Canada's economic history begins with the hunting, farming and trading societies of the First Nations. Following the arrival of Europeans in the 16th century, the economy has undergone a series of seismic shifts, marked by the early Atlantic fishery, the transcontinental fur trade, then rapid urbanization, industrialization and technological change.
Canada's economic history begins with the hunting, farming and trading societies of the First Nations. Following the arrival of Europeans in the 16th century, the economy has undergone a series of seismic shifts, marked by the early Atlantic fishery, the transcontinental fur trade, then rapid urbanization, industrialization and technological change. Although different industries have come and gone, Canada's reliance on natural resources — from fur to timber to minerals to oil, and on export markets for these commodities, particularly the United States — has underpinned much of the economy through the centuries and does so still in many regions today.
Although the following sections describe Canadian economic history by region, the country is historically a single economic unit. The fur trade first created a single transcontinental trading economy; since Confederation in 1867, labour and finance have moved freely among the regions. Improvements in transportation — the railways between 1867 and 1915 (see Railway History), and the highway and pipeline systems after 1945 — have helped. The provinces have become important markets and suppliers for one another, so that an investment boom in one region such as the Prairie West could create a nationwide boom, while a slump in Ontario manufacturing becomes a nationwide slump.
By the 1980s most Canadians had become city dwellers and the majority of workers were in white-collar jobs, generally in the service-producing industries. Disparities in earnings, living standards and ways of life had been much reduced, especially after 1945. Nevertheless the various regional economies were still very different. Manufacturing remained largely a matter for Ontario and Québec, while the four western provinces still generated immense surpluses of natural products. In the Atlantic provinces, living standards after 1945 remained comparatively low and prospects less bright. Partly for this reason, interregional subsidies have become deeply entrenched in Canada's way of life.
Most of the Aboriginal peoples of central Canada lived by hunting and gathering; only among the Iroquoian groups (Huron, Iroquois, Petun, Neutral) was agriculture established. Fur-bearing animals were trapped to provide clothing, and silver and copper were used to make ornaments. Trading among Aboriginal groups for a wide variety of items was common, but there does not seem to have been any specialized merchant class. In the 16th century French and British traders began to buy furs, for which they offered iron tools, weapons and alcohol, all of which Indigenous people valued highly. The result was profound economic and cultural changes among Aboriginal peoples, who were to play a critical role in the early fur trade.
Permanent European settlers first came to Canada to exploit the fishery and the fur trade. Until the end of the 17th century, because the climate and soil were not encouraging, agricultural progress was slow (see History of Agriculture). Like the French, English-speaking merchants engaged in the fur trade; after the Conquest (1759-60) — when many British businessmen began to control a large portion of the fur trade from Montréal — they also quickly extended their interests throughout commerce and finance. The population grew through natural increase and through immigration from Britain.
By the 1820s the good agricultural land in the St Lawrence Valley had almost all been taken up. After the North West Company merged with the Hudson's Bay Company in 1821, the transcontinental fur trade was no longer managed from Montréal. But by that time Upper and Lower Canada had developed an immense trade in timber, which went first to Britain and then, after mid-century, to the United States and to domestic buyers (see Timber Trade History).
Until the 1780s there was no significant European population in present-day Ontario, although its waterways were used by the fur traders. Settlement began with the arrival of the United Empire Loyalists, British and American settlers, and British troops and officials. Forest land was gradually cleared, and export trades in wheat, potash and timber developed. A few roads and canals were built, of which the most important were the Welland Canal and St Lawrence River canals. By 1867 most good land in the province had been claimed, although not all of it was under cultivation.
Confederation and Industrialization
At the Conquest, present-day Québec contained three towns, Montréal, Québec and Trois-Rivières. Ontario contained none. But new towns soon appeared along with settlement and with the development of commerce and government. Yet even in 1871, much of central Canada's industry, including the two great industries, milling and lumbering, was dispersed through the countryside or in small villages. After Confederation, however, rapid industrialization and urbanization occurred in both provinces, so that by 1911 half of Ontario's population lived in cities and towns.
