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Maybe a reverse of the "go west" trend of the last few years? Is the Alberta Boom going to stay white-hot?

A small comment to add to this, out in Saint John, NB, there was a recent article in the paper regarding the plans for a new refinery to be built. It would seem that they can't get enough workers to build the thing in 4 years, so they are splitting it up in to two phases of 4 years each so they can ensure they have enough people to not cause delays. This is an interesting collapse that we are in. I wonder if it's completely fabricated by the opposition and media.

It could be that, like GM/Chrysler etc. our construction industry needs retooling. At the moment in the GTA construction activity focuses heavily on a sector heading south - residential and commercial buildings. We apparently have apprentice trades who basically do their apprenticeships on new suburban cookiecutter buildings who when faced with retrofits and the like have no clue how to deal with legacy wiring/piping and how to bring this to code. Meanwhile we have apartment buildings which badly need energy efficiency retrofits, schools which need to be brought up to modern standards and so on.

We need to ignore the plaintive cries of developers when development charges are proposed to be raised to the true cost of incremental services, such as in Toronto recently. If projects are deferred (more likely due to credit availability and cashflow issues arising from a decrease in buy-off-the-plans speculation than City development fees) then the workers thus "freed up" could be redirected through retraining and upskilling into the two areas that need them now - infrastructural projects and retrofits of existing buildings.

Stephen, could you provide an economists' view on how cyclicality in a sector affect career choices of students, and how this effect labour markets and output. The same problem described above exists in the oil&gas sector, which has similar generational gaps driven by the boom-bust cycle.

Are students having trouble recognizing a temporary, cyclical downturn in a sector versus a permanent, structural one. Or are they being rational in avoiding temporarily weak sectors because the intial post-graduation wage is so crucial in determining your lifetime wage-path? Or is it that recent heavily indebted grads have a high rate-of-time preference, and so eschew sectors that have poor initial wages at the time they graduate?

Yikes - tough questions!

I couldn't answer with any degree of certainty. All I know is that when I graduated with my BA in 1984, job prospects were so awful that grad school seemed like a very good idea.

Today Statistics Canada came out with a summary of economic activity to September 2008. This table summarizes economic growth by industrial sector: http://www.statcan.gc.ca/daily-quotidien/081201/cg081201d-eng.htm

Wholesale, retail, finance: they're all growing strongly. What's one sector that's exerting a negative pull on growth? Construction. I don't know how to reconcile that with your data.

The answer may be in the distinction between growth rates and levels. If construction activity has hit its capacity, it can't grow any more.

That explanation makes sense. Thank you.

isn't/hasn't there been a crush of demand on the constr. sector due to legacy of infrastructure spending boom (in hydro., roads) of post-war years? If so, what are the implications?

Construction activity is a lagging indicator of economic activity. With the residential and commercial market heading downward in Toronto and across Canada, employment in construction will begin to drop as developers finish projects and are unable to reinvest in new projects.

By the end of 2009, we will likely see a very different picture in the construction sector. Would it not be wise for government to invest in infrastructure at a time when resources (labour and materials) are becoming less expensive? As long as the infrastructure improves productivity it would seem to be a good investment, although contrary to the normal investment pattern of government i.e. buy high and sell low. The resultant economic stimulus would also be positive.

Today's G&M story seems to confirm all the above. Construction employment is still very strong, but just starting to show signs of weakness, in Toronto.
G&M story.

And let's see if I have got the link to work!

I'm starting to hate that word infrastructure. I think roads induce sprawl and compete with rail/bike-paths/lrt/subways/ports/high-density-housing...roads are less important than other infrastructure forms. I'd guess since TO/Mtl/Vancouver are receiving all the young immigrants, they should get the spending. AB should at least cost how much it will cost to desalinate the freshwater tailing ponds are poisoning.
To get a feel for what would happen if construction inflation occurs, just follow what has happened in Western Canada between this summer and maybe 2004. In Wpg, various highways come in over budget, some projects get cancelled and others get prioritized. Cost estimates go up. Project delays. Ideas for laws to let raod crews work longer shifts. Standard stuff. If expected, increase expected project costs and decrease completion times.
Personally, I'd do things now just because commodity prices are cheap and I'd make an amateur guess labour will only get more expensive as North America ages. I'd prioritize downtowns and keep sprawl low.
The same way temporary workers flock to AB from Atlantic Canada, loosen up immigration to have Mexican and Midwest Americans flood construction projects here. The National mentioned there are many in Iqualuit looking for jobs. Recruit. I say this all qualifying that Obama's stimulus plan might change everything. How about building up affordable housing and really ramping up immigration as a longer term solution to keeping decaying infrastructures functional? I've always advocated community colleges for nursing, childcare and carpentry on Indian Reserves as a means to help address housing stock and health issues on Reserve initially and eventually spillover into Canada. Add construction to the mix.
What we really need is a cheap modular on demand housing unit to help supply these booms and that doesn't have a fixed cost during busts. I've seen The National do a story about railcars used as homes somewhere (Australia?). Let's make those to help keep contruction costs down (if I were Premier of AB I'd make oil pay for em so as not to crowd out the long-term residents).

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