Provincial Outlook - December 2020

As the clock ticks down on the annus horribilis that was 2020, there’s high hope the New Year will bring some normalcy to all corners of the country. This won’t happen overnight. The second wave of COVID-19 is still getting worse, reaching provinces and regions that were largely spared during the initial wave, prompting new restrictions. Clearly the start of 2021 will be turbulent for provincial economies, some of them possibly seeing their burgeoning recovery regress temporarily. But the imminent onset of mass vaccination campaigns will be a game-changer. We believe they will achieve a significant flattening of the curve by the middle of the year. As progress is made, we expect provincial and local authorities to gradually ease restrictions, setting the stage for growth spurts across the country. Better days are ahead!

The math of coming off an extremely low base in 2020 means economic growth in 2021 will look gigantic in nearly all provinces. Growth numbers will overstate underlying strength. In fact, we project2021 activity to come short of 2019 levels in all but two provinces—Manitoba and Prince Edward Island. The continuing drag of hard-hit industries (including accommodation and food services, arts and entertainment, and transportation services) will keep the recovery incomplete until 2022 in most cases.

We expect growth in Newfoundland and Labrador to be the weakest in 2021, at 2.8%, due to the winding down of major construction projects and declining population.

Other Atlantic provinces will also rank toward the lower end of our2021 growth rankings though that’s largely because they suffered relatively less severe downturns in 2020—in part a reflection of low coronavirus case rates in the region. Nova Scotia (+4.3%) and New Brunswick (+4.0%) are well on their way to full recovery, with employment levels already close to pre-crisis levels.

The virulence of the second wave is clearly a setback for Manitoba(+4.4%). Yet strong agri-food activity alongside increased capital investment will keep things on track. Both factors will also fuel growth in Saskatchewan (+4.7%). Alberta (+4.5%) will begin to climb out of a very deep hole (we forecast GDP to plummet 8.3% in 2020). Improving oil prices should spur drilling activity from depressed levels, and oil production is poised to rise on the heels of the provincial government lifting curtailments.

We project growth in British Columbia (+5.1%) to edge out the national average (+5.0%) on the back of robust capital investment and rebounds in forest products and tourism.

Our outlook for Quebec (+5.4%) and Ontario (+5.5%) has households dipping into the massive savings they built up in 2020 to drive up consumption, and governments providing substantial economic stimulus. Both provinces were hit particularly hard by COVID-19.


Read the full Provincial Outlook report for more extensive province-by-province overviews.

Read full outlook


About the Authors

Robert Hogue is a member of the Macroeconomic and Regional Analysis Group, with RBC Economics. He is responsible for providing analysis and forecasts for the Canadian housing market and for the provincial economies. His publications include Housing Trends and Affordability, Provincial Outlook and provincial budget commentaries.

Carrie Freestone is an economist at RBC. She holds a Bachelor of Arts (honours) in Economics from Queen’s University and a Master of Arts in Economics from the University of Ottawa.


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