There isn't a province in the country that isn't affected in some way by the plunge in oil prices. And the fallout is now being felt by premiers and their finance ministers across the land as they prepare new budgets.
Given that oil is Canada's leading export product, a drop-off in its value to the extent we are now witnessing can't help but translate into slower economic growth in most regions of the country. It will also have a deleterious effect on the federal government's bottom line, a shortfall that could tally in the billions.
"Among other things, plummeting global prices [for oil] will deliver a blow to Canada's terms of trade, which translates into slower growth in nominal incomes and GDP," says leading economist Jock Finlayson, chief policy officer with the Business Council of B.C.
"It is also pushing down the exchange value of the Canadian dollar, which means a dollar of Canadian income buys less in global markets – that is, we have become poorer in a global sense. Because the oil, gas and pipeline sector has, in recent years, accounted for one-third or more of non-residential business investment, the fall in oil prices also has negative implications for the level of business capital spending in Canada, which will further dampen economic growth."
When it comes to the West, the impact today's oil story is having on the four provinces varies dramatically. For Alberta it's devastating news, for Saskatchewan merely bad. The pain being felt in Manitoba and British Columbia, meanwhile, is not nearly as acute.
Here's a look at the situation each of the four Western provinces is facing.
Where the present oil slump represents a punch to the gut of Alberta, it feels more like a pinch in Manitoba. While the oil and gas sector has been a solid contributor to economic growth in the province, it's not a major player. According to TD Economics, the province's export-oriented manufacturing and wholesale trades sector is expected to benefit from a lower Canadian dollar and rising U.S. economy. The provincial economy is also expected to get a boost from the NDP government's $5.5-billion infrastructure program. TD is forecasting the Manitoba economy to grow by 2.4 per cent in 2015.
Next to Alberta, no province is expected to be hammered by the oil slide more than Saskatchewan. While its impact in the province is somewhat offset by the fall in the loonie (which helps other export sectors), it's still going to present fiscal challenges for Premier Brad Wall. The Premier is already warning public stakeholder groups such as hospitals and universities there won't be much for them in the next budget. Although the Premier doesn't want to stop the major infrastructure program under way, he's suggesting the government may have to get innovative and include private-sector partners to keep shovels in the ground.
A month ago, Alberta Premier Jim Prentice was talking about the $6-billion or $7-billion hole that the current oil price was going to blast in his budget. He'll be lucky if it's only that, given talk of the price of a barrel of oil going to $30 or lower. Economists in the country are talking about a fiscal shortfall in the province in the order of $10-billion based on the current price scenario. At the same time, the province is committed to a multibillion-dollar capital building campaign – new schools and hospitals for the tens of thousands of people pouring into the province each year. The only question now is how big the deficit will be.
According to the Conference Board of Canada and others, only Ontario will experience greater economic growth in the country in 2015-16 than B.C., and then only by a hair. Obviously, B.C. is not reliant on oil the way its neighbour is. Meantime, a strong U.S. housing market is helping B.C. forest products. A weak Canadian dollar is expected to aid the province's tourism sector. The effects of an economic slowdown in China, where B.C. has been shipping a greater percentage of its exports, will be partly offset by rising demand south of the border. It means that Premier Christy Clark will likely table another balanced budget in the spring.