From 1870 to 1900 some established industries such as tailoring and shoemaking were becoming factory activities, and provincial governments began to regulate working conditions. Minimum wage legislation came much later, with Ontario adopting it partially in the 1920s. Some unions were created in the 1830s. By the 1880s, with the rise and decline of the American-based Knights of Labor, union activity increased. But relative to the non-farm workforce, union membership remained small until the 1940s, when federal and provincial protection was extended to unions.
Rise of New Industries
Central Canada's industrial advance was especially rapid between 1896 and 1914, when the whole nation experienced investment and export booms. After 1900 a few industries such as carriage-making and blacksmithing declined. But new industries appeared: electrical equipment and chemicals in the 1890s, cars and aluminum after 1900, pulp and paper between 1890-1914, radio and home appliances in the 1920s and aircraft in the 1940s. Cheap hydroelectric power during this period helped accelerate industrial change, as did both world wars and nuclear power in the 1970s (at least in Ontario). In both provinces labour was drawn from natural population increase and immigration.
There were cyclical downturns in the mid-1870s, the early 1890s, the early 1920s and especially between 1929 and 1933, with the Great Depression lasting until the start of the Second World War. Thereafter, economic expansion continued largely uninterrupted until another cyclical downturn in the early 1980s (see Business Cycles).
Because so many of the newer industries were concentrated in Ontario, during the 1920s Québec's economic advance was less spectacular; although it shared fully in the development of pulp, paper and nonferrous metals, it took no part in the automotive industry, and little part in the electrical appliance industries. Also, because a higher proportion of Québec industries were low-productivity activities which could not pay high wages, Ontario workers earned more on average than Québec workers. After 1945, and especially after the 1960s, these gaps closed. Both federal and provincial authorities spent lavishly to attract factories into Québec; indeed, the Québec government owned plants in such industries as steel-making and auto assembly. Québec's birth rate also became the lowest in Canada, and average real wages rose.
Although the national financial centre had shifted from Montréal to Toronto by the beginning of the Second World War, Québec's financial system became more sophisticated and more francophone in its attitudes. In the 1970s and early 1980s, as anglophone business and professional people left a province in which they no longer felt at home, there was increasing scope for francophone expertise. Much more serious than the political uncertainty among investors in Québec were the troubles of its established textile and clothing industries, increasingly threatened by cheaper goods from developing nations. The federal government provided advice, new kinds of protectionism and adjustment finance. And thanks to the presence of Northern Telecom and Bombardier, for example, Québec became an important player in the high-tech and aerospace fields.
Agriculture in central Canada began as a battle against forest and climate. The industry then passed through an export phase, and by 1900 it depended chiefly on the local urban markets which it was not able to supply fully.
Around 1800 the farmers of the lower St Lawrence produced an exportable grain surplus, but for most of the 19th century Québec residents depended on grain from Ontario. In turn, for most of the century Ontario regularly exported grain not only to Québec, but overseas. However, after 1880, as Ontario's population rose while its wheat acreage declined, the province gradually imported more wheat from western Canada while increasing its output of oats and other fodder crops. Both Ontario and Québec between 1871 and 1914 specialized increasingly in meat and dairy products. From the 1860s until the 20th century, much cheese, butter and Ontario bacon were sold abroad; thereafter, more of these goods were consumed within central Canada. After the First World War, with the decline of the horse and the resulting fall in oats acreage, the shift to other fodder crops became even more pronounced and some land began to fall out of cultivation. Meanwhile, city growth encroached on farmland.
From Confederation to 1929, spasmodic efforts were made to extend the frontier of agricultural settlement in Ontario and Québec. These efforts were not very successful, but by 1929 there were pockets of farmland around Lac Saint-Jean, the Ontario Clay Belt, Rainy River and Thunder Bay. More important for northern development were mining, and pulp and paper. These activities scattered small communities throughout northern Ontario and Québec between 1886 (when the Sudbury nickel deposits were first exploited) and 1929.
