Canada Today: Economic Bright Spots, and Some Disquieting Mail


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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, right, with Jim Smith, the chief executive of Thomson Reuters, last week. Thomson Reuters has announced that its senior executives will move to Toronto, a decision that may create up to 1,500 new jobs.

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Mark Blinch/Reuters

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For some time now, writing about Canada’s economy has been less than uplifting. The collapse of energy prices continues to weigh not only on the western part of the country but also other regions, like Atlantic Canada, which supplied much of the oil-sands labor force during the good times. BlackBerry, once the symbol of Canadian technology prowess, continues to shrivel and is quitting the business of designing and making smartphones. And the Canadian dollar has slumped, a direct result of the oil industry’s woes.

The weaker currency was at least supposed to give a boost to Canadian factories by effectively making their products less expensive for buyers in the United States and elsewhere. So far, though, the results there have been mixed.

But the past week did bring two pieces of good economic news. Thomson Reuters, the global digital information company controlled by Canada’s Thomson family, said that its most senior executives — the men with “chief” in their job titles — would move to Toronto from the United States. Perhaps more important, the company will make Toronto a technology hub. The decision could create up to 1,500 jobs.

The announcement was indirectly linked to BlackBerry. The skills of graduates from the University of Waterloo helped draw Thomson Reuters to Canada; Mike Lazaridis, a co-founder of BlackBerry, studied at Waterloo.

The other bright spot came from old-fashioned manufacturing. In its current contract negotiations with Detroit-based automakers, the big trade union Unifor has set preserving jobs in Canadian factories as its central objective, and is showing some results. After persuading General Motors to commit to two of its Canadian plants last month, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles agreed this week to refurbish the paint operations at an aging factory in suburban Toronto.

The two automakers, unlike Thomson Reuters, will be looking to various levels of government to provide some of the money to be invested in the plants. If the federal government signs on, the decision may be criticized in hard-hit western provinces, particularly Alberta, if no corresponding aid is offered to the energy industry.

The death of Jim Prentice, the former premier of Alberta, in the crash of a business jet in British Columbia was felt across Canada on Friday. Mr. Prentice held a variety of cabinet posts in the Conservative government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper from 2006 to 2010. He stood out in what was an otherwise highly partisan government by acknowledging the concerns of people and groups who were opposed to its positions.

Coinage. Central banks are not about to abandon their currencies and turn everything over to Bitcoin. But they are exploring the technology that underlies the digital currency. Nathaniel Popper, a colleague of mine who literally wrote the book on Bitcoin, reported that the Bank of Canada teamed up with Canada’s five largest banks and a consulting firm to run a major digital currency simulation over the summer.

Return to sender. Disputes in the world of philosophy, it seems, can get down and quite dirty. Carrie Ichikawa Jenkins of the University of British Columbia, whose studies have ranged from the knowledge of arithmetic to the nature of romantic love, is one of four philosophers who recently received feces in the mail. The identity of the sender is still unknown. But all four recipients, Jennifer Schuessler found, have been “loosely connected through a long-running, multisided argument with one of the field’s most vocal figures.”

Portrait. The current exhibition of German and Austrian art at the Neue Gallery in New York focuses on women in the work of Gustav Klimt. In his review for The New York Times, Ken Johnson mentioned an interesting Canadian connection to the artist. Mäda Primavesi was just 9 years old when she posed for one of Klimt’s most famous paintings. After World War II, she moved to Canada, where she founded and ran a convalescent home for children in Montreal. Well before her death in 2000, Ms. Primavesi made news by selling a portrait painted by Klimt of her mother, which had widely been thought lost.

Succession. This week, one contender for the leadership of the Conservative Party, Tony Clement, quit the race; another, Erin O’Toole, officially joined it, and a third, Lisa Raitt, edged toward candidacy. Writing on iPolitics.ca, the conservative political commentator Tasha Kheiriddin suggested that immigration and identity politics could emerge as the major themes of the still-nascent campaign.

Here are some stories, not necessarily related to Canada, that I found interesting:

• While their numbers have declined, bicycle couriers are still around, and they hold an annual North American championship. “This is maybe the only cycling competition where a highlighter is performance equipment,” one participant said.

• As we increasingly interact with computers by speaking to them, some people are asking whether they will always have to sound “like a helpful young Caucasian female.”

• China’s attempts at shaming and reforming badly behaved Chinese tourists are not proving to be much of a success.

A native of Windsor, Ontario, Ian Austen was educated in Toronto, lives in Ottawa and has reported about Canada for The New York Times for more than a decade. Follow him on Twitter at @ianrausten.

Correction: October 14, 2016

An earlier version of this article referred incorrectly to the Thomson Reuters executives who have “chief” in their job titles. They are men, not men and women.

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