This piece first appeared in the Canadian Chamber of Commerce's Five Minutes for Business June 14, 2018
Tariffs. Trade talks. Pipelines. Electoral change. While the Canadian economy continues to grow (albeit somewhat slowly), these are just some of the factors that might slow it down. As we head into summer, and the mid-point of 2018, now is a good time to take stock of Canada’s economic performance and consider what the latter half of the year might have in store for us.
The economy stumbled into 2018, slogging its way through weak consumer spending and housing markets. Real GDP increased at a pace of 1.3 per cent in the first three months of 2018 — the slowest quarterly growth in nearly two years. The Canadian economy grew at less than a two per cent rate for the third consecutive quarter, a far cry from the nearly 4 per cent average between July 2016 and June 2017.
The good news is that economic growth seems poised to accelerate. While the cumulative result was disappointing, the quarter finished strong with February GDP up 0.4 per cent month-over-month, followed by a 0.3 per cent increase in March. Exports increased 1.6 per cent in April, a good sign for an economy that will need export markets to make a bigger contribution to growth in place of consumer spending. This encouraging finish has hastened confidence that the economy is improving with stronger momentum going into Q2.
The bad news is that uncertainty about a variety of economic issues is weighing on business investment. Any optimism about the economy taking a turn for the better is tempered by the risk that uncertainty will drive investment away from Canada. Imports declined in April, indicating that business investment and domestic demand were scaled back during the month.
Ongoing insecurity about trade policies continues to cast a shadow over Canada’s outlook. The recent steel and aluminum tariffs imposed by the United States—and the Canadian retaliation— are increasing investors’ concerns about the future of NAFTA, and even what a U.S. withdrawal would mean for Canada. With a new government in Ontario, Canada will have its work cut out to maintain a united front in response to further possible retaliatory measures.
Further complicating matters are the extraordinary measures taken by the federal government to buy the Trans Mountain pipeline — a step that never should have been necessary. This is another sign that we need to take a long hard look at our broken regulatory system and ensure Canada remains an attractive place to invest and do business.
These developments have heightened the existing doubts about Canada’s business competitiveness. The Canadian tax system is losing relative competitiveness compared to its peers due to recent tax reform in the United States and France. Significant uncertainty also surrounds how the Canada Revenue Agency will assess the new small business tax changes in the 2018 Budget. These factors are causing business investors to seek other markets or sit on their wallets.
The outlook for business investment is crucial because everything else the Bank of Canada usually considers in monetary policy decisions suggests the economy can handle higher borrowing costs. The central bank has been cautious thus far but recently signalled that higher interest rates will be warranted and that the governing council will take a gradual approach to policy adjustments.
The current data on economic growth supports this. Canadian households may be able to manage rising mortgage and consumer debt, as long as Canada’s economy continues to grow and unemployment remains relatively low. However, the risk that Canada’s economic prospects and investor confidence can be derailed by any number of uncertain issues remains high. The IMF’s recent mission to Canada concluded that our economic outlook is subject to significant risks—including a sharp correction in the housing market and a banking system with heavy exposure to household and corporate debt.
The Canadian Chamber of Commerce’s Crystal Ball Report predicted uncertainty for Canada’s economic and political outlook in 2018. Financial and economic imbalances have created a tenuous economic recovery. Rising protectionism has the potential to escalate into a trade war. Markets and business models are being disrupted by new technologies and opportunities. Overall, Canadian businesses are grappling with the speed of change.
Adding to this, Canada’s economic performance in the first half of 2018 demonstrates that one of the few certainties in today’s economy is an enduring state of uncertainty.
Thank you to the Crystal Ball Report sponsors
This piece first appeared in the Canadian Chamber of Commerce's Five Minutes for Business May 10, 2018.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock (or perhaps within a rolled steel coil), you have no doubt seen all the news these days about the looming threat of steel and aluminum tariffs being imposed by the United States.
Last year, the U.S. Department of Commerce initiated an investigation into whether steel and aluminum imports were impairing America’s national security. These investigations occurred under Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962. The investigation’s recommendations were released in February and proposed a number of measures, including a mix of tariffs and quotas on steel and aluminum exports from around the globe.