Growth of Cities
By 1867 the great cities of central Canada were Montréal and Toronto. The former began as a port and commercial centre. By mid-19th century, it was a place of industry, and by 1900 it was producing large amounts of clothing and textile products, electrical equipment, railway rolling stock and many light industrial products. It was also an important financial centre. Toronto, after a slow and inauspicious beginning, developed after 1867 on similar lines, much of its early prosperity being based on Great Lakes shipping. By 1900 both cities had energetic banks and insurance companies and active stock exchanges. Both cities had begun to attract immigrants from central Europe and Italy. But it was largely natural increase and migration from Britain that built the cities of central Canada between Confederation and 1939. Indeed, before 1900 many Québecois and Ontarians migrated to the US, where prospects were better; Canada was not managing to retain the natural increase of its own population. However, between 1900 and 1929, and again after 1939, economic prospects were so much better that emigration was no longer a problem. Really large-scale immigration from Italy and central Europe occurred only after the Second World War.
In Québec and Ontario, as elsewhere in Canada, urbanization and industrialization were assisted by the thrift and diligence of the population, whose members were also willing to borrow funds and skills from abroad and, at least until the 1970s, to receive immigrants during times of prosperity. Educational arrangements helped, first by providing for general literacy; next, by arranging for higher liberal and professional education; and then, starting in the 1970s, by offering various sorts of specialized secondary and tertiary technological studies in, for example, engineering and agriculture.
By 1987 both economies had become very urbanized, and "service" industries and occupations were much more important than manufacturing, which in turn was more important than agriculture, forestry or mining. The earnings from service industries helped to balance central Canada's accounts with the rest of the country, a process to which the sale of manufacturers also contributed. This pattern of regional specialization had established itself between Confederation and 1900. While some may argue that federal trade policy (see National Policy) helped central Canada at the expense of certain regions, the industrialization of Ontario and Québec in itself was not created at the expense of others. Most of the two provinces' markets have always been in central Canada because that is where most Canadians live. Also, since the 19th century there have been export markets for many Québec and Ontario manufactures — cheese, sawn lumber, cars, agricultural implements, pulp and paper, refined nickel and aluminum.
Developments elsewhere in Canada, especially in the West, helped accelerate central Canada's industrialization, but they did not cause it. Economic evolution had been similar on the southern side of the Great Lakes, where there is a similar pool of raw materials, capital, labour and skills. Indeed, because on the Canadian side there was more hydroelectric potential, plus nickel, gold, silver, uranium and plenty of pulpwood, in some respects circumstances were more favourable. Since 1878-79 Canada's tariff has protected manufacturing industries, but locational advantages, not the tariff itself, ensured that most of that protected manufacturing would locate in central Canada.
Decline in Manufacturing
Canada finished the 20th century with a low-valued currency in relation to the US dollar, because commodity prices remained depressed. But the dawn of the 21st century meant a new chapter for the Canadian economy, particularly in Ontario. The Canadian dollar hit a low of 64 cents US in 2001. But as commodity prices recovered, the dollar began a climb to hit par with the US currency in 2002. The Canadian dollar has remained near or above par since. This turnabout prompted many Canadians to believe their economy had contracted so-called Dutch disease, in which a sudden increase in the value of a country’s natural resources forces up its currency — while forcing down exports and thereby hurting the manufacturing sector. The argument over Dutch disease prompted Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of Canada, to quip in a 2012 speech: "Some regard Canada’s wealth of natural resources as a blessing. Others see it as a curse." Indeed, commodity increases and the steady rise of the Canadian currency was accompanied by a fall in manufacturing activity. The sector’s share of Canadian GDP fell from 18 per cent in 2000 to 11 per cent by 2012.
