Illusions of Someday

It is wonderful to see the sun out and people outdoors again. Walking, running, and biking. Experiencing a little ray of sunshine and occasionally, just occasionally, a smile and a friendly hello.

Cities and provinces are preparing their re-opening plans with great enthusiasm. Curves are being flattened. People are believing there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Normal days will soon return.

Or will they?  To quote one of the greatest Canadians of all time …

“With illusions of someday cast in a golden light                                               No dress rehearsal, this is our life.”

Before we start thinking that we will be allowed to return to normal, let us explore three factors affecting human emotions and contemplate how motivated our elected decision-makers will be to return life back to normal:

Dependency:  Almost 70% of Canadians are receiving weekly and monthly cheques from the Government of Canada to meet their basic living or commercial needs. Decisions may be made to reduce these payments over time, but what politician would be motivated to eliminate them all together?

Fear:  Consumption of mass media has had a profound effect on human entrancement and in the instilling of fear. Perceptions of risk, health, and safety have little to do with science or empirical evidence; rather, they are shaped by cultural assumptions about human vulnerability. Will the fear of a second wave or non-immunity handcuff our elected officials and perpetually prevent the end of social distancing?

Control:  Every morning, elected officials get to emerge in front of a microphone and robotically tell us that “we need unlimited spending authority” and “we will not resume parliament” and “here is some more money” and “we have your back” and that “we will get through this … together.” Do they really want to return back to normal or even understand what the old normal actually was?

Daily foreshadowing messages are being delivered to set expectations that measures could be in place for months, that re-opening will require a coordinated national response, and that even as things are able to start getting back to normal, they won’t be back to normal.

This is really interesting territory we are entering into. Even though we can re-open the economy, will we?

Or maybe we should be prepared to “sit silently and listen to our thoughts.”

The Golden Share

It feels like five years.

But it is only the start of “Week Five” since the Government of Alberta and Ontario issued their States of Emergency. So much has happened. So much hurt has occurred. And so much money has been printed.

Government support programs started with individuals, then households, then medium-sized business, then small business, and then anyone else that slipped through the cracks.

But don’t take your eye off the ball.  What happens next matters.

As we move into Week Five, the attention will turn to Canada’s large corporations, the major employers in the country, the owners/operators of our natural resources, and the stewards of our critical/sovereign infrastructure.

Airlines, ports, railways, grain terminals, energy producers, financial institutions, pipeline companies, pulp mills, and power generators/distributors will all need credit facilities, and the Government of Canada will be the lender out of necessity, and in our national interest.

But those loans may likely come with a Golden Share.

The golden share concept originated in 1975, accompanying the Petro-Canada Public Participation Act, that prevented foreign ownership above 20%, sheltered a critical Canadian asset from any unwanted takeovers, but left its stock depressed versus rivals because of the reduced chances of a takeover. Petro-Canada’s golden share was held by the Government of Canada and was absolved with the Suncor acquisition to create a globally competitive, Canadian-based integrated energy company.

In the weeks to come, as the federal government contemplates extending credit to our largest and most vital large companies, there is a high probability that the golden share re-emerges as part of the Canadian economic landscape, forever changing our ability to attract foreign capital, access international markets, and build global brands.

This is an important signpost on the road to recovery.

It is also an important signpost on nationalizing our industries.

Going to the Theatre

Well before COVID-19 emerged, our news media was filled with stories of polarization, protectionism, restrictive immigration, trade wars, espionage, and distrust. The era of globalization was slowly unravelling politically, militarily, economically, and ideologically. And the growing chasm between the United States and China was leaving Canada feeling confused, exposed, played, and naïve.

Torn as a nation – were we to side with the US or with China?

Distrust in, and between, these two superpowers has now been exasperated by their respective involvement in, and responses to, the COVID-19 pandemic. Nationalist, propagandist, and protectionist discourse has rallied both their electorate and their politicians. The next 4-5 years will likely split a globalized economy into three separate theatres – an Asian (ASEAN) theatre, a North American theatre, and a European theatre – each more focused on building economic self-sufficiency than global trade.

This will present a real paradox for Canada, an exporting nation.

While the North American theatre will be obsessed with protectionism, buying local, import tariffs, boarder control, partisan politics, and regulatory hurdles, the ASEAN theatre has already returned to work (with testing and temperature checks), is operating at full capacity, growing its domestic demand, and celebrating their rapid triumph over a virus that brought the rest of the world to its knees.

China, Korea, Taiwan, Vietnam, Thailand, Singapore, and Indonesia are booming, and their entrepreneurs are of the mindset that this is the ASEAN century, and this this their time for growth. With 70% of the world’s population and 80% of global growth within their reach, entrepreneurs in these countries are producing raw materials, rebuilding supply chains, expanding manufacturing capacity, and inventing new business models for retail and delivery … all of which create well-paying jobs and domestic consumption.

Canada will quickly have to make a choice as to which theatre it will prioritize. Unfortunately, playing in one may prevent it from participating in the other.

If we were feeling confused, exposed, played, and naïve before … I can only imagine the conversation going on in Ottawa today … or tomorrow … or sometime.

Regardless of the choice, one thing I know for certain … we are an exporting nation and we need to get our collective heads around that fundamental first.

The Urge to Compete

Every morning for almost six years I woke up with a single purpose in mind – to make Edmonton remarkable. We rallied the business community around opportunities to attract major events like Red Bull Crashed Ice or industry leaders like Aurora Cannabis and Hello Fresh. We also rallied the business community when our city was under threat from reckless cuts to post-secondary funding, vindictive elimination of direct flights, and policy changes that crippled our economy.

