Economics and Development

Economics is the study of choices made by individuals, institutions and societies in the use of resources to satisfy wants or needs. The discipline was first taught when the University of Saskatchewan opened in 1911, and an Economics Department was established in 1914. Both the University of Saskatchewan and the University of Regina now offer undergraduate and graduate programs in economics to a large number of students.

The staple theory, first developed by Toronto economists, was very influential in Saskatchewan as a framework for understanding western Canadian economic development. The staple theory held that agriculture was exploited as a sector to help build the manufacturing industries in central Canada, and thus that the country was being built on the backs of western farmers. This belief, in a form of colonialism by central Canadian commercial interests, fuelled populist and radical political movements that had a significant effect on the economic development of Saskatchewan. Wheat producers felt exploited by central Canadian monopolies. Initiatives by grain producers and others led to the creation of the Saskatchewan Wheat Pool in 1924 and to an extensive co-operative network across the province.

The devastation of depression and drought in the 1930s led to demands for more government intervention in the economy. In 1932 the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) was founded, and in 1944 formed a social democratic government in Saskatchewan. The province developed stronger health and social programs, pursued initiatives to diversify the provincial economy through resource development and industrialization, and developed infrastructure such as roads and electricity systems.

A historical scepticism towards capitalism, the atypical type of development associated with staple-based economies, and the relatively radical nature of Saskatchewan politics resulted in a distinct type of economic organization for the province. It was based on a network of public and quasi-public agencies to encourage and direct economic development, comprehensive social programs, and an independent and activist civil service willing to extend government’s reach into the economic lives of its citizens. Among the civil servants who led this transformation of the Saskatchewan economy were David Cass-Beggs (Saskatchewan Power Corporation), Thomas Shoyama (Economic Advisory and Planning Board), George Cadbury (Premier’s Office), and Charles Schwartz (who designed the first public crop insurance plan in the early 1960s).

As of the 1996 Census, there were approximately 120 economists, economic policy researchers, and analysts working in Saskatchewan, primarily in the public sector, more than half of whom were based in Regina. There were an additional 630 people employed in related professions: business development officers, marketing researchers, and consultants, with about two-thirds of these jobs located in Regina and Saskatoon.

Gary Tompkins