Carney and most leading economists, however, believed commodity prices were made a scapegoat for they called structural change in the Canadian economy. While a strong currency may be partially responsible for the manufacturing troubles, they said the sector’s decline was part of a trend across the advanced world. As Carney noted in the same speech, Canada’s manufacturing-to-GDP ratio was six percentage points below the average of members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development in 1970. In 2012, it was three percentage points behind the OECD average.
The US also experienced an even more drastic downturn in its manufacturing sector at the same time, even though it is a net commodity importer while Canada is a net exporter. The US dollar began a steady depreciation in 2002 as the Canadian currency appreciated. In the same period, currencies of two other commodity importers, Japan and the Euro area rose along with the Canadian dollar.
Nowhere in Canada was the structural change in the economy in the 21st century more apparent than in Ontario, where factory employment in 2012 had faded to 11.8 per cent of total provincial employment from 23 per cent in 1976. In a report commissioned by the Ontario government, economist Don Drummond said Ontario residents had yet to grasp how the erosion of the manufacturing base was tearing away at the province’s traditional economic advantage. He said a strong Canadian dollar and the uneven performance of the American economy were to blame.
In another blow, in 2012 Ontario lost the distinction of producing more cars than the state of Michigan, the birthplace of the North American auto industry. Ontario had been the leading auto producer among all provinces and US states since 2004. Michigan produced 1.6 million vehicles in 2012, compared to 1.5 million for Ontario despite record Canadian auto sales. Both Michigan and Ontario have been facing stiff competition from Mexico, which has benefited from increased investment by the world’s auto companies because of its cheaper labour costs. In fact, Mexico had been producing more vehicles than either jurisdiction for a decade.
Ring of Fire
A new appreciation of Ontario's abundant natural resources developed in the first decade of the 21st century, particularly in the province’s northern regions. The provincial government and financial markets became fixated with the giant Ring of Fire mineral field, 500 kilometres north of Thunder Bay. Dubbed "Ontario’s oil sands," the region is rich in reserves of chromite, nickel and gold worth more than $60 billion. But the region needs a massive amount of infrastructure such as roads and railway tracks to get the ore to the refinery stage. A major private-sector investor walked away from a Ring of Fire development because of government delays in approving funds to build the needed infrastructure. Meanwhile the Ontario and federal governments were locked in discussions about who should pay for what.
Another victim of the change in centuries — at least initially — was Canada’s trade balance. Canada entered the 21st century with a string of robust trade surpluses fuelled by a low-valued currency. But a suddenly muscular Canadian dollar had led to consistent trade deficits by the second decade, prompting the government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper to order its overseas diplomats to focus on improving Canada’s economic interests around the world. By 2013, one in five Canadian jobs was linked to exports. As a result, the shift in foreign policy was hoped to create 40,000 new export-related jobs over five years. Trade Minister Ed Fast, who played a key role in negotiating a long-sought free trade deal with Europe in 2013, said another key objective over the five years was to double the 11,000 small and medium-size companies doing business in emerging markets such as China, India or Brazil.
The new focus on support for Canadian commerce overseas was a follow-up to the Harper government’s announcement in 2007 of aggressive pursuit of new free trade agreements. This was a continuation of policies by the former governments of Brian Mulroney of the Progressive Conservative Party and Jean Chretien of the Liberals in the 1980s and 1990s respectively. The Mulroney government implemented the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement in January 1989 and quickly began work on an expanded agreement to include Mexico in a North American trade alliance, which would eventually be implemented by the succeeding Chretien government in January 1994, The North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, superseded the Canada-U.S. trade pact.
The Chretien government followed up with two new free trade agreements in 1997 — one with Israel, the other with Chile. In 2002 the same government implemented a free trade agreement with Costa Rica. After 2007, the Harper government continued the momentum with free trade agreements with Jordan, European Free Trade Association (Switzerland, Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein), Peru, all in 2009, Panama in 2010, as well as Honduras and Colombia in 2011.
