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Yukonomist: The centre of the business universe moves 4,000 k.m. northwest

The Canadian Federation of Independent Business named Whitehorse Canada’s top place to start and grow a business
A screen grab of the Financial Post story on Whitehorse being named Canada’s top place to start and grow a business by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business. /Submitted

Take that Vancouver! And Edmonton, Calgary, Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal!

Whitehorse was just named Canada’s top place to start and grow a business by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business.

Not just “a” top place but “the” top place. Number 1 out of Canada’s 125 biggest cities.

Meanwhile, our six vaunted “VECTOM” metropolises – allegedly the nation’s economic powerhouses – scored more like Pyongyang or Hanoi. Only Montreal cracked the Top 50, and barely. The Centre of the Universe won’t stay central very long if it keeps coming in 68th out of 125. And Calgary didn’t even make the Top 100, struggling to beat North Bay and Sorel-Tracy into 113th place.

Toronto’s financial sector seemed rattled by the results. The city’s Financial Post published a story about the study with a photo captioned “Downtown Whitehorse,” but the photo was actually of Tutshi Street in Riverdale.

Was that a Freudian slip showing they’re worried that Tutshi Street is the new Bay Street?

I’ve seen active trading on Tutshi Street in my day, but it was for marbles not corporate bonds.

Nor could second-place Winkler even smell our two-stroke as our sled flew across the finish line. Whitehorse scored 75 points out of 100, while the Manhattan of south-central Manitoba only got 69.7.

Even Yellowknife did pretty well, coming in 11th with 64.8 points.

Sadly, the study didn’t include Iqaluit among Canada’s 125 biggest cities so it doesn’t have a score.

So what makes Whitehorse a hotbed of capitalist vim, while economic policy wonks from Vancouver and Toronto seem to be reading more Mao than Milton Friedman?

First, I checked the date of the study – April 3, not April 1—and then reviewed the methodology.

They used 13 indicators grouped into three categories: Presence, Perspective and Policy.

Presence looks at growth in the number of businesses, businesses per person, self-employment as a percentage of total employment, young business owners and the strength of information and cultural businesses. Whitehorse came in the Top 10 on Presence, slightly behind Vancouver, and did particularly well on the growth and number of businesses.

The Perspective category is about business confidence, looking at results from the CFIB’s surveys of business owners as well as forward-looking indicators such as building permits. Whitehorse’s business community was the fifth most upbeat in the country, right up there with entrepreneurs in Trois-Rivières and Rimouski.

We did well on the first two categories, but it was Whitehorse’s strong performance in the Policy category that put us over the top overall. This category mostly looks at property taxes, but also includes a measure of red tape.

They don’t measure the absolute level of property taxes, but rather the ratio between residential and business rates. Cities score poorly if they charge business significantly more, which many city councils do.

Whitehorse does very well here with a ratio of 1.65. Only a few places do better, mostly in Alberta but also including the people in our rearview mirror from Winkler. Vancouver, on the other hand, is more than double our ratio at 4.03 and Calgary is even higher.

As for red tape, they give a city a point if they use Bizpal, which is an online system to let businesses know what kind of regulations and permits they need to deal with. Whitehorse uses this system, and got a point, but it has a limited effect on the rankings since most other competitors use it too.

It’s easy to argue with rankings like this. Shifts in how the 13 metrics are weighted can result in dramatic changes in a city’s rankings. And people can argue about whether the residential-commercial ratio is the best way to measure “property taxes” or if Bizpal membership is a useful indicator for streamlined red tape. I suspect some image-conscious bureaucrats from the big cities left some tart messages on the CFIB’s voicemail.

The results can also be gamed by publicity hungry players. The World Bank has an Ease of Doing Business score, and some countries have been accused of tweaking a few easy statistics to bump themselves up the rankings.

Nonetheless, rankings like this can still be useful exercises since they remind policy makers, citizens and journalists that things like having a business-friendly environment are important. workers, entrepreneurs and investors can and do move around in Canada. We should be proud that we have a relatively large and growing number of entrepreneurs in Whitehorse. It makes our city stronger and richer.

Hopefully economic policy makers for Whitehorse and the Yukon won’t rest on their laurels for next year’s survey. I’m sure, if they ask, that Yukon business people could tell them about lots painpoints that aren’t in CFIB’s statistical tables and that would make sense to fix.

After all, we need to keep one step ahead of any vengeful schemers from Winkler, and we definitely wouldn’t want to find ourselves hanging around with the bottom feeders from places like Toronto and Edmonton.

Keith Halliday is a Yukon economist and author of the MacBride Museum’s Aurore of the Yukon series of historical children’s adventure novels. He is a Ma Murray award-winner for best columnist.