Economic issues analyzed during panel discussion


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Regardless of the fact that the Canadian economy posted a very slight increase in GDP from June to July, most Canadians say they believe the country is now in a recession.

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Regardless of the fact that the Canadian economy posted a very slight increase in GDP from June to July, most Canadians say they believe the country is now in a recession.

A Leger poll earlier in the summer found that 59 per cent of people thought they were already in a recession and 81 per cent think inflation will continue and prices will keep going up.

“We look for the (Bank of Canada’s) overnight rate to reach four per cent by December, and expect GDP growth to slow through the rest of this year before the economy tips into a recession in the first half of 2023,” said RBC economist Claire Fan in a note from RBC Thursday morning.

Alison Kirkland (from left), the CEO of Women’s Enterprise Organizations of Canada, Fred Meier, the CEO of RRC Polytech, Joelle Foster, the CEO of North Forge Technology Exchange, and Andrew Enns, the Winnipeg executive vice-president of Leger. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)

At a Manitoba Chambers of Commerce event on Thursday morning, Andrew Enns, the Winnipeg executive vice-president of Leger, said in an understatement, “From a consumer-confidence perspective, this is challenging.”

Enns was participating in a panel discussion around the topic, From Resilience to Growth: The Future of Manitoba’s Economy.

Probably the most common concern expressed was the nagging issue of the availability of workers.

There was a consensus that while increasing immigration and working harder at integrating the province’s large, young Indigenous community into the workforce will help, the problem needs to be addressed with some creativity.

RRC Polytech CEO Fred Meier said his college recently went through a strategic planning session where it became clear the college needed to transform its learning model.

“The broader message is that we can’t take a traditional approach to a problem that is not traditional,” he said. “We need to think differently on how we approach all different aspects of this.”

While many members of the Winnipeg business community have been putting on a brave face, many are champing at the bit about feeling like growth is being curtailed because positions are going unfilled.

The growth issue is confounding economies across the country because so many companies are operating at below capacity — not because order books are weak, but because companies are not able to hire all the people they need.

“Everyone came out of the pandemic looking to get back to business and costs start going up and the labour market problems became an issue that no one was planning would become so acute,” said Chuck Davidson, CEO of the Manitoba Chambers of Commerce.

“Businesses want to get back to normal but they can’t get back to normal,” he said.

Alison Kirkland, the CEO of Women’s Enterprise Organizations of Canada (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)

Among other things, panelists and others believes the city and the province — and everyone here — need to do better letting people know how great it is to live and work in Manitoba.

It is an age-old challenge, but it is rearing its head again as youth out-migration continues to grow and other provinces — Alberta — are aggressively promoting to attract workers.

Enns said Leger did a survey earlier this year asking people which was their favourite and least favourite provinces.

“Manitoba did not top the list of worst provinces, but it was a reminder of how aggressive you have to be for us in the middle of the country,” he said. “We have to keep our hands up.”

Joelle Foster, the CEO of North Forge Technology Exchange, said “We are just too humble.”

But from her perch helping launch and grow mostly tech startups, she said the lack of representation of women in that sector is a problem.

“Manitoba has one of the lowest numbers of women working in the technology and innovation space and we have to do something about that,” she said. “Without a diverse innovation ecosystem Manitoba is not going to grow.”

From Meier’s perspective, it is an even broader problem about Canada’s lagging adoption of technology which is likely something Manitoba companies are guilty of.

“There is a labour shortage at least partly because businesses did not engage in technology transfer as quick as they should have,” he said.

Andrew Enns, the Executive Vice President of Leger, Winnipeg (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)

“It is terrifying to hear growth is being held back because of labour shortages,” he said. “We need to look more at technology transfer to address other ways to go without purely relying on labour.”

He said RRC Polytech is focusing on how industry moves to automation and digitization, but obviously the training side of that does not happen with a flick of a switch.

There is no question there is much to be stressed about — and mental health issues are something small- and medium-sized businesses need to be aware about with their employees.

Michelle Kuly, the current chairwoman of the Manitoba Chambers of Commerce, runs the consulting firm Blueprint Inc. She said on top of the technology adaptation that firms need to get going on there are also pressures on issues like environmental sustainability, diversity equity and inclusion and reconciliation issues.

“Companies are looking to embed those elements in their companies in meaningful ways, ” she said, “Those are hard conversations while facing recession and inflation in the post-pandemic world.”

Martin Cash

Martin Cash

Martin Cash has been writing a column and business news at the Free Press since 1989. Over those years he’s written through a number of business cycles and the rise and fall (and rise) in fortunes of many local businesses.

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