The signing of the two North American agreements was expected to set the Canadian economy off to a new era. However, one constant remained — Canada’s dependence on the US market, which accounted for 86 per cent of Canada’s exports in the first years under NAFTA. This dependence prompted the Harper government to aim for more diversification from trade with the US, just as the government of Pierre Trudeau did under the Third Option initiative in 1972. However, the Harper government succeeded where other governments had failed. In 2013 it reached an agreement in principle with the European Union to implement the Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement (CETA).
Although there was early fur trading, serious economic development in the Atlantic provinces really began with the sea fisheries, whose markets were in Europe and later in the West Indies. Much of the 16th-century fishing was conducted from British and European bases. Settlement was slow, especially in Newfoundland. On the mainland Acadian settlers arrived during the 17th century, followed by anglophone migrants from Britain and New England in the 18th, but the European population remained small until the arrival of the Loyalists, partly because there were only small amounts of good agricultural land. Early in the 19th century, Scots also settled on Cape Breton. Prosperity came from wooden shipbuilding, the fisheries, forests and maritime carrying trades. Colonial lumber enjoyed preferential treatment in Britain (see Timber Duties), while the carrying trades served the whole Atlantic basin.
Coal and Steel
By the mid-19th century, lumber preferences ended and, in shipping, iron and steam began to edge out wood and sail. Cape Breton coal found a market in Boston; other favourable developments were hard to find. Although there were efforts at manufacturing, local markets were small and communications among the colonies were bad. The Intercolonial Railway to Canada created some new markets for East coast industry, but the line did not eliminate the locational disadvantages. When the Dominion tariff was raised in 1879, many Maritime capitalists built factories, only to find that markets were smaller than they had expected and that new managerial skills were needed. Nor could Maritime coal compete in Ontario with Pennsylvania coal. Bankruptcies and takeovers were numerous. However, iron and steel production in Nova Scotia was stimulated by the tariff, by the Dominion's iron and steel bounties and by the post-1900 railway-building boom. By 1900 Halifax had become a local financial centre whose capitalists were raising money not only for local industry, but for utilities in Latin America. But Maritime banks tended to fail, merge or move their executive offices to central Canada (see Bank of Nova Scotia; Royal Bank).
During the 19th century, Newfoundland acquired a settled population largely by immigration from Britain. The rest of the region attracted few migrants, at least after 1867, and the population grew slowly: much of the natural increase flowed to the US or to other Canadian regions.
The 1920s and 1930s were unhappy decades in the Atlantic region. The iron, steel, coal and machinery industries were in chronic difficulty and, like the fishery, they suffered severely in the Great Depression. Nor did new manufacturers make much headway, in spite of continuing federal subsidies for rail transport. The few rays of hope included new pulp and paper plants and new protected markets for apples and lumber in Britain. The Second World War brought hectic prosperity to those communities which served the naval and air bases, and after 1945 the situation improved. New hydroelectric plants and new governmental initiatives attracted industry, but these programs had some successes and many failures.
By the mid-1980s, offshore oil and gas had been discovered in commercial quantities. As of 2014, four producing deep-sea oil projects, and their associated support industries, were bringing petro-dollars and a new prosperity to the Avalon Peninsula of Newfoundland. Two producing natural gas projects off Nova Scotia were also boosting revenues in that province. But the coal and steel industry in Cape Breton was gone, and other heavy industries such as pulp and paper were in chronic trouble across the region (and the country); those mills that survived were kept alive by government subsidy.
Although the once-great cod and ground-fisheries of Atlantic Canada (see Grand Banks) had collapsed in the 1990s, lobster, shrimp and other shellfish stocks sustained the industry and proved to be a lucrative overseas export product in the 21st century. By 2014 Saint John, New Brunswick was being transformed into a major North American energy port, with its Irving Oil refinery and, as of 2008, its Canaport LNG receiving terminal, the first liquefied natural gas terminal in Canada. There were also plans to build a new oil export terminal at the site. Nickel and iron ore mining and smelting in Labrador was another bright spot in a tough, regional economy – along with the promise of a second, massive hydroelectric scheme on Labrador's Churchill River, a new federal program to build Canadian warships at the Halifax Shipyard, plus a small but growing aerospace sector in Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island.