President Trump opted to impose global tariffs of 25 per cent on steel products and 10 per cent on aluminum products that are entering the U.S. To be exempted from the tariff stick, Washington seems to be offering the quota carrot to countries. South Korea has already negotiated its package, which focuses on quotas, and agreements in principle have been reached with Brazil, Argentina and Australia on yet to be specified measures. Although, as recent news from Brazil indicates, some of these agreements in principle may have a ways to go.
But looking closer to the home, the threat of tariffs continues to loom large for Canada. We received a temporary exemption — along with the European Union and Mexico — until June 1. The Canadian Chamber of Commerce’s position continues to be that Canada should be fully and permanently exempted from any tariffs, quotas or other measures designed to reduce the cross-border flow of steel and aluminum products. Canadian imports to the U.S. do not pose a national security threat. In fact, Canadian aluminum is integrated into the U.S. defence industry to allow America to build its military hardware. In the case of steel, Canada is the top export destination for U.S. steel products, with trade roughly balanced between our countries.
The Chamber applauds the federal government for its firm stance on this issue in opposing U.S. pressure for Canada to accept export restrictions. We also fully support the government’s position to oppose any links between these tariffs and the NAFTA negotiations. Such a connection would only be an unhelpful distraction from what should be our main focus.
There are certainly wider systemic issues that affect the industry; U.S. tariffs will divert third-country steel and aluminum products onto already saturated global markets. Additionally, there is the issue of trans-shipment, where companies could attempt to use Canada as a backdoor to circumvent U.S. tariffs. It is vital the government be watchful of these issues. The government’s recent announcement of additional funding for the Canada Border Services Agency is a good first step, meeting a request from the Chamber and our members. At the end of the day, it is about providing certainty for business. This means no arbitrary implementation of tariffs or quotas and ensuring the rules are consistently enforced.
Every month, we ask different participants of our Leadership Winnipeg class to blog about their experience.
Each year, Winnipeg welcomes thousands of newcomers. They may come as international students, young families looking for a better life for their children, or as refugees forced to flee their homes. Each person has unique needs and stories, but they are all united in their desire to feel at home again.
Recently, the 2018 Leadership Winnipeg class had the opportunity to visit three agencies that support recent refugees and immigrants making Winnipeg a place to call home.
Our first visit was to the Immigrant Centre at 100 Adelaide Street. Stepping into the building, it felt like I was entering a trendy tech start-up, with beautiful hardwood floors and exposed beams and offices without doors. At 8:45 am, the front lobby was already busy with clients, chatting in several languages while sitting on the over-sized plush benches that lined the waiting area.
Jorge Fernandez, Executive Director of the Immigrant Centre, and an alumnus of Leadership Winnipeg, met with our class and shared the organization’s vision and mission. The Immigrant Centre serves all newcomers that arrive in Winnipeg, assessing their needs and creating a personalized plan to help with the settlement process. Clients receive information and services to assist with housing, banking, employment, language and nutrition. In some cases, clients access services while they are still in their country of origin through the online Pre-Arrival Centre.
Jorge is an immigrant himself and was a client of the Immigrant Centre when he arrived in Winnipeg in the late 1980s. Today, Jorge is what one of my classmates described as, “the happiest CEO in history,” and the pride and optimism he demonstrates for the Immigrant Centre was contagious. It’s clear Jorge and his growing team of staff and volunteers work tirelessly to ensure they meet the needs of newcomers.
We left the Immigrant Centre and walked a few blocks down Bannatyne to the Welcome Place, which is run by the Manitoba Interfaith Immigration Council (MIIC). The MIIC was founded in 1948, when Europe’s post-war instability and uncertainty led to thousands of displaced people and immigrants. Today, the Welcome Place serves the needs of refugees arriving in Winnipeg, including government-assisted refugees, privately sponsored refugees, and refugee claimants. In recent years, the Welcome Place has been dealing with an increase in refugee claimants crossing the border from the United States.
Felicien Rubayita, Co-Manager of Settlement Services, spoke to us about the unique challenges refugees face and the ways the Welcome Place assists once they are in Winnipeg. Compared to someone who chooses to immigrate to another country, a refugee is fleeing their country of origin because they have a well-founded fear of persecution. They rarely have time to plan, learn the language of their new country, or take many belongings.
