canada games the capital city competition

Charlottetown, PEI Team Yukon is at the Canada Games in Charlottetown this week.

Charlottetown, PEI

Team Yukon is at the Canada Games in Charlottetown this week. The Yukon News’

Tom Patrick is covering sports, while this correspondent – tagging along as unofficial Team Yukon economist – will report on how our economy is performing compared to its Maritime rivals.

This will require a careful examination of key economic sectors, including tourism (beaches and golf courses), services (theatres and pubs) and resource industries (lobster).

Prince Edward Island appears relatively prosperous despite its famous reliance on primary industries such as potatoes and the commercial fishery. This is puzzling, because fish stocks are under pressure and agriculture employs steadily fewer people even as output goes up.

A closer look reveals that the island’s prosperity declines the farther you get from Charlottetown, and that the city itself has turned into a major engine of PEI’s economy. A subtle shift has occurred in the island’s economic structure. Instead of the city serving as the warehouse for wealth-creating businesses in the countryside and fishing ports, it is now the city where the wealth creation occurs.

As many urban economists report, most people in rich economies now live in cities. This enables the networks and co-operation needed for complex – and well-paying – service industries ranging from marketing to engineering to web design. Even tourists are spending more time in cities. Visits to New York are up significantly, for example, while wilderness icons like Yosemite languish.

Charlottetown is interesting for someone from Whitehorse. It has only 32,000 people, just 9,000 more than our city. The entire province, all within roughly an hour’s drive of the capital, has only four times as many people as the Yukon. Yet the city has a broader economic base and gives us a few things to think about as Whitehorse keeps growing.

So let’s look at what is making Charlottetown successful.

Interestingly, it’s not fishing and agriculture, although they still play a role, of course.

The first thing that strikes the visiting economist is the size of Charlottetown’s “knowledge sector.”

The University of PEI plays a major role in the city, with a large campus just north of the old town. It has about 4,000 students and recently ranked in the top 10 Canadian undergraduate programs in the Maclean’s magazine university survey. UPEI is a great asset to the city, as well as a major driver of economic activity. Furthermore, there is a nearby web of research institutions such as a National Research Council facility and a federal crop and livestock research station. Importantly, research-based entrepreneurs cluster around campus.

The future Whitehorse version of this would have Yukon College as a full university with a strong undergraduate program, connected with well-funded and active research institutes in climate and environmental research, geology and northern engineering and technology studies.

In PEI all of this is supported by a robust telecommunications infrastructure, with multiple connections to the mainland so the internet does not go down if a road crew wrecks a cable.

Second, Charlottetown has an active arts community.

Charlottetown built its ugly, boxy theatre downtown instead of out of sight in the suburbs. The Confederation Centre of the Arts has a vibrant program and large numbers of tourists and locals seem to enjoy having dinner and seeing a show. Other artistic establishments cluster nearby. The local equivalent of the Frantic Follies, based on Anne of Green Gables, of course, seems popular.

The Yukoners behind establishing the Old Fire Hall and other arts facilities downtown are headed in the right direction.

Third, high-value-added food plays an important role. In addition to the cheap and cheerful traditional fish-and-chips stand, there is an impressive array of high-quality restaurants serving local dishes. People seem to be willing to pay high prices for authentic, artisanal or local food. We can see this in Whitehorse from the crowds outside Klondike Rib and Salmon. If we follow PEI’s lead, Yukoners will be serving a lot more tasty local food in the future, and building a local agricultural economy.

Where does all the money come from to support all this? The federal and provincial governments have allocated significant amounts of the money they spend on the island to universities and research, and not just to traditional subsidy sinkholes like commercial fishing.

Tourism is also critical. Charlottetown thrives on tourists, who spend a lot of money in the city despite having been lured to the island by traditional images of beaches, lobsters and Anne of Green Gables. T-shirts from Vermont to Toronto can be seen in the museums and the lineup for tickets to Anne of Green Gables: The Musical.

