Following is a condensed and edited version of “Nation Building Infrastructure in the Asian Century,” a speech by CIBC senior executive vice-president and vice-chairman Jim Prentice to the Vancouver Board of Trade, Thursday, Feb. 23, 2012
One of the pivotal events in the history of this great city was its selection as the western terminus of the Canadian Pacific Railway – Canada's first great nation-building infrastructure project.
Indeed, when a Canadian thinks of nation-building, the first mental image is likely of an old, sepia photograph – of a man in a stovepipe hat, surrounded by onlookers in the Eagle Pass, west of Revelstoke, driving the last spike into 4,000 kilometres of railway track laid down across mountain, prairie and unforgiving wilderness.
In 1875, Prime Minister Alexander Mackenzie had said of this ribbon of steel, and I quote, that “it could not likely be completed in 10 years with all the power of men and all the money of the Empire.” History judges him something of a pessimist. The CPR was finished in less than five. And it changed our country forever.
Canada has benefited from many ambitious projects over the course of its history.
Projects like the St. Lawrence Seaway, the Trans Canada pipeline, James Bay, the Bennett Dam, Hibernia and the Trans Canada highway – these were all transformational in their own way. Each put its stamp on Canadian development, progress and prosperity.
These projects had several common elements. They took years to build and created massive employment and spin-off benefits. They were financed with private sector and public sector funds and stimulated the economies of entire regions. And each in its day was subject to intense scrutiny and stoked public debate and controversy, as is the nature of developments that hold the potential to change the fortunes of a nation.
It is worth reaching back in history to remind ourselves that Vancouver was selected as the western terminus from among a number of sites on Burrard Inlet. Even then the key criteria was sufficient deep water to accommodate ocean-going vessels.
From day one, Vancouver was meant to be not just a railway town, but a great and vibrant port city – not just the end of the line, but a Gateway to and from the Pacific. This city was chosen to be the place where Canada would start.
In the same summer that the first passenger train arrived from the east, the first ship arrived at the Port of Vancouver.
It had come from China.
Businesses and investors in British Columbia have recognized the importance of the Asia Pacific ever since. And Vancouver and Canada have benefited from that awareness and that connection.
I believe that when historians look back to the early years of the 2000’s, they will identify a pivotal event that shaped the course of the century to come – shaped it for the world at large, and for Canada as well.
It happened on September 17th, 2001. That’s the day when China signed an agreement to become a member of the World Trade Organization.
That event triggered forces that have caused a tectonic shift in the balance of global economic power. It is a shift that has moved China from the periphery back to centre stage of the world economy. It is a shift that marked the beginning of what will come to be known as the “Asian Century.”
Now, what does that mean exactly – the Asian Century? Strip away the rhetoric we so often hear and let’s look at the numbers. Let’s consider the forecast growth for seven of the continent’s largest economies, including China, India and South Korea.
Today, these seven countries have a combined population of more than 3 billion people and GDP of $15.1 trillion.
By 2050, it is estimated that these countries will account for 45% of global GDP and more than 90% of global growth.