Regina, Saskatoon – Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, or perhaps because of it, Saskatchewan has seen a large spike in realty sales in January, 2021, compared to January, 2020, one of the last months before the pandemic took hold. The Saskatchewan Realtors Association reported on Feb. 3 that sales were up 49 per cent, year-to-year.
Minister of Trade and Export Development Jeremy Harrison and New Democratic Party Leader Ryan Meili both responded by phone on Feb. 4 with their perspectives on this surge in sales.
Speaking from Regina, Harrison said, “We've had some very, very positive economic data despite the obvious challenges that exist because of the COVID pandemic. We have had some really remarkable numbers.
“To see merchandise exports, for example, increasing over the course of the last year, to see like wholesale trade, for example, which is an important leading indicator, 22 per cent increase over the course of the last year, which is just a remarkable statistic. You know, we've seen housing starts which have increased in a very, very real way, 72 per cent. From November 2019 to November 2020 to see over the course of 11 months consistently over the course of 11 months, increase in near 37 per cent on housing starts. All of these numbers are very positive. They are, I think, actually very counterintuitive for a lot of observers, likely from outside of the province. But that being said, we still do have challenges, but there are some very real and positive leading indicators as far as wholesale trade, but also the current statistics in a bunch of areas are pretty positive.”
Asked what’s driving this, Harrison replied, “The reality is, Saskatchewan produces what the world needs, and that's not going to change going into the future.
“I'm actually very optimistic about a number of our sectors and overall, for our provincial economy in that 70 per cent of what we produce, we export, and the demand for those products is only going to increase. Whether that be in the realm of agricultural exports, whether that be in the realm of mineral exports, whether that be even manufactured goods.”
That also includes energy, Harrison said. “I'm actually really quite bullish, which is not, I think, every observer out there is, but I'm actually quite bullish on the future of the energy sector as well. So, you know, the world needs what we have, and we do it better than anybody else in the world and producing those goods. And I think that we are very well-positioned, not just right now, but going forward for a very strong economic recovery.”
Harrison acknowledges that some areas are still tough, saying, “I think that there are there's real challenges out there by the fact is, and I think it's an almost an indisputable fact, at this point, Saskatchewan is coming through this pandemic economically better than any other jurisdiction around the country. And to see the growth in a whole number of sectors over that period of time is … actually ‘remarkable’ is the right word for it.
“We're seeing health even in sectors that have been challenged over a long period of time; forestry, for example,” he said, noting that that his constituency of Meadow Lake is part of the forestry industry, and forestry is a big part of the community. “For the longest time, just kind of, ‘hanging on’ maybe isn't quite the right word but, you know, just kind of making it through.
“Right now, the forestry sector is the healthiest it's ever been. And, you see lumber prices that are higher than they have ever been and have sustained that high, high level for a lengthy period of time. That's really manifested itself in a very secure circumstance for the forestry sector, which is doing incredibly well, and reinvesting into their facilities, but also into the local communities and the forests of Northern Saskatchewan.
He said these are the kind of stories that aren't necessarily something people are reading about in the mainstream media everyday, but this is actually happening out there.
“So there are a lot of very, very positive points, and I think we are just very well positioned ,as we come through this to recover, and be stronger economically coming out over the course of the next decade. And it really does come down to the fundamentals. We have what the world needs and what is the world is going to continue to need in ever greater quantities going forward and we do it better than anybody else so I'm pretty optimistic, actually,” Harrison concluded.
NDP perspective on high realty sales
Leader of New Democratic Party Ryan Meili said from Saskatoon, “It's been really interesting to watch and I think, kind of counterintuitive, that real estate sales would increase. And I've been chatting with some friends in the industry, and they've said, one, a lot of people are staying home. And that has two effects: one, they're not spending money on other things like travel, etc. So those who have been able to keep their jobs and have a steady income, and you're seeing that they're saving a little bit more and can afford a place that's a little different.”
He continued, “The other is people are staying home and staring at the same four walls and wondering, ‘Well, maybe we could use a little more space.’ And I think a lot of people are looking to, if they know they're going to be home a lot more, maybe upgrade on their home.
“And this is an interesting thing we talked earlier about the troubles in the oil and gas sector. We know that there are going to be sectors that are really badly hurt. There's others that are going to be thriving as a result the sudden changes. And this is one of the things that's going to take time for us to really understand, and to really understand what the role is of government. There are industries we don't need to support right now. They're doing great. That allows us to really focus our efforts on supporting those who are struggling,” Meili concluded.
Brian Zinchuk, Local Journalism Initiative reporter, Estevan Mercury