Felicien’s story reflects this desperate flight. A former medical doctor, he fled his home country of Rwanda in 2008 in the middle of the night. When he finally arrived in Canada, he discovered he was missing one document to prove his qualifications and was forced to start his education in Canada at a Grade 12 level.
When a refugee comes to Winnipeg, they are met at the airport (or the border in the case of many refugee claimants) by MIIC staff and taken to the Welcome Place. There, their immediate needs are looked after and they are given clean, safe accommodations for up to two weeks. The staff works with their clients to process paperwork, locate housing, and teach them valuable skills for living in Winnipeg, such as how to take a bus or adjust to the climate.
Winnipeg has seen a drastic increase in the number of refugees coming to the city. As we toured the site, we could see the strain this has put on Welcome Place’s already busy building. Extra workstations were set up in hallways and the residences were full. The bedrooms were clean and functional, but basic. The Welcome Place provides each family with a care package containing kitchen items and toiletries, which is theirs to take when they move to their next home. It’s a small but meaningful gesture that helps their clients rebuild their lives in Canada.
We left the Welcome Place and walked over to Edmonton Street. In a nondescript building tucked behind the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, is Holy Names House of Peace. Founded in 2004 by Sister Lesley Sacouman, House of Peace provides a safe, peaceful home for 18 refugee and immigrant women (“Neighbours”) for up to two years. As we removed our shoes and crossed over the threshold, a quiet calm surrounded our group.
Sister Lesley gave us a tour, stopping to point out the beautiful furnishings and decorations that surrounded us – each item thoughtfully donated by community members or former Neighbours. As Sister Lesley explained, “I don’t think any of us heal in chaos… and so I wanted for them, a home that would be beautiful.”
In addition to providing a safe home for the Neighbours, Holy Names House of Peace serves the community of Winnipeg with a variety of programs, workshops and support groups. The St. Francis chapel is open to anyone looking for quiet and warmth.
Canada has a long history of immigration and providing refuge to newcomers in need. The Immigrant Centre, Welcome Place, and Holy Names House of Peace continue that tradition and each provide crucial services to Winnipeg’s newcomers. While they have different missions and approaches, each organization believes in supporting newcomers so they can heal, thrive, contribute and, ultimately, feel at home in Winnipeg.
Leadership Winnipeg is grateful for the support of our Vision Partners
As our upcoming event with Josh Blair and the TELUS Health team on innovative solutions to Canada's healthcare issues approaches, we asked them to pick a pressing issue more Canadians should be aware of.
This is the second article in their Strong Foundations series, examining five non-negotiable foundations that will support and sustain a truly integrated healthcare ecosystem for Canadians. Its focus is the opportunity to tackle medication management challenges by enabling electronic communication between prescribing physicians, pharmacists, insurers and patients.
It was first published by TELUS Health in January 2018.
In Canada, we like to believe that our health system is among the best in the world. In many ways, it is. But there are aspects of our system that have fallen far behind the standard of practice in other countries. One of the laggards is the way we manage medications, which has an impact on patient safety, medication adherence and ultimately patient outcomes.
Electronic prescribing is fundamental to medication management. In most OECD countries, electronic prescribing has become the norm.
Furthermore, in some States in the US, there are statutes that prohibit prescribing on paper. For example, New York State mandated that practitioners must prescribe electronically. In Maine, an act to prevent opiate abuse by strengthening prescription monitoring of controlled substances was introduced which requires that opioid prescriptions be sent electronically
Why has Canada been so slow?
I believe a major barrier to technology adoption is the fact that our Constitution assigns jurisdictional responsibility for healthcare to the Provincial governments. For many decades, that was a distinct advantage because healthcare decisions were made regionally, close to the people that were receiving the services. Supported by Federal transfer payments, the Provinces funded health care services that were truly world class for many years.
Yet over the last two decades, just as information technology became increasingly important for coordinated and effective care delivery, Canada has slipped in international rankings. Could there be a cause and effect relationship here?
