By Chad Ingram
As of the beginning of June the estimated economic lossescreated by the COVID-19 pandemic in eastern Ontario totalled more than$3 billion with the equivalent of 80000 jobs lost.
During an online meeting in June members of the EasternOntario Leadership Council heard a presentation from members ofconsulting firm Limestone Analytics regarding economic projectionsstemming from the COVID-19 crisis. Among the partners of the council are the Eastern Ontario Wardens’ Caucus of which Haliburton County is apart the Eastern Ontario Regional Network (owned by the EOWC) and theEastern Ontario Mayors’ Caucus. The firm’s roster includes a number ofeconomics professors from Queen’s University.
From February until the start of June “We are looking at a hit of approximately $3.1 billion to the economy of eastern Ontario”Bahman Kashi founder and president of Limestone Analytics and adjunctfaculty at Queen’s said during the webinar. That lost gross domesticproduct entailed the loss of 80000 full-time equivalent jobs.
“A share of this is jobs that are actually no longer there and a portion of it is people just working less hours” Kashi said. Thetourism sector has been hit hard with some 23000 of those 80000 FTEjob losses in food provision accommodation and retail. The firm’sprojections which are based on a continued phased re-opening of theeconomy by the provincial government include losses for eastern Ontario by the end of the calendar year totalling between $6.8 and $8.1billion the difference based largely on the tourism sector’s ability to recover.
A change in consumer behaviour means spending on travelrecreation and tourism is down and this decrease creates ramificationsfor other areas of the economy.
“Their projections will also have implications on theprojections of other sectors because people may be spending elsewhereor the inputs that would be purchased from other sectors may not bepurchased” Kashi said. “So the impact will be felt by other sectorstoo.”
Proportionally eastern Ontario has actually fared better than the province at large.
“There is less manufacturing” Kashi said adding thatmanufacturing took a huge hit near the start of the pandemic so areasthat rely heavily on manufacturing such as some west of Torontosubsequently took a sharp economic dive. Eastern Ontario’s industrialcomposition with many jobs in the financial services for instance issuch that it is has allowed it to remain less affected than otherregions of the province.
Kashi said that a diversification of sectors in general cancreate at least some degree of resiliency in a regional economy. “Thispandemic gives us some measure so we can use this pandemic and look athow different regions have been impacted . . . and then try to see if we can explain that based on some parameters.”
The firm’s projections for Ontario as whole include lost GDP by the end of 2020 of between an estimated $89 billion and $107 billionagain dependent largely on the tourism sector’s ability to rebound.
In response the EOWC is proposing a new gigabyte project toenhance fixed broadband internet connectivity throughout the region.
“COVID-19 had exposed the serious lack of internet access andcapacity for rural residents and businesses across eastern Ontario. EORN and the EOWC are proposing a new fixed broadband project that will becapable of delivering speeds of one Gbps (gigabit per second) for up to95 per cent of the homes and businesses across the EOWC region” reads a release from the EOWC. “EORN is ready to work with the federal andprovincial governments as well as other key stakeholders in order tomove the project forward quickly.”
That project would be in addition to the EOWC’s $213-millioncell gap project which seeks to fill all existing gaps in cellularbroadband connectivity throughout the eastern portion of the provincewith the construction of new communications towers. A request forproposals was recently released for that project which is expected totake about four years to complete.
Members of the EOWC have been meeting with federal MPs to discuss possible solutions to helping revive regional economies.
“The EOWC looks forward to continuing its work with the federal government in order to implement solutions that help local economiesreduce costs and ultimately make changes that improve the lives of thepeople of Ontario and across Canada” the release reads.
In light of the COVID-19 crisis the EOWC has reframed a number of priorities chief among them a review of municipal long-term carefacilities.
“The EOWC is currently preparing an RFP in order to engage aconsultant and looks forward to providing an update on the studyfindings in the coming months. This research will help provide aportrait of the ‘situation on the ground’ and better inform provincialministries of the current municipal realities.”