Fun with numbers

Pace the Globe and Mail’s John Partridge, a lovely man, a lede like this always makes me question whatever follows:

You should probably ignore all the headlines you have seen shrieking about the vast amount of cross-border shopping — physical and online — triggered by the soaring Canadian dollar.

Really? Why? Because Stats Can says so:

The study shows, for example, that the number of same-day stateside auto trips by Canadians more than doubled between 1986 and the third quarter of 2001 – peaking at a monthly average of 4.9 million trips in 1991 – a period when the Canadian dollar climbed 21 per cent against the greenback.

Wow — a doubling over 15 years.

Of course, the population also grew between 18.5% between 1986 and 2001, while the growth between 2001 and 2006 was a more modest 5.4%. So all things considered, you might expect any growth in trips to be less significant in the shorter recent period:

However, between 2002 and October 2007, when the loonie leaped 44 per cent, the average number of trips climbed by just 200,000 a month, to 1.9 million from 1.7 million, Statscan said.

Long delays at the border are one of the reasons for the decline in same-day car trips — and here’s a flaw in the data: it only counts same-day trips. Because of the new delays at the border, and the customs exemptions permitted after 48 hours out of the country, far more generous in 2007 than in 1991, if memory serves, couldn’t more people be staying overnight to do their cross-border shopping? Anecdotally, this seems to be the case with Ontario bureaucrats.

Online shopping hadn’t ballooned through October as much as one might expect, either:

Canadians have not shifted markedly from cross-border auto trips to the United States to online shopping there. Shipments to Canada by public- and private-sector couriers, the dominant route to receive a product ordered online, show a steady increase since 1995 of $300 million a year on average. Rather than showing an exceptionally strong increase in 2007, growth has been below average.

Except — what does that mean? What is average growth for online shopping, which I can only imagine has been growing by double and triple digits for the last few years?

The Star covers some of the same ground, here.