Information technology shows very strong economies of scale: proven, effective solutions can be adopted and applied on a large scale with relatively small incremental costs because hardware is so inexpensive. However, system requirements and standards that are different for each Province have made eHealth solutions very difficult to deliver on a national scale. The resulting patchwork of systems are costlier to manage, maintain and expand than a national platform would be. Several Provinces have worked diligently to implement drug information systems but have not succeeded in delivering electronic prescribing. National pharmacy retailers and software vendors are understandably reluctant to conform to 10 different provincial standards given the cost and complexity that would represent.
The result: everyone waits on the sidelines for a national standard solution to emerge. That is until recently.
Bringing electronic prescribing to the nation
In 2017, Canada Health Infoway launched a solution called PrescribeIT™ that went live in August. It offers a single, national solution that will integrate with provincial drug repositories and provider registries. To-date, six Provinces and a range of pharmacy retailers have expressed a willingness to get on board. This is Canada’s best opportunity to close the electronic prescribing gap, compared to other developed countries.
Many are unaware of the full potential electronic prescribing offers to Canada’s healthcare system, ranging from improved patient safety, to increased medication adherence, to better collaboration between providers. Particular benefits include:
New paradigm offers more than automation of current practice
Electronic prescribing is more than a simple duplication of the paper process. It allows new transactions that have no analog in the paper world. For instance, the physician EMR receives automatic notification from the pharmacy when a prescription is filled. This allows the medication profile the physician sees in the EMR to display adherence information. Similarly, when a physician discontinues a medication in the EMR, a stop order is sent to the pharmacy, taking the medication off the active list in the pharmacy management system.
These are the benefits offered by the version of PrescribeIT™ to be deployed to physicians and pharmacists this year.
But this is only the beginning. Once Canada has the ePrescribing platform in place, there is so much more that can be done.
Giving care providers the full picture
One of the big limitations of our current system of medication management is that none of the care givers sees a complete record of the medications a patient is taking.
The pharmacist does not see what prescriptions are filled in other pharmacies. And, in some Provinces, regulations and patient confidentiality agreements make data sharing between pharmacies challenging.
The physician only sees the prescriptions they have written personally. Those written by specialists, hospitals or walk-in clinics never get to the physician unless the patient shares the information and the physician takes the time to type it into the EMR.
The patient is the ultimate integrator of medication therapy, usually by means of a slip of paper with a list of medications or a plastic bag filled with pill bottles.
Some Provinces have created impressive drug repositories that have a complete record of the medications dispensed within their borders. Unfortunately, utilization of these valuable data sources by health providers is limited for reasons of convenience (i.e. the time it takes to log into another system is onerous) or lack of system access. Furthermore, these repositories lack information about unfilled prescriptions or discontinued medications, rendering them ineffective for addressing poor drug adherence.
Opening avenues to future healthcare frontiers
Once electronic prescribing is widely adopted and integration with provincial drug information systems is in place, Canada will have the ability to progress other important capabilities, such as medication reconciliation. This will allow synchronization between EMRs, hospital systems, pharmacy systems and provincial repositories. All members of a care team (including the patient) would have access to the complete medication history for the first time. The safety benefits of this are dramatic, as drug-to-drug interaction checking against the entire medication list for each patient will be possible within the EMR. Further, adherence information will be available to all, allowing a more proactive approach to patient education.
The time to act is now
We know from other countries that it takes years to spread adoption of ePrescribing across an entire health system. As a nation, we need to move quickly to incorporate ePrescribing into practice. Provinces, pharmacies, hospitals and physicians need to put this to the top of their priority list in a coordinated effort to improve the performance of our health system. Many lives are depending on it.
The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) has been a tremendous boost to Canada, the U.S and Mexico’s economies since coming into force in 1994. Almost twenty million jobs between the three countries are reliant on trade. Over five million American jobs have been created due to NAFTA, and Canadian and Mexican direct investment into the U.S has grown tenfold over that time.
Given the incredible importance of the file, it was a pleasure for The Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce to host our Minister of Foreign Affairs, The Honourable Chrystia Freeland recently. Not only is managing Canada's foreign relations difficult task at the best of times, Minister Freeland is leading the NAFTA re-negotiation with the U.S. and Mexico.
