In Canada … Clean Air Matters

Imagine your kids being kept home from school for two weeks because of air quality. Nothing to do with COVID; everything to do with pollution.  That is exactly what happened to my niece last year.  She lives in Shanghai, mostly indoors.

When I visited her, I surveyed her school mates on their impressions of Canada and the Canadian brand.  Collectively, they said it was open, clean, safe, and cold.  Those were their four words. Our brand in China and likely in many other countries in the world, especially for Gen Y and Gen Z youth – our future visitors and consumers.

So, how are we leveraging our Canadian brand at this precarious moment? How are we investing in marketing and brand building that positions our brand, the maple leaf, in the eyes of the world? 

What an opportunity to position ourselves as one of the cleanest places in the world. I know our boarders are closed and travel is restricted, but I also know that what we do in the downtimes determines how we will perform in the good times.

And now is the time.

This is the time to build our brand with intention.

Open, clean, safe, and even cold are foundational words to build upon. They position Canada as a premium market that cares about agriculture & food production, travel & tourism, healthcare & environmental protection, manufacturing and industrial production, and science & technology. And COVID enhances the importance of these basic words, as those words are what people are looking for and what people will desire as soon as they return to a world of international investment, travel, and trade.

At BGE our motto is that Clean Air Matters, as we are focused on ensuring organizations in western Canada are providing the safest and cleanest indoor environments for their people. We are wrapped in a proud Canadian flag and we are working hard to link our purpose with our Canadian identity.

I’m interested in in how other Canadian companies are doing the same.  Not Tim Horton’s, Molson’s, and Canadian Tire who have led Canada’s brand development over the past 10 years, but other product and services companies that together can help shape our global image during these challenging times.

It would be great to get a collection of like-minded organizations working together. A grassroots movement to push our identity and our pride.

It’s what we do in the downtimes that determines how we perform in the good times. So as we are still staying home from school, let’s remember the simple but important things like clean air, things that matter.

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.