Is this what recession looks like?

BC retail sales as tracked by Statistics Canada to January 2009. part of a BC Business Council presentation to the VEDC's Quarterly Diaolgue.

BC retail sales as tracked by Statistics Canada to January 2009, part of a BC Business Council presentation to the VEDC's Quarterly Dialogue.

The quarterly economic dialogue organized by the Vancouver Economic Development Commission March 10 for Mayor Gregor Robertson, councillors and VEDC board members was not for the faint of heart.

Ken Peacock, economic research director for the BC Business Council, showed charts of recent economic activity that looked more like the crash of a falling plane than the steady upward trend expected in the “best place on earth.”

The cliff-like drop of building permits is familiar news; new to me was the drop in retail sales tracked in the table below, dropping farther and faster than any time in the past decade.

Although Peacock and VEDC economic John Tylee expect Vancouver to weather the storm, in part because of its diversified economy, both see 2009 as a very difficult year. Unemployment is now accelerating. Remove the stimulus of the 2010 Olympic Games and the outlook is bleak, with little prospect of renewed growth until 2010 at the earliest.

In the meantime, Peacock sees exports declining and fewer foreign visitors. Freight through the Port of Vancouver is already 10 percent below last year’s levels. As he put it, the “engines of growth are stalling.” The VEDC expects to post all the presentations here by mid-month.