I loved the chase and I loved the fight. And my love for our city is forever in my heart.

Today, as we all witness the brutal combination of an energy price war, a COVID-19 economic collapse, and a global liquidity crisis, my urge to compete has never been greater. This recent threat to our economy and livelihood has exposed the fragility of our economy, our capital markets, our supply chains, and our manufacturing capacity. Although the response has largely been targeted at social distancing policies, income and wage supports, and PPE procurement, our national response will eventually start to focus on our points of fragility.

And we, as a city, need to be ready … ready to invest in transition.

As people are eventually allowed to return to work, the first wave of government stimulus will be on infrastructure and construction projects. This is predictable and Edmonton will benefit greatly from this first wave of stimulus spending.

It’s the second wave that is much more important and requires our city to think strategically, collaboratively, and well … differently.

As the federal government launches incentive programs to build manufacturing capacity for essential products, Edmonton should be ready to position itself as western Canada’s advanced manufacturing hub. Edmonton has an integral foundation of traditional manufacturing capacity, talent & trades, education & training institutions, and a competitive tax environment. Layer on our leadership in artificial intelligence, machine learning, nano-materials, and robotics … plus our jurisdictional advantage as the transportation, logistics, and service centre for western Canada’s primary industries … and what you have is a winning combination that cannot be ignored.

Our organization, BGE Indoor Air Quality Solutions, is western Canada’s largest manufacturer/distributor of air filtration products – essential products and services regardless of economic and pandemic conditions. However, we rely on imported raw materials and products that could be made locally, as part of an advanced supply chain and manufacturing cluster deemed critical to our economic future.

We are one of many manufacturers that should be rallying together at this time, to share our opportunities and needs, and collectively position Edmonton for that second wave of economic incentive – the one that builds essential manufacturing capacity, localized supply chains, and thousands of well-paying jobs for generations to come.

It’s time to rally.  It’s time to be remarkable.

Let It Not Go To Waste

Whether it was Winston Churchill, Rahm Emanuel, or Mark Twain who actually said it, the concept of “never wanting a serious crisis to go to waste” has been used as a rallying call many times over the past weeks and months.

Companies have used it to digitize processes, reduce meals & travel expenses, develop new partnerships, and eliminate unnecessary meetings. Households have used it to restrict debt accumulation, eliminate frivolous expenses, reconnect with family, and rethink the importance of things like seasons tickets.

The question is, how should government not waste a good crisis?

Currently, much of the collective effort is on health & safety policies, building closures, travel bans, boarder controls, quarantine processes, unemployment support, and now the securing masks and other PPE supply chains. These are all essential provisions in times of crisis as they focus on the safety of citizens, essential services and economic life support – all with immediate, short-term benefits. Like riding a bike and looking down to dodge rocks and cracks and bumps, it takes tremendous effort and oversteering to just keep upright. It feels like you are moving forward, but really you are just trying to keep peddling.

But what if we lifted our eyes, looked to the horizon, and took a 20-year or 50-year nation-building view and asked “How can Canada come out of this as one of the strongest, most united, and most respected nations in the world?”

As the curve starts to bend and the pandemic becomes more predictable, this horizon should become the new narrative of our political leaders. Wouldn’t it be inspiring if we tuned in to a media session and heard the following:

  • Our interprovincial boarders and policies prevent us from becoming an efficient and united country – and these will need to change as we recover from this crisis.
  • We have greatly depleted our manufacturing capacity of essential goods and services across the country – and this will need to be rebuilt as we recover.
  • Our regulatory environment and lack of competition in critical infrastructure (roads, railways, pipelines, telecom, ports, airlines) has prevented capital investment – and this will need to change as we recover from this crisis.
  • Our dual language laws prevent cohesion amongst a multi-lingual nation – and this will need to change as we recover from this crisis.
  • Our federal bureaucracy is not representative of Canada’s diverse geography – and this will need to change as we recover from this crisis.
  • Our relationship with the United States needs to be coordinated on continental energy, food, fibre, water, and essential manufacturing policies – and these will need to be embraced as we recover from this crisis.
  • Our corporate tax structures need to promote reinvestment in private sector jobs and goods-producing sectors of the economy – and this will need to be supported as we recover from this crisis.
  • Our duplication of services between provinces and among municipalities has increased the cost of government beyond our affordability – and this will need to change as we recover from this crisis.
  • Our essential services industries (including health, education, EMS, manufacturing, and public service) need to embrace digital, robotic, and artificial intelligence forms of innovation – and this will need to change as we recover from this crisis.
  • Our industries need to align to the Canadian brand of technology, environmental and human rights leadership, but also have full access to tide water to build the long-term strength of our economy – and this will need to be championed as we recover from this crisis.
  • Our Canadian brand is appreciated around the globe but under-developed within our own country – and this will need to change as we recover from this crisis.

If we take a 20-year or 50-year view and use this crisis as an opportunity to break down the barriers that keep us from being efficient and united, and get our people working on long-term solutions and positioning while they are unable to contribute fully to the economy, then maybe we can emerge as that strong nation with a positive mindset, a renewed constitution, and a collective vision.

Churchill was a great orator. His speeches addressed the brutal facts of reality. But they also allowed people to always peak around the corner and see a path forward. A light. A call to action. A national responsibility.

Let’s not waste a serious crisis.