffer one of the most pronounced slowdowns in growth, slowing to 3 per cent from 4.3 per cent last year. Throughout Ontario, Oshawa and Windsor will experience high levels of expansion, while Hamilton and Kitchener-Cambridge-Waterloo will see slower growth.

But Doug Craig, the mayor of Cambridge, Ont., said his municipality is seeing a resurgence in its manufacturing, high-tech and food-processing industries.

"We're coming out of a recession and things are picking up," he said. "We're all going in the right direction."

With a report from Adrian Morrow







A comparison of GDP growth forecasts for select Canadian cities

Real GDP growth (%), 2011 forecast

Windsor 3.9

Calgary 3.7

Oshawa 3.5

Regina 3.5

Saskatoon 3.4

Toronto 3.0

Kitchener-Cambridge-Waterloo 3.0

Vancouver 2.8

London 2.8

St. John's 2.8

Hamilton 2.7

Edmonton 2.6

Sherbrooke 2.6

Halifax 2.5

CANADA 2.5

Ottawa-Gatineau 2.4

Victoria 2.4

Quebec City 2.3

St. Catharines-Niagara 2.3

Abbotsford-Mission 2.2

Montreal 2.2

Saint John 2.2

Kingston 2.0

Winnipeg 2.0

Greater Sudbury 2.0

Trois-Rivières 1.8

Saguenay 1.5

Thunder Bay 1.4

Source: Conference Board of Canada

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