Economic development in western Canada began with the fur trade. By the end of the 18th century, the traders' activities on the prairies had produced a small population of Métis who, like the First Nations peoples, depended on the trade. Fur-trade posts were scattered throughout the region; on Vancouver Island the city of Victoria began as an HBC trading post.
Settled agriculture began in 1812 with Lord Selkirk's Red River Colony. However, the building of the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) in the 1880s gave Manitoba a means of export and therefore a wheat economy. Winnipeg became a centre for commerce and railways, and soon acquired a few factories. In the late 1890s the prospects for development brightened as world prices rose, transport costs fell, methods of dryland farming improved, and more appropriate varieties of wheat became available. Until 1929 the Prairie provinces enjoyed an immense expansion of the wheat economy, onto which was grafted a very much larger rail system, a network of cities and towns, coal mining and ranching. By 1914 the frontier of settlement had been pushed well toward the northwest, attracting migrants from many lands. The result was a regional economy which depended almost entirely upon the world price of a single crop and on local yields, both of which fluctuated greatly. There was little diversification except in Alberta, which began to produce small quantities of oil and gas.
Rapid Growth in BC
British Columbia's economic evolution before 1929 was very different. There was little agricultural land, and most farm products were locally consumed. There were few European residents except fur traders until the Fraser River Gold Rush of the 1850s. After the gold rush, coal mining on Vancouver Island was no substitute, and until well after Confederation the population grew very slowly. However, with the construction of the CPR, followed by the Canadian Northern Railway and Grand Trunk Pacific Railway between 1900 and 1914, much more rapid development and urbanization occurred. Important activities were lumbering, the fisheries, and copper, silver, coal and base metal mining in the south. Ranching and fruit-growing were also established. Some industries, especially shipbuilding and repairing, were set up, and the great smelter at Trail came into operation in 1920.
With regular transpacific sailings to the Far East and Australasia, Vancouver became an important port, not only for the province's own goods but for prairie grain. After the Panama Canal opened in 1914, trade with Britain became faster and much cheaper. Coastal shipping also developed, partly to serve the lumber trade. Thanks to urban growth, there was rapid development of hydroelectricity. There was very large immigration, not only from elsewhere in Canada but from Britain and Asia. Oriental immigration was much feared and rigidly controlled, although a significant Oriental community did develop.
War and Economic Depression
From 1914 to the late 1940s, especially during the Great Depression, conditions were often difficult. All four provinces felt themselves to be the victims of Canada's tariff policy, which raised the price of the manufactured goods that came from elsewhere but did nothing for the price of the primary products and simple processed goods which they had to sell. Prairie drought, adverse price movements and foreign protective tendencies, as in the 1920-22 recession and the slump of 1929-33, were serious matters. Ottawa provided relief money, protected the provincial governments from bankruptcy, and tried through trade negotiations to improve the conditions for western exports (see Ottawa Agreements). After the collapse of the co-operative wheat pools in 1929-30, Ottawa also supported the marketing of prairie wheat, although until the middle of the Second World War the farmers could market their wheat through private channels if they wished. Wartime prosperity helped western farmers pay off their debts. In BC, meanwhile, co-operative marketing increased for such goods as apples and peaches. But new manufacturing plants were slow to appear. By 1939 a Ford assembly plant near Vancouver supplied export markets in India and the Pacific, but when these markets vanished after 1939 the plant vanished too. The Second World War saw the rapid development of shipbuilding and aircraft construction on the West coast, but after the war these industries dwindled or vanished.