During a fireside chat with former Canadian Chamber of Commerce Chair Sean Finn, Minister Freeland shared some insights on what it is like to be on the front lines renegotiating arguably what has been the most successful trade deal of all time. Recent reports have indicated the talks have moved into overdrive, and there has been a newfound sense of urgency to get a deal down.
Minister Freeland was optimistic and upbeat, but reiterated that a deal isn’t done. She thanked Chambers of Commerce and businesses across Canada for their input during the negotiations, and noted she will always stand up for Canadian interests. Minister Freeland shared that she feels a lot of progress can be made in regards to reducing red tape for goods moving across the Canada-U.S. border in the negotiations. A lot of that comes from updating an agreement that is close to 25 years old. For example, the original NAFTA deal includes provisions around cassette players in cars.
Minister Freeland also shared some thoughts on recent unprecedented aggression by the Russian Federation, and Canada’s response. She also spoke about the creation of the Canada-U.S Council for Advancement of Women Entrepreneurs and Business Leaders and on increasing women in leadership roles. She shared that Canadian leadership is essential in this area, as we have to lead in the area or no-one else will.
Lastly the Minister left with the heart-warming message that the best part of her job is getting to represent our great country on a daily basis. Amidst global uncertainty, we sometimes forget just how lucky we are to call Canada home.
Canada's population is aging and every province (including Manitoba) forecasts increased healthcare costs in the near future. Considering how many governments already struggle with deficits, the need to spend healthcare dollars effectively has never been higher.
On Friday, April 27 your Winnipeg Chamber invites you to a healthy discussion with Josh Blair on combining private sector solutions with public priorities. As the VP of TELUS Health, he oversees a team of innovators and medical professionals creating technology based solutions that reduce delivery costs while improving health costs for Canadians.
We asked him to share a taste of some of the solutions his team have put forward:
After years of sorting through paper charts, three physicians in different communities across the country all had the same thought: there had to be a better way to store and access patient information. Balancing their time to care for their patients while also writing code, each doctor put idea into action to bring electronic medical records to life.
After years of fine-tuning, Dr. Jim Kavanagh, Dr. Brendan Byrne and Dr. Michel Hébert, now TELUS Health team members, built three platforms for Electronic Medical Records (EMRs) now used by thousands of physicians in British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario and Quebec.
1981: Jim Kavanagh creates PS Suite
With both a medical degree and a degree in mathematics and computer science, Jim Kavanagh knew he could enhance patient care by automating his work. In his basement more than 36 years ago, the Cambridge, Ontario physician alongside his wife Barb, started off by programming patient schedules on a computer, which back then was an anomaly.
Realizing more could be done to simplify his day, Jim engineered an EMR solution to optimize his medical practice.
“I became a doctor because I wanted to help others. I knew what was required to provide good care,” says Jim. The EMR I built made things easier and more accurate. Whether I need to pull up a patient’s full history, or understand a prescription’s side effect, it all became possible right in the tool. For me, it’s all about giving the best care possible and technology amplifies the experience.”
What Jim created is known today as PS Suite. His solution has evolved over the years, thanks in large part to program updates by a team of developers which included his son and daughter. TELUS purchased PS Suite in 2013 and today, with more than 41 years of experience as a family doctor and 36 years of practice as an EMR architect, Jim continues to practice medicine and help TELUS Health design EMR programs.
1991: Brendan Byrne brings Wolf to life
Brendan Byrne didn’t have a computer in the early 1990s, but he couldn’t help but notice significant changes happening all around him. The power of information was growing and he was perplexed as to why patient data was sitting unused in charts.
“After I finished my studies at Yale and later med school at McGill, I travelled around British Columbia and couldn’t believe the amount of critical data just sitting idle in patient charts,” says Branden “I felt it was my duty as a doctor to give the best care possible and I couldn’t stop thinking about all that information “I really had no idea what I was getting myself into, but after trying my hand at writing some code, I got the hang of it.”
Inspired to keep coding, Brendan ended up designing what we refer to today as the Wolf EMR platform. Scribing notes by hand on paper became a thing of the past. And not just that, he and other doctors were redefining proactive patient care by leveraging data in his EMR tool.
