Canada moves up its economic ranking but mostly because other countries slip

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MONTREAL - A new report says Canada has moved up its economic ranking to sixth out of 16 countries — but it's mostly due to the weakness of other countries.

The Conference Board of Canada says the country has retained its "B" grade and improved its ranking from 11th since its last report card in pre-recession 2008, adding that part of the reason the surge is because some European countries going through tough times.

The board says with the exception of inflation and employment growth, Canada ranks far below the highest-ranked countries on other economic indicators such as productivity and attracting global investment.

Despite its economic challenges, the United States ranks fourth, two places ahead of Canada with slightly better productivity and a higher standard of living. While Norway and Australia are the top economic performers with both countries scoring "A" grades.

Canada's improved ranking doesn't completely reflect its performance, said the report released on Thursday.

"We have moved up, but some of it is because others have gotten a lot worse," said Kip Beckman, principal economist at the independent research organization.

"The Canadian economy may only be growing at two per cent now, but people in Europe would love to have two per cent growth."

Beckman said partly to blame is a labour productivity gap with the United States that has been around for decades.

Labour productivity refers not to employees working longer and harder, but working smarter.

"For example, if a company brings in a robot on a car assembly line and they can produce with the same workers more cars — that's an improvement in productivity and that leads to a higher standard of living," he said.

Investments in machinery, equipment and technology can improve productivity as well as encouraging innovation, Beckman added.

Income per capita and foreign investment in the country and by Canadian companies outside the country also held Canada back.

Beckman noted that Canada is behind the United States' standard of living rating by about 15 per cent, attributed mostly to lower productivity.

Norway was the top performer with income per capita, which is gross domestic product divided by population, of about US$48,000. Canada had income per capita of US$36,138, which earned it a "C" grade, the report said.

Canada got a "D" grade on attracting foreign investment while Belgium was the "runaway" leader on this kind of investment, the report said.

The country's low grade could be due to productivity, taxes and regulatory concerns, Beckman said.

Canada got a "C" for the country's firms investing globally but lagged far behind the top performers, Belgium and Switzerland, the report said.

Beckman noted that Australia has fared well because of its close trade ties with the Pacific-Asia region, which is the fastest growing region in the world.

"Whereas we're tied with the United States, which is growing at two per cent," he said.

The report, called How Canada Performs, is to help identify strengths and weaknesses in Canada's socio-economic performance by examining the economy, innovation, environment, education, skills, health and society.

Organizations: Conference Board of Canada

Geographic location: Canada, United States, Norway Australia MONTREAL Europe Belgium Switzerland Pacific Asia

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