The Oil Boom
The years after 1945 saw new resource-based development, rapid urbanization and dramatic increases in standards of living. The most striking new projects were in oil, gas, pipeline-building and potash, which transformed the economies of Alberta and Saskatchewan. BC began to produce oil and gas; BC and Manitoba acquired immense new hydroelectric plants, and aluminum smelting began at Kitimat, BC, in 1951. There were new export markets, as oil and gas moved to Ontario and the US, and as BC coal and lumber moved to Japan. Prairie wheat, which gradually lost its old markets in Britain and Europe, eventually found new markets in the USSR, China and in developing nations. Federal policy was helpful: Ottawa began to make Equalization payments to Manitoba and Saskatchewan, and it provided a protected Ontario market for expensive Alberta oil from 1960 to 1973, although thereafter it held oil prices below world levels. It also reduced or removed many tariffs. Lumbering and pulp and paper expanded, and most of the time did well because of the North American construction and communication booms. In 1967 the exploitation of Alberta's oil sands (see Bitumen) began.
By 1987 Alberta had developed a petrochemical industry and Manitoba was producing buses and light aircraft. Yet the western provinces remained heavily dependent on the export of a few primary products and on the investment activity which the primary industries could generate. The West remained "development-minded," as it had been between 1896 and 1914.
By the 21st century, Alberta’s petroleum industry began anxiously to look to Asia for future markets. As the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, an independent Ottawa think tank noted, the province’s oil sector was designed to serve a monopsony (a demand-side monopoly) of one customer, the US, moving its energy product south, instead of west or east for Asian and even domestic markets. The Paris-based International Energy Authority said in 2012 that the US not only would become energy self-sufficient but would become the world's top oil producer by 2020, because of emerging shale oil technologies and renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. As a result, new markets for Canadian energy exports became a sudden priority.
A major pipeline proposal by TransCanada Pipelines, Keystone XL, to move Alberta oil south to refineries on the Gulf of Mexico shared government and public attention with two pipeline projects intended to connect Canadian oil supplies to Asian markets. Enbridge’s Northern Gateway and Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain expansion were proposed to run to export terminals on the West coast. Other proposals raised the possibility of shipping Alberta oil eastward to be refined and exported from the facilities in Saint John. However, by 2014 all of these projects were still in the regulatory process and the future shape of Canada’s energy sector remained unresolved.
Still, output from Alberta’s oil sands was still expected to almost triple from 2012 to 2035. As a result, Alberta was expected to continue to dominate the Canadian economy. Another part of the shift in economic power to the West was the growth of Saskatchewan, because of its own shale oil reserves and its vast potash reserves used in making fertilizer. Saskatchewan’s population surpassed the million mark for the first time, after declines in the 1970s and 1990s.
Study of Economic History
Economic history includes the study of the evolution of the economy and economic institutions. Dating to the 19th century, the subject uses ideas from economics, history, geography and political science. It must not be confused with the history of economic ideas or with the interpretation of general history using economic forces.
Distinctive contributions to Canada's economic history came in the 1920s and 1930s both from economists such as Harold Innis, and from historians such as Donald Creighton, who stressed the importance of what they called "staple products" whose markets were abroad. Emphasizing the importance of Canada's distinctive geography — the Canadian Shield and the Great Lakes-St Lawrence system — they traced interactions between geography, resources, foreign markets and the inflow of people and funds from abroad. They treated regional growth in relation to the staple products.
More recent approaches have supplemented the old with modern economics and statistics. Work has been done in areas including working class history, urban growth, business history, the industrial development of central Canada, that fitted rather poorly into the Staple Thesis. Meanwhile, historical geographers produce invaluable material on settlement patterns and on the growth of towns, while regional studies, which staple theorists treated as components of nation-building, have become routes to regional self-confidence, especially in Québec and Atlantic Canada. Marxist scholars share business and labour history and other fields with scholars whose ideologies are very different.
W.T. Easterbrook and Hugh Aitken, Canadian Economic History (1956); W.L. Marr and D.G. Paterson, Canada: An Economic History (1980); R. Pomfret, The Economic Development of Canada (1981).