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Canadian archaeology and the age of austerity

June 5, 2012 2 comments
Canadian maple leaf 2

A withering maple leaf? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There is an essential tension that exists between industry and government:  they regulate us and sometimes they compete with us.  When you ask many business professionals about government, even in Canada, the usual response is that there is too much of it.

There is truth to this. It seems that the only cap on the growth of bureaucracy is taxpayers, and therefore, recent promises by the Federal and some provincial governments to reduce the size of government seemed at best, too little and too late.  However, while in age of austerity you can really make smart strategic cuts in expenditures, governments are inevitably drawn to the stupid.

The Government of Canada is cutting ten percent off the top of most departments, and a few percentage points more off ones they really don’t like (like the public broadcaster, the CBC). All departments have been asked to declare positions as redundant and thousands of letters have gone out: “your position has been classified as surplus, have a nice day.” This will be followed by a drawn out period of horse trading, interdepartmental moves, and such, with the result that the actual number of positions lost will not be known for some time.

Somewhat to the surprise of the heritage movement, given the federal government attention to promoting the historic battles of 1812, is that government has decided that it really does not like conservators and archaeologists and has decided to close all of the regional labs across the country. As one comment on the Canadian Archaeological Association Facebook page notes “There (will be) more people employed in a single Tim Hortons than are employed by Parks Canada nationally to preserve and care for millions of archeological historic objects in storage and on display.” Read more…


Heritage-only firms must market

April 13, 2012 1 comment

Its list time in Canada, when many of the provincial lists of qualified archaeological firms get updated. Recent articles in Heritage Business Journal have noted a shift in market share away from heritage-only firms. In the draft of the current list of qualified Alberta archaeological consultants there are 27 companies listed: 19 of these were heritage-only firms and 8 were multidisciplinary firms. This listing also suggests that multidisciplinary firms have more staff (average of 2.8 vs. 1.8 for the heritage-only firms). There are three caveats here. First, I sorted the firms on my knowledge of what they do–they are not listed that way. Second, while more heritage-only firms have a single archaeologist, the number of staff on the list is not very consistent. Third, it should be noted that not all the firms on the list are actually in Alberta, in case readers are wondering how a single province supports 27 archaeology firms.

Archaeology, like many environmental services, is a requirement for some development approvals. Developers who do not know how to find an archaeologist are given the list of qualified firms. My hunch is that lists such as the Alberta Consultant’s List form the entire marketing plan for many small heritage-only firms. This raises the question of whether the reported switch to multidisciplinary firms is due to a customer desire for one stop shopping, or whether it is because multidisciplinary firms out-market and out-brand heritage only firms. Read more…

Driven by oil, central Canada compliance is forecast higher in 2012

February 21, 2012 Leave a comment

In October of 2011, Charles Mount blogged about the correlation of construction output and archaeological licences in Ireland. The correlation was such that you could predict with some confidence, either licences or construction output, from the other. Clever, but what drives the Canadian CRM industry?

Unfortunately, as pointed out recently in HBJ by Christopher Dore (17 February 2012), there is no North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) code for CRM archaeology and there are no country wide statistics on archaeological activity in Canada. Hence begins the quest for drivers for the Canadian CRM industry.

Initial speculation was that price of oil was a significant driver in the archaeological economies of Alberta and Saskatchewan. Both provinces have growing and diverse economies, but the petroleum industry is an important component of the economy. There is no single price of oil, but the New York Mercantile Exchange (NYMEX) produced a nice online summary of the price of light, sweet crude. Saskatchewan has both light and heavy crude. For this analysis I looked at the maximum weekly price for the year, the minimum weekly price for the year, and the closing price during the last week of the year.

Next I looked at the number of archaeological permits issued by Alberta and Saskatchewan between 2008 and 2011. There are a few differences in the numbers and types of permits that both provinces issue, but these are not material to the analysis. Overall for this time period, there was a sharp decline in 2009 with a slow recovery in 2010 and 2011.

The number of permits appears to be well correlated with the maximum price of oil (permits and oil prices are normalized to a maximum value of 100). Permits also correlated with the minimum and December close, however for the latter two, the price of oil leads the number of permits by a year. So the minimum price of oil sharply declined in 2008, the year with the highest price, but the decline in permits took place in 2009.

Does this make sense? It does. There is a base price to drill and if the price of oil is too low, it is better to scale back production until prices rise. My prediction is that given the high December closing price, the number of archaeological permits will increase in 2012.

What about other provinces? I am collecting data but I am curious what others think are the prime economic drivers of their regions.

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