PEI is at a disadvantage compared to New Brunswick, since it is farther from the big population centres in Boston, New York and central Canada. But it has a surprisingly large number of repeat visitors, who make it a family tradition to spend a few weeks in PEI over the summer. Shaw’s Hotel has built a business since the 1860s of attracting a loyal clientele of affluent mainlanders who spend every summer on Brackley Beach.

PEI’s government also gathers significant tax revenue from its tourists, because it hits them with its 10 per cent sales tax as they pass through.

So what does all this mean for the Yukon? It tells us that when we think about economic development, we should be thinking more about Whitehorse and Dawson, and less about resurfacing the Robert Campbell Highway. The theme of Charlottetown’s success has been the mutually reinforcing trends around building an attractive city that is enjoyable to live in and visit. This creates a virtuous circle, where knowledge industry workers and tourists congregate and drive economic growth.

And if Charlottetown can do it with not much more than lobster rolls and Anne of Green Gables, so can we.

Keith Halliday is a Yukon economist and author of the Aurore of the Yukon series of historical children’s adventure novels. His latest book Game On Yukon! was just launched.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

In a Feb. 17 statement, the City of Whitehorse announced it had adopted the what3words location technology used for emergency response. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)
Three words could make all the difference in an emergency

City of Whitehorse announced it had adopted the what3words location technology

Jesse Whelen, Blood Ties Four Directions harm reduction councillor, demonstrates how the organization tests for fentanyl in drugs in Whitehorse on May 12, 2020. The Yukon Coroner’s Service has confirmed three drug overdose deaths and one probable overdose death since mid-January. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Three overdose deaths caused by “varying levels of cocaine and fentanyl,” coroner says

Heather Jones says overdoses continue to take lives at an “alarming rate”

Wyatt's World for Feb. 24, 2021.

Wyatt’s World for Feb. 24, 2021.

Approximately 30 Yukoners protest for justice outside the Whitehorse courthouse on Feb. 22, while a preliminary assault hearing takes place inside. The Whitehorse rally took place after the Liard Aboriginal Women’s Society, based in Watson Lake, put out a call to action over the weekend. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Courthouse rally denounces violence against Indigenous women

The Whitehorse rally took place after the Liard Aboriginal Women’s Society put out a call to action

Susie Rogan is a veteran musher with 14 years of racing experience and Yukon Journey organizer. (Yukon Journey Facebook)
Yukon Journey mushers begin 255-mile race

Eleven mushers are participating in the race from Pelly Crossing to Whitehorse

Legislative assembly on the last day of the fall sitting in Whitehorse on Nov. 22, 2018. As the legislature prepares to return on March 4, the three parties are continuing to finalize candidates in the territory’s 19 ridings. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Nine new candidates confirmed in Yukon ridings

It has been a busy two weeks as the parties try to firm up candidates

David Malcolm, 40, has been charged with assaulting and attempting to disarm a police officer after an incident in Whitehorse on Feb. 18. (Phil McLachlan/Capital News)
Man resists arrest, assaults officer

A Whitehorse man has been charged with assaulting and attempting to disarm… Continue reading

Yukon Energy in Whitehorse on Aug. 4, 2020. A site on Robert Service Way near the Alaska Highway has been selected as the future home of Yukon Energy’s energy storage project. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Site selected for Yukon Energy battery project

Planned to be in service by the end of 2022

The Yukon government and the Yukon First Nations Chamber of Commerce have signed a letter of understanding under the territory’s new procurement policy. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
First Nation business registry planned under new procurement system

Letter of understanding signals plans to develop registry, boost procurement opportunities

US Consul General Brent Hardt during a wreath-laying ceremony at Peace Arch State Park in September 2020. Hardt said the two federal governments have been working closely on the issue of appropriate border measures during the pandemic. (John Kageorge photo)
New U.S. consul general says countries working closely on COVID-19 border

“I mean, the goal, obviously, is for both countries to get ahead of this pandemic.”

Legislative assembly on the last day of the fall sitting in Whitehorse on Nov. 22, 2018. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Start of spring sitting announced

The Yukon legislature is set to resume for the spring sitting on… Continue reading

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
City hall, briefly

A look at decisions made by Whitehorse City Council this week

Most Read