Crosscountry: Canada at a glance – October 2015

China’s recent devaluation of the renminbi could trigger a currency war. Meanwhile, Canada improves its performance on the innovation front after decades of weakness and decline.


When China sneezes…

China’s recent devaluation of the renminbi could have a damaging effect — albeit an indirect one — on Canada’s export capacity, says a brief from the Canadian Chamber of Commerce. That is partly because the devaluation was immediately followed by similar moves in Vietnam and Kazakhstan, which then prompted fears of a currency war. And even if other emerging markets such as Brazil, Chile, South Africa and Russia do not join in, their currencies are already suffering from massive outflows of capital.

For businesses in Canada, says the brief, “this will make Canadian exports more costly in emerging markets while capital flight and slower growth will reduce demand.”

As the brief puts it, “when China sneezes, world markets catch a cold.”


The smart protein

The smart protein 

The answer to the question Why are humans smarter than chickens? might lie in a simple molecular process in one protein, as uncovered by researchers at the University of Toronto and described in Science.

Humans share a remarkably similar repertoire of genes with frogs, chickens and many other vertebrates. However, as Science explains, “the proteins they give rise to are far more diverse in animals such as mammals than in birds and frogs.” And proteins are the building blocks of life.

The UofT team focused on a protein called PTBP1, which comes in two versions. Vertebrates such as frogs and birds have the first basic version, which unleashes a process that inhibits or slows the transformation of cells into neurons — the cells that make the brain. In the other version of the same protein, found in mammals such as humans, the production of neurons is enhanced.

You can never be smarter than your genes.


Re-innovating Canada

After decades of weakness and decline, Canada’s performance is improving on the innovation front, reports the Conference Board in How Canada Performs: Innovation.

This year, we have an overall grade of C, and we are ranked in ninth position out of 16 countries — a big improvement over last year, when we were given a D and ended up in 13th place.

The improvement hinges on two factors: venture capital investment and a new measure called entrepreneurial ambition. This is where we earned our one and only A.


Working on unemployment

Canada’s employment insurance program is in dire need of an overhaul, says a report from the Institute for Research on Public Policy.

Right now, EI eligibility and benefit amounts are based on the unemployment rate in a worker’s location (there are 62 economic regions) and hours worked during the reference period. This can lead to disparities in the way cases are handled. To make the point, the report uses the example of workers who earned $560 a week in May. If they lived in Cape Breton, NS, they would need to work 420 hours (12 weeks) to earn a weekly benefit of $264 for up to 30 weeks. In Saskatoon, they would have to put in 700 hours (20 weeks) to earn a weekly benefit of $280 for up to 14 weeks.

To iron out these and other disparities, the authors make a series of recommendations. One is to apply the same conditions for eligibility and duration of benefits across Canada, based on at least 20 weeks of insurable employment.