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When it comes to economic growth in Canada’s major cities, the Prairies have been leading the way for years. We’ve heard it repeated so many times since commodity prices starting rising in 2006 that at this point it’s no surprise when an economic forecast predicts Edmonton, Calgary, Regina, and Saskatoon to have the fastest growing economies in the country.

What might surprise you, though, is that a new study from Statistics Canada on Canada’s metropolitan economies suggests that the Prairie cities have been growing up to twice as fast as unofficial Conference Board estimates have previously led us to believe:


Note: The Conference Board estimates are adjusted for inflation, while Statistics Canada’s are not. To compare the two, I adjusted the Statistics Canada estimates for inflation using the Consumer Price Index. This is a potential source of error in the comparison.

Back in November, Statistics Canada quietly released new, experimental estimates of GDP growth for Canada’s major cities between 2001 and 2009. This was significant for two reasons. First, they’re Statistics Canada’s first estimates of GDP growth at the city level. Previously, all estimates of the economic growth of cities in Canada came from unofficial sources, of which the most commonly cited is the Conference Board of Canada.

Second, the new experimental estimates are very likely to be more accurate than the unofficial ones. The Conference Board’s methodology, roughly speaking, is to estimate GDP using a ‘top-down’ approach: they take provincial GDP estimates from Statistics Canada, and assign a city a share of its province’s GDP based on that city’s share of provincial employment. In contrast, the Statistics Canada study used a more accurate ‘bottom-up’ approach that incorporates detailed information on the location and structure of businesses to allocate GDP among cities.

Of course, the Statistics Canada estimates only cover 2001 to 2009, so there’s no way to be certain that we’ll see the same difference if/when data is released for later years. But given the great performance of Edmonton, Calgary, Regina and Saskatoon on a number of economic indicators between 2009 and today, I’d say there’s a good chance we’ll continue to see more accurate estimates of GDP show faster rates of growth for Canada’s Prairie cities.


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