TELUS purchased Wolf in 2012 and Brendan joined the TELUS Health leadership team while remaining a part-time physician in Surrey, B.C. Today, he continues to enjoy the best of both worlds as Chief Innovation Officer and as a family doctor. As founder of Wellness Garage, a precision lifestyle medicine practice, Brendan spends time with close to 100 patients to boost their physical, mental and social well-being.
2000: Michel Hébert designs KinLogix
For Michel Hébert his EMR story goes back 18 years. Going digital was the obvious solution to eliminating tedious paperwork. After sketching out some ideas late one night alongside his wife, Kathleen, in their Quebec City home, the KinLogix EMR idea was conceived.
“I chose to become a doctor because caring for others is part of my DNA. When I first created my first digital patient chart, the excitement was real. I think I called everyone I knew. I was thrilled! My vision to curb manual work became a reality and I was empowering other doctors to do the same. I look back on that time with great pride.”
His homegrown solution gained popularity – doctors throughout the province were taking notice of the flexibility added to their day. What’s more, KinLogix was the first EMR in Quebec to go mobile – no matter where a doctor is, patient information is accessible while on the go. This type of innovation led Michel’s technology to gain major market share, and in 2012, KinLogix EMR joined the TELUS Health portfolio of solutions. Today, Michel offers strategic guidance to the TELUS team as Medical Director while also caring for his patients.
Working in collaboration with each other and their colleagues, Jim, Brendan and Michel are helping TELUS Health advance the next generation of healthcare solutions. The voice of the patient remains at the core of their work and all three say they’re proud of their lasting legacies.
“It’s privilege to have Jim, Brendan and Michel working with us at TELUS. Their innovation set a strong foundation and by building on their progress as we advance our EMR strategy, we’re enabling better experiences for physicians, and in turn, helping create better health outcomes for Canadians,” says Paul Lepage, President, TELUS Health and Payment Solutions.
On Wednesday, April 4, your Winnipeg Chamber hosts one of Canada's busiest leaders and the person tasked with guiding national interests through NAFTA negotiations - Minister Chrystia Freeland.
With a mandate that includes rapidly developing geopolitical events and relationships, it's hard to keep up with Ms. Freeland. Check the headlines - her To Do list likely overlaps with several breaking items.
Nevertheless, as we prepare to discuss NAFTA, supporting rules-based international order and increasing gender equity in Canadian leadership (whether the boardroom or the caucus meeting), we'd like to offer some suggested reading.
Automation, artificial intelligence and advanced robotics have the potential to either take over jobs or be the key to increased productivity and competitiveness, according to a new report from the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, Skills for an Automated Future. Only by bracing for the changes to come in the next decade can Canadian business take full advantage of the automation revolution.
“Between one-third and one-half of workers will be affected by automation in the next decade. Those changes do not have to be negative, however. By investing right now in skills development and lifelong learning, businesses can ensure their workers will have the tools to face these disruptions,” said the Hon. Perrin Beatty, President and CEO of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce. “Automation will change the way we work, but it also represents significant opportunity for the businesses that are ready.”
Waiting until after workers lose their jobs to automation and relying on traditional training programs could represent a significant cost to the Canadian economy, between $6 and $18 billion each year. By mapping out core, essential skills, making training programs more flexible and by starting now, Canada can make that amount more manageable.
“What we’ve found in preparing this report is that much of the retraining infrastructure is already in place. By leveraging on-the-job training and focusing on shorter programs, we can ensure Canada leads the way in adapting to automation and the changes it will bring,” said Patrick Snider, Director of Skills and Immigration Policy at the Canadian Chamber.
Properly harnessed, automation can represent greater production capacity, GDP growth and even job creation. That will require a concerted effort between workers, business, educational institutions and government.
Read the recommendations in Skills for an Automated Future
When Canada first became a country 150 years ago, only 20 per cent of the population lived in urban areas. We had only one city with more than 100,000 residents.
Today, we have more than 50 municipalities with over 100,000 residents, and only 20 per cent of our population lives in rural areas. We have long been an urban country, yet we lack a national strategy that will help our urban centres grow, thrive and compete in the 21st century.
