Mediaplanet sat down with Ryan Greer, a Senior Director at the Chamber of Commerce who explores the factors shaping Canada’s Infrastructure environment.
Mediaplanet: What’s the role that infrastructure plays in developing Canada’s economic competitiveness?
Ryan Greer: Infrastructure is the circulatory system of our economy. Moving people, goods, and services around our country is crucial to our economic success, particularly when you consider the large and disparate nature of Canada’s geography. We need to continue to strengthen these systems of export and this infrastructure to ensure that we can improve productivity and competitiveness.
Where do the main opportunities for growth and progress lie in this environment?
Over the last decade plus, governments at all levels of Canada have reinvigorated investment in public infrastructure which is useful and helpful, especially considering the significant amount of private sector investment that’s been going on. While we’re tremendously encouraged by governments refocusing on the need for infrastructure investment, we do see that the real opportunity now is in optimizing these investments to ensure that we get the most value from where our governments are spending those infrastructure dollars.
How can Canadian decision-makers take advantage of these opportunities to provide a competitive edge and to improve productivity and economic growth?
They can make more infrastructure investments merit-based. For the most part, infrastructure investment in this country is done based on broad criteria that are driven by needs that are identified by local and provincial levels of government. There are obviously a lot of political considerations fro; the federal to the provincial level, but government do get involved, which is fine for identifying. But if you want to get the projects that have the biggest economic impact a more merit-based program as opposed to an exact equal fair share of the pie would accomplish that.
For example, at the federal level there’s the National Trade Corridors Fund which is a merit-based program that doesn’t select or dole out money based on the region of the country that a project is in, but instead allocates funds specifically based on where a project will have the biggest bang for buck and where it’ll have the greatest impact on Canada’s ability to export. But it only accounts for a very small percentage of Canada’s overall federal infrastructure spend, so we would argue that using more approaches like the National Trade Corridors Fund to make more of the spend merit-based will give Canada an even bigger advantage when it comes to its infrastructure spend.
It’s our genuine belief that we should be investing in the most productive assets possible, because those are going to have the greatest return which will create more revenue for governments, which allows us to balance budgets. We want to continue these high levels of infrastructure investment and encourage that all levels of government continue to do so. We would just stress that it’s important to put money into the most productive assets possible, that will give the biggest return and make our business community as competitive as possible, and trade-enabling infrastructure is the category that does that. Where the public policy benefits are big, that’s where we want our governments to focus more of their attention.
It’s our genuine belief that we should be investing in the most productive assets possible, because those are going to have the greatest return which will create more revenue for governments, which allows us to balance budgets.
What role do innovation and long-term planning play in developing Canada’s infrastructure and economic competitiveness?
Both are crucial for infrastructure assets and our long-term assets, whether public or private. These are assets that Canadians and Canadian companies will use for decades. The planning of these assets needs to be done in a way that tries to account not only just for what our economic and societal needs are today, but for what they might be 10 or 15 or 20 years from now.
This is closely linked to the issue of innovation. We need to ensure that our infrastructure can adapt to the level of technological development that we’ll see across Canada in the coming decades. When we’re designing highway systems or bridges, we need to think about how mass transit may evolve and we may need to think about what that’ll will mean for autonomous vehicles that may one day be using that infrastructure.
To consider, think about how people may move differently or how our systems of work may change and how the types of products that Canada may export, or import will change.