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Vancouver to lead economic growth, Conference Board of Canada says

Passengers board a streetcar near the Olympic Village Canada Line Station in Vancouver. Two streetcars, on loan from the Brussels Transport Co., will provide free rides from the Olympic Village Canada Line Station to Granville Island.

DARRYL DYCK

It's not just because of the Olympics, but they help.

Vancouver is expected to top economic growth among Canadian cities this year, the Conference Board of Canada predicted Wednesday. The boost from spending related to the 2010 Winter Olympics is a chief reason, but a rebound in housing construction and consumer spending will also spur growth, the report said.

The city is expected to tally economic growth of 4.5 per cent this year, the biggest expansion among all 27 cities in the report's metropolitan outlook. It's a reversal for the city that saw a 1.8-per-cent contraction last year amid factory and construction woes.

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"Vancouver is poised for a substantial rebound," said Mario Lefebvre, director of the Centre for Municipal Studies.

The report didn't specify how much the Olympics will contribute to the local economy; they will certainly juice the services side of the economy, though slowing the pace of non-residential construction in the first half of the year.

The report comes as Canadians are divided on the price tag associated with hosting the Games, which begin next month. Forty-eight per cent of Canadians think too much is being spent, while 45 per cent say it's the right amount, according to an EKOS poll last week. The price tag is still being tallied, but at least $1-billion is being spent on security alone.

Province-wide, the Olympics will add $770-million to the economy due to extra spending on accommodation, food and security, estimated the Conference's Board's Marie-Christine Bernard, who looks at provincial forecasts. She sees the B.C. economy growing 3.8 per cent this year; without the Olympics, it would have been 3.2 per cent.

Wednesday's report stressed that other factors are lifting Vancouver's economy. Mr. Lefebvre expects builders to break ground on twice as many homes this year as in 2009. Major infrastructure projects, such as the huge Evergreen Line proposed for the SkyTrain, will get under way in the second half of the year. A global recovery will boost factory output, and retail sales should rebound.

Toronto and Kitchener are expected to take silver and bronze, respectively. "All sectors of Toronto's economy are forecast to rebound in 2010," leading to overall real gross domestic product growth of 3.5 per cent, it said. Manufacturing output is expected to increase in the city for the first time in five years.

Improving manufacturing prospects are also seen lifting growth in Kitchener, to 3.3 per cent this year.

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Just four Canadian cities managed to post economic growth last year - Halifax, Saint John, Winnipeg and Regina, the report noted. Halifax had the fastest growth rate in the country last year, partly because of its role as a services hub in the Atlantic region.

"Fortunately, Canadian cities are on the rebound in 2010, although the pace of recovery will vary markedly."

Four cities - Oshawa and Ottawa-Gatineau in Ontario, and Edmonton and Saskatoon in the West - are forecast to post growth of 3.2 per cent this year.

All 27 cities are seen expanding this year, but some will see sluggish growth at less than 1.5 per cent. The cities at the bottom of the growth ranking include Saguenay, Que.; St. John's; and Thunder Bay, Ont.

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About the Author

Tavia Grant has worked at The Globe and Mail since early 2005, covering topics from employment and currency markets to trade, microfinance and Latin American economies. She previously worked for Bloomberg News in Toronto and Zurich, writing on mining, stocks, currencies and secret Swiss bank accounts. More

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