European Trade, Tourism, and Trade Schools

This week on Mean, Median, and Moose, all things European!

Canada-Europe Trade

Statistics Canada provides detailed information on goods and services trade between Canada and its trading partners throughout the world. Let’s take a look at trade with Europe.

Trade in Services 

The UK is the standout in terms of services trade with Canada – both with exports and imports. Interestingly the imports and exports are fairly balanced when it comes to services. As you’ll see this is not going to be the case for goods.

What about the trend over time? We can see strong services trade growth with European nations since 2010. Interestingly the second largest partner used to be Switzerland but it has stagnated and, with very strong growth from Germany and France, is now fourth.

Trade in Goods

What about trade in goods (note that all export figures below exclude re-exports which is why they are labeled domestic exports)?

Here we see notable imbalances. Canada has a surplus with the United Kingdom and deep deficits for Germany, France, Italy and many others. Here’s trade volumes over time:

The United Kingdom used to be first, but in 2021 was overtaken by Germany. So what did Canada import from Germany and others?

We import a lot of consumer goods from many major trading partners. Germany also exports industrial machinery and cars to Canada. Norway is an interesting outlier with Canada importing many energy products – presumably oil products originating from the North Sea. In terms of Canada exporting to Europe, this is what we see:

You may have been expecting energy exports or maybe motor vehicles. While Canada does export a large amount of those goods, it’s to the United States, not Europe. Bonus points to those who can guess what metallic mineral we export to the United Kingdom is vast amounts. We’ll talk about it on the podcast.

You might find the categories to be too broad. The good news is that there are a lot of tools to see individual details about what products are exported in more detailed. A good one is the OEC. Go to the site to drill down into countries and see what we export and import from them in the tree map.

Second Language Education

Something Canada is not known for is its stellar second language education. For a country with two official languages, according to StatsCan, the rate of English-French bilingualism is rather low, at 18% in 2021, and it has not budged much since a rate of 17.7% in 2001. Among young people aged 18 to 24, this rate is only slightly higher at 25.2%. Additionally, this rate has been increasing only in Quebec and declining outside of Quebec since 2001.

While 46.4% of Quebeckers and 34% of New Brunswickers can conduct a conversation in English and French, the next highest rate of bilingualism is only 14.2% in the Yukon Territories.

Looking at StatsCan Table 37-10-0009-01, in the 2020/21 school year, it seems second language programs are only compulsory in Quebec and the Northwest Territories from grade 1 onward to grade 9, with other provinces’ second language programs becoming compulsory in grade 4 or 5 onward to grade 8 or 9.

Number of Students in Official Languages Programs in 2020/2021

Oppositely, the EU has identified multilingualism as “one of eight key competences needed for personal fulfillment, a healthy and sustainable lifestyle, employability, active citizenship and social inclusion.” The European Commission’s First European Survey on Language Competencies conducted in 2011 in 14 EU member states with students in the last year of lower secondary education or the second year of upper secondary education found 42% of students were proficient at a B1 or B2 language level in a foreign language, meaning they could independently conduct a conversation in a foreign language learned in school, which could be English, French, German, Italian, or Spanish.

In the majority of the participating member countries, the first foreign language is compulsory, and in most countries, this first foreign language is English. Results are better in English as a first and second foreign language than other languages, which the study finds is likely due to its popularity in media and its perception of usefulness to students.

Like with Canadian provinces, however, there is a wide range in ability across countries, with a high of 82% of students at an independent English user level in Sweden and Malta but a low of only 14% in France.

While the survey did not report exactly when most students begin learning a first foreign language, it did report that generally, students reported beginning learning a first foreign language before or during primary education, and earlier onset is related to higher proficiency in the foreign language tested, as is learning a larger number of foreign languages. This is perhaps an interesting lesson for Canada to learn, where compulsory foreign language learning does not typically begin until a student is in grade 4 or 5.


Tracking tourism between Canada and Europe was a bit more difficult than I assumed. I previously used the Statistics Canada database on Travelers to talk about COVID Impacts on travel. I went back to that database to pull data on Europeans coming to Canada. 

The Top 5 Countries of Origin are: the UK, France, Germany, the Netherlands and Switzerland which account for 1.66 million visitors from March 22 – Feb 23. During that same period a total of 2,235,390 arrived from Europe in total, including 3 people from the Faroe Islands. 

