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Recession technicalities & innovation fallacies: BUSINESS WEEK WRAP


The word has been bandied about for weeks now, but on Tuesday, Statistics Canada gave us some numbers that would seem to confirm that Canada’s economy was in recession for the first half of this year.

Except, not everyone agrees. Hard though it is to believe, there’s no broadly accepted definition of what a recession is. Many economists consider the benchmark to be two consecutive quarters of negative GDP, and by that metric, Canada was indeed in one earlier this year, StatsCan confirmed with GDP data on Tuesday.

But many say it’s a much more complex thing to define and can only really be seen in the rear-view mirror. Obviously the issue is clouded by the current federal election, which has many people wary of using the R-word. 

Election season notwithstanding, Unifor economist Jim Stanford says it’s fair to claim that there was some sort of recession in Canada this year — but it was pretty mild, and it’s probably already over.

Statcan GDP Economy 20150901

There was much ado this week about whether or not Canada’s economy is in recession, even after Statistics Canada reported GDP shrank in the second quarter. (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press)

“The convention has been two quarters of negative growth means a recession,” he told Amanda Lang this week. “It’s a totally arbitrary convention, but in football it’s totally arbitrary to say a first down is 10 yards. Why not nine yards?”

“Well it is a convention, so it’s kind of ridiculous to start playing with the definition now.”

Having reported on the debate at length, the whole issue reminded us this week of the quagmire faced by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart in a famous 1964 case about obscenity. Potter famously wrote that he didn’t know how to define pornography, “but I know it when I see it,” he wrote.

Based on this week, somehow that quip seemed apropos. But feel free to give us your two cents on the issue in the comments.

Innovate or die

Whether you think we were in a recession or not, just about everyone  would agree that Canada needs to innovate and modernize its economy to be more creative. And there was some data out this week that hints we’re not doing a very good job of that at the moment.

The Conference Board of Canada put out an annual report this week, scoring Canada’s economy on a host of innovation metrics. Last year, Canada ranked 13th out of 16 countries and took home a D grade.

This year, we did a little better, coming in ninth place out of 19 with a solid C. But there’s one area where we’re still failing, the board says: corporate spending on research and development.

“We need to invest more time and money in our people to improve their innovation skills,” the board’s CEO Daniel Muzyka told Amanda Lang this week. “For business, it’s about saying, look — what can we realize if we invest more money in research.”

It’s been a problem for a while, and one that needs to be fixed. If corporations aren’t spending money to invest in their own futures by developing the next BlackBerry, or the next Hootsuite, or the next Shopify, there’s not a lot the government or Canadian consumers can do about it.

So here’s hoping we manage to improve our performance next year.

Tech on two wheels

On the other hand, there’s some small reason for optimism on the technology front in this country, as it seems smaller-scale start-ups may be an exception to Canada’s innovation dilemma.

A Montreal-based app called SmartHalo is a high-tech solution to low-tech travel which turns traditional bikes, into smart ones.

SmartHalo is a GPS navigator that secures to a bike’s handlebars. It’s a prototype so far, but it’s already raised nearly $ 275,000 in a Kickstarter campaign. There are other gadgets geared to cyclists entering the market, and it’s not necessarily the big brands that are spending the time and money.

Companies like SmartHalo, Vanhawks and Recon Jet are turning Canada into a mini-hub for the growing market of mobile bike technology.

“A lot of these gadgets are not being made by typical bike companies,” Mia Kohout, CEO and editor in chief of Vancouver-based Momentum Magazine told the CBC’s Aaron Saltzman this week. “They’re being made by all these young people who are working in digital technology and digital media,” she said.

Other stuff

Those were just a few of the great stories we brought you this week. Be sure and check out our website often for more, and don’t forget to follow us on Twitter here to stay up to date. In the meantime, here’s a day-by-day list of our most popular stuff from the past seven days.

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