Optimism reigns in Manitoba


What’s behind the optimism Probe Research recently uncovered in a province-wide omnibus survey for Jory Capital?

Is it the Manitoba Moose finally reaching the Calder Cup final? Is it the Winnipeg Goldeyes getting off to a good start  and welcoming fans back to one of the nicest and sunniest ballparks in the country? Is it the possibility the Winnipeg Blue Bombers will have a new football stadium in a few years at the University of Manitoba? Is it the visibility of a number of cranes at the Forks to mark the construction of the first national museum outside Ottawa? Is it the near completion of the first downtown skyscraper in years and one reputed to be one of the greenest buildings in the world? Is it about the significant upgrade to the floodway that continues to protect thousands of residents and businesses from potential disaster and untold damage? Is it about our affordable housing and rich diversity of quality communities in and outside major urban centres? 

All of the above helps explain the survey results, but more likely it’s about Manitoba’s economy performing remarkably well in light of a global financial crisis. Manitoba is still growing and has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country. Infrastructure investment is a high priority and a number of major projects continue to move forward. 

Sean Barnes of  PCL Construction still predicts 2009 will exceed $1.5 billion in building permit construction activity in Manitoba with higher levels in subsequent years. 

One of the major projects to get off the ground is the exciting CentrePort Canada Way Development surrounding the new airport terminal. Also, there is the Canadian Museum for Human Rights and a planned IKEA development in southwest Winnipeg. 

“Construction activity in northern Manitoba will continue to be robust with Manitoba Hydro moving forward with or planning new power generation projects in Wuskatim, Keeyask, Point du Bois and Conawapa,” said Barnes. “There are also major projects in the planning stages in the mining sector as well.” 

Major education institutions in Manitoba are making significant investments in their facilities to build for the future and make our province a place where higher educational opportunities and skills training are being addressed.

So, what did this recent Probe Research March 2009 survey show? Based on a sample size of 1,000 adults surveyed in Manitoba, with a margin of error plus or minus 3.1 per cent, two-thirds of Manitobans said the economy  will perform better than the rest of the country over the next year.  On the other hand, only five per cent said our economy will fare worse. Nearly three-in-10 said we will do just as well as other regions in the country. 

Optimism increased according to higher incomes, so three out of every four respondents with incomes over $60,000 said we will do a lot better or a little better than the rest of the country. Even a slight majority of those residents earning less than $30,000 believe Manitoba will do better.

What even proved more newsworthy in light of the challenges Canada and the global economy are facing is how dramatically Manitobans’ economic optimism jumped from late 2008. In response to the question, “Are you optimistic or pessimistic about the economic future of Winnipeg/your community?” In Winnipeg, the reply went from 71 per cent optimistic in December 2008 to 86 per cent optimistic in March 2009. Rural Manitoba went from 72 per cent to 80 per cent. The highest levels of optimism exist in Winnipeg with 36 per cent being very optimistic.

An interesting commentary arose out of these survey results. Scott MacKay, president of Probe Research, calls it “economic exceptionalism” as citizens are expressing astonishing optimism about the economy of their province and its communities, despite recession gripping the country.

A final question in this survey asked respondents about the state of their household finance. The result could best be described as stable with as many Manitobans experiencing a drop in good fortune as those that saw a rise in their financial situation. Close to six-in-10 respondents said there had been no change in their household’s financial health. 

Looking ahead, one-in-three respondents said they expect to be better off financially a year from now. One-half do not see any change in their financial health, while only 11 per cent expect to be worse off.

Reinforcing the positive consumer sentiment indicated in the Probe Research survey is Winnipeg’s and Brandon’s top-10 ranking in MoneySense’s annual survey of best places to live in Canada, which finished eighth and 10th respectively. The personal finance and lifestyle magazine editor singled out both Manitoban cities’ strengths in offering more affordable housing, good job prospects and access to health care. 

Both cities are the epicentres of their region and home to post-secondary institutions. In particular, Winnipeg was in the top half of almost every category ranked by the magazine. 

Next time someone asks why more people are flocking to Manitoba and buying fancy homes in Winnipeg neighbourhoods and outlying rural municipalities, you might tell them that the province is more than holding its own economically, making it a good place in which to invest and call home.