Recently the Canadian Global Cities Council (CGCC) released Planning for an Urban Future: Our Call for a National Urban Strategy for Canada. The Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce is a founding member of the CGCC, which represents the eight largest urban chambers of commerce and boards of trade in Canada. These eight city-regions combined account for over half of Canada’s GDP.
The report calls for the development of a national urban strategy in Canada. The cornerstone of that strategy will be the development of national urban infrastructure goals and objectives. It is imperative we measure progress against those goals by a clear set of metrics.
Federal infrastructure spending has increased by billions over the past several years, and yet we have no common measure to judge whether that spending was successful. Data is sparse, and poor data leads to poor decision making. With no indication of where shortfalls are, governments have little incentive to change their approach to infrastructure.
Below the broad national level, the strategy calls for city-regional agreements with clear goals and targets. These more localized agreements would spell out the city-regions priorities, and showcase where private-public partnerships could best be utilized. Longer-term contractual agreements would then be developed to deliver on those local priorities. This would mean funding the regional plans, not specific projects. It would allow for greater flexibility and speed up construction times.
Why does this matter to Winnipeg and Manitoba?
As we have recently seen, local priorities are often drowned out by higher levels of government. The City of Winnipeg’s $182-million ask to the Building Canada Fund to accelerate regional road repair lies in limbo. Not only is that an issue, but the current ask is again based on the outdated model of funding projects, not plans. Current federal infrastructure funding methods lack flexibility, and force governments to put forward projects that may not best meet local needs, but instead check off the right funding box.
Instead of going cap in hand to higher levels of government, a national strategy will set the goals and objectives for all governments to meet. While a national strategy must be federal government driven, it will rely on provincial and civic governments as well as the private sector to come together to set those local priorities under the national objectives. However, with no national objectives or priorities currently in place, federal infrastructure funding is currently too unfocused.
We need high quality infrastructure in order to move people and goods in an efficient and safe manner. You can have the best tax rates and regulations in the world, but if you can’t move your country’s goods and citizens effectively, your economy isn’t going anywhere fast. Improving the quality of our infrastructure will increase our country’s competitiveness – an urgent issues as other countries move on their own urban policies.
Right now Canada is one of only two OECD countries with a federal government system that doesn’t have a national urban policy. Developing one will take time, effort and federal leadership. With billions more being spent on infrastructure, we need to ensure all that spending’s effectiveness is clearly measured against strategic goals and objectives.
Recently the City of Winnipeg released new reports on the state of our city’s infrastructure. The reports look at the condition of the 13 major infrastructure areas the city manages, what it would cost to replace them, and what future needs to expect.
On the positive end, we are definitely making progress. When last measured in 2009, Winnipeg’s infrastructure gap over the next decade was placed at $7.0 billion, or $9.9 billion in today’s dollars. The updated report shows the gap has narrowed to $6.9 billion over the next decade, a $3 billion improvement. The gap is calculated by comparing total capital needs (estimated $10.9 billion) over the next decade compared to the city’s (estimated $4.0 billion) in capital spending over the next decade.
Some areas are doing better than others, unfortunately big ticket items are the farthest behind. Roads were given a C+ grade, and the deficit is expected to be just under $2 billion over the next decade, or 27 per cent of the total. In 2009 roads were responsible for 47 per cent of the deficit, so despite a large gap, we have seen a marked improvement in that area.
Transit received a C+ as well, with a $1.3 billion deficit, and bridges a B- with a $1.1 billion deficit. Shockingly, the transit gap over the next decade is almost 70 per cent higher than the current value of transits assets.
Roads, transit and bridges together comprise over 60 per cent of the forecast infrastructure gap.
While Winnipeg is making progress, new approaches are clearly needed. This is why your Chamber joined other large urban Chambers of Commerce and Boards of Trade across Canada to call for a national urban strategy. A cornerstone of the report asking the federal government to establish a national standard on measuring infrastructure quality and deficits. Right now no such standard exists, leading to infrequent and inconsistent reporting across Canada. Winnipeg's recent report leans on an Ontario provincial guide, for example.
If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it. The City’s updated plan and report reinforces the truth that infrastructure gaps remain here, but gaps also exist in how we measure infrastructure across Canada.