Ontario and Quebec attract the largest share of European tourists attracting – 871,000 and 704,000 respectively – the majority from Central and Northern Europe. Surprisingly the Yukon sees more visitors than PEI, although this may have more to do with the lack of direct flight connections as Whitehorse Yukon is home to a direct flight from Frankfurt Germany while there are no flights that I could find directly to PEI. 

Unfortunately when looking at Canadians traveling to Europe things get a bit more complicated. Statistics Canada does report on outward bound travel from Canada to other parts of the World but due to not knowing the end destination they can’t say which country specifically Canadians are traveling too. 

The EU doesn’t have (based on what I could find) travel data for Canadian Tourists specifically. Part of the problem is the EU’s Open Data portal hosts data from its member nations and governments (both national and subnational). The problem as I see it is there are very few distilled datasets that bring together the national data into a broader European snapshot.

The World Bank does track overall global tourism data and the chart below illustrates how Canada compares to the major European tourism nations. Overall, the EU attracted almost 1 billion tourism arrivals in 2019. 

One of the overarching challenges with Tourism data is that tourists are often captured at the first point of entry. Often landing at a major hub airport/city this point of entry captures the data and then the tourists disburse. This creates significant challenges with subnational data collection and multi-national data in the case of the EU. I feel like many of the European datasets are inflated with cross border travel as someone from Belgium goes to France for a weekend. As Ontario is the size of much of Western Europe, the ability for inter-european travel makes tracking actual tourism numbers far more difficult. 

Comparing European and Canadian Educational Attainment

Education is a critical factor in every aspect of life, and educational attainment is used internationally as a proxy for the “overall value of human capital in a country or region”, as the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) factbook puts it. In other words: measuring educational attainment is an exercise in identifying the skills available in the labor force.

Educational systems vary around the world, but the OECD has identified four definitions of educational attainment which are used to compare countries’ performance in education. Using an OECD statistic is cheating our challenge a little bit, but Doug was short on time this month and it’s an interesting topic.

To compare Canada to Europe, Doug checked out the European Union’s Eurostat website and downloaded the tables associated with educational attainment, then downloaded data from Statistics Canada’s page covering the same measure. Europe publishes this information as simple tabular data so with an hour or so of Excel time, Doug  was able to derive a comparable pivot tables from the Stats Can data and combine the two data sets. To get the broadest population comparison, data for people aged 25-64 was used.

The OECD’s definition of educational attainment has six definitions, four of which Doug used in his comparison work. They are “Less than primary, primary and lower secondary education” which is also referred to as “Below upper secondary” education. Basically people without a high school diploma. Next is “Upper secondary, post-secondary non-tertiary and tertiary education” which includes everyone not covered in the previous item. “Upper secondary and post-secondary non-tertiary education,” that last one is courses of education that follow the acquisition of a vocational qualification at secondary school. Europe publishes two subsets of that last category, one for general and another for vocational education but Canada does not seem to follow suit. These sub-categories were omitted from the visualizations. The final category is for graduates of tertiary education, which we’d call colleges and universities.

From there, he created a set of four Observable notebooks, each containing a tool to compare European countries and regions to Canada for one type of educational attainment. You can check them out at these links: Below Upper Secondary, Upper Secondary and Post-Secondary Non-Tertiary, Tertiary, and the big one: Upper Secondary and Above. In these notebooks, you can select a European country or a regional grouping (like the EU 20 or EU 27) to compare against Canada’s performance.

Here’s Canada vs. Europe on attainment below upper secondary:

And this chart is Canada vs. Europe on tertiary education:

I would have combined these into a single notebook, but I have a bad habit of writing code instead of changing the source data, because writing code is more fun. Rather than copy and paste my JavaScript data manipulation madness into a giant pile of spaghetti, I decided to create four smaller piles of spaghetti that are mostly the same. If anyone out there listening decides to fork and use one of these notebooks, I hope you appreciate my choice.

– Doug

In general, Canada performs quite well in these comparisons, with a very high percentage of adult Canadians possessing a post-secondary degree and a much lower percentage of Canadians not finishing secondary school than the EU-27 average (20.5% of Europeans fell into this category in 2022 while only 7% of Canadians did). Although these numbers are designed to be comparable across countries and education systems, there are surely local details that serve to create a bit of fuzz in the numbers. To pick one example, Canada doesn’t really have a system that compares to Germany’s dual vocational education system which emphasizes streaming school leavers into vocational education as an alternative to university. Our colleges are considered tertiary institutions, which perhaps helps explain Canada’s position leading the OECD in tertiary educational attainment.

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