When the pandemic first hit in the early spring, and it became clear just how bad it was going to be, I made a number of predictions, including some that I mostly kept to myself.
Some of them were right, some of them I’m not sure of yet, and some of them were wildly wrong.
One of my very wrong ideas was that sales of things like boats and motorhomes would tank. I figured no one would be making big purchases like that in the middle of an economic lockdown.
Maybe sales did tank. For about two weeks.
Then they went crazy.
Turns out when you close national borders, all those folks who used to go to Disneyland or Acapulco for a vacation – well, if they’ve got jobs or comfortable retirements, they still want to do something on their vacations. And camping within Canada was what was left.
On the other hand, I was right about cabins and cottages and recreational properties becoming popular.
Big firms were letting their employees work from home – and surprise, surprise, it worked out okay! So why not trade in a cramped Toronto or Vancouver condo for a three-bedroom house on a lake that costs the same amount?
We’re getting closer to the end of the COVID-19 pandemic, but we’re only at the start of understanding its long term social and economic impacts.
We talked a lot last summer and fall about a “new normal,” but the shape of that new normal won’t be clear until after the dust settles.
One obvious change – how many new pet owners are there in Canada?
We know that shelters and breeders were besieged with people seeking four-legged companionship during lockdown. Cities will face increased pressure to create dog parks, that’s easy to see. But what else does it mean? Will fewer people take longer vacations because they don’t want to kennel their pets for a month?
Then there’s rental housing. Toronto has now seen its apartment vacancy rates jump from around one per cent to more than five per cent. Vancouver will likely follow the same trend. Does the trend last? For how long? Will rents go down? How much? And who takes advantage of cheaper rents in big cities? Will the vacancies spread to the suburbs?
The outcomes to those questions don’t generate solid answers – they generate new questions.
A lot of things proved more resilient than we expected in Canada, thanks to a firehose of government money and local resilience. We didn’t see our main streets turn into boarded-up ghost towns. We didn’t see deaths in the hundreds of thousands.
But we’re seeing a lot of weird, small effects that no one predicted. And like pebbles at the top of a mountain, once they’ve started rolling, some of them will pick up speed, and set off landslides far from where they started.
Some of those changes will be good. Some will be challenges, or even calamities. But predicting what’s next is only a little bit easier now than it was in the first weeks of lockdown in April.