Ottawa-Gatineau economy to grow 2.3% in 2017: Conference Board of Canada

Rideau Centre

A Canadian think-tank is raising its economic outlook for the National Capital Region for 2017 on the strength of government hiring and a surge in tourist visits coinciding with Canada’s 150th anniversary.

The Conference Board of Canada says it expects Ottawa-Gatineau’s GDP growth to reach 2.3 per cent this year. That’s up from the 1.7 per cent growth in 2016 that the Conference Board calculated last fall and would be the largest GDP gain for the region since 2010.

It’s also a modest rise from the 2.2 per cent increase for 2017 that the Conference Board previously forecast in its fall outlook report.

One of the big reasons behind the positive outlook lies with the region’s economic engine and largest employer: the federal government.

The Liberals have been hiring employees and contractors in Ottawa-Gatineau at a torrid pace over the past year. The local public administration headcount working for the federal government has risen by more than 20 per cent, or 26,000 people, since July 2016 alone.

However, the Conference Board says it expects to see the biggest economic gains in the personal services industry, which will see output increase by 4.3 per cent this year thanks to a boost in tourism-related spending. In a separate report this week, the Conference Board said the slew of major events in Ottawa this year – including the Juno awards, Grey Cup and outdoor NHL game – will contribute to a six per cent increase in overnight visits in 2017.

“Never before have we had such a wide variety of amazing blockbuster events on tap for the entire year,” Jantine Van Kregten, communications director at Ottawa Tourism, told OBJ earlier this month.

Elsewhere, the Conference Board expects housing starts across the region to rise slightly to 7,250 units in 2017, up from about 6,750 last year. The think-tank highlighted that falling inventories of unsold apartments are encouraging developers to launch new projects.

When the residential sector is combined with other major projects, such as the ongoing work on Ottawa’s light-rail line, construction output is expected to grow two per cent this year.

In a summary of its report, the Conference Board noted that its research was completed prior to this spring’s flood. Damage caused by such natural disasters can act as a drag on a region’s economy through lost production and foregone purchasing. However, rebuilding typically boosts GDP figures as homes are repaired and outfitted with new furniture, appliances and other items.