The quarterly C-Suite Survey was conducted for Report on Business and Business News Network by Gandalf Group and sponsored by KPMG. Gandalf Group interviewed 155 executives between Nov. 16 and Dec. 8, 2016. Watch for coverage on Monday on BNN and view the full survey online at tgam.ca/csuite.
Canadian executives are confident the election of Donald Trump will have a positive impact on their business, but most have not made changes yet to be better positioned to take advantage of his promised policies.
The latest quarterly C-Suite Survey of business leaders found 52 per cent anticipate Mr. Trump's election will be positive news for their companies and a further 32 per cent believe it will make no difference, leaving a small minority anticipating a negative outcome.
Michael Cooper, president of real estate developer Dream Unlimited Corp., believes his company's operations in Western Canada will benefit from Mr. Trump's policies for the energy sector, but wishes his company had more U.S.-based exposure.
"I wish we had a lot more in the States right now. I do feel some of the decisions we made did not reflect the U.S. doing as well as it's doing," he said. "We should have had more exposure there. Who knew?"
Mr. Cooper said he is not a big fan of many of Mr. Trump's views, but is confident he will create a positive business climate that could leave Canada at a competitive disadvantage.
"He's putting together a team of people and it looks like he's going to empower them to radically change the regulatory environment to be much more focused on business being able to create jobs and make money, so it's going to be a massive change for the U.S. economy," he said.
"And I think Canada is going to have to take it seriously because we're going the complete opposite way."
The C-Suite Survey found business leaders in Western Canada are most optimistic about Mr. Trump's election, with 62 per cent anticipating it will have a positive impact on their companies, while only 31 per cent in Ontario were positive. Within the resources sector, 66 per cent expected a positive impact, while 48 per cent in manufacturing were positive and just 33 per cent in the services sector were as confident.
Executives are particularly confident that Mr. Trump will benefit U.S. companies, with 83 per cent expecting his administration will be good for the U.S. economy over the next two years.
For Canada, however, there are mixed expectations, with 50 per cent anticipating Mr. Trump's election will be negative for the Canadian economy and 62 per cent expecting Canadian companies to become somewhat or much less competitive than their U.S. counterparts over the next two years.
Almost 90 per cent believe it is very or somewhat likely that Mr. Trump will make good on his threats to renegotiate NAFTA, and 55 per cent expect increased tariffs on Canadian goods.
David Smith, chief executive officer of Calgary-based oil and gas services provider Keyera Corp., said he is optimistic about Mr. Trump's proposals to make the United States more energy self-sufficient, which he believes will include a focus on Canadian supply sources.
But he is concerned U.S. energy companies will become even stronger competitors under Mr. Trump's administration.
"The growth in oil and gas production in the U.S. over the last five to eight years has been much more dramatic than what we've seen in Canada, and we – I'm talking about governments and industry together – need to do whatever we can do to make our industry as competitive as possible because the U.S. is a formidable competitor," he said.
While many companies anticipate a positive impact from Mr. Trump's election, just 13 per cent have adjusted their business plans to respond to the change. Among that small group, the most common plan so far is to increase business and investment in the U.S. market.
Vancouver-based Westport Fuel Systems Inc., which makes natural gas-powered vehicles and engines, is not anticipating making changes. It is already well positioned in the U.S. market thanks to a strong presence in California where many local governments are looking for more environmentally friendly vehicles, said Karen Hamberg, vice-president of strategy.
As oil prices rise and gasoline becomes more expensive, vehicles powered by alternative fuels such as natural gas become more attractive, so Westport anticipates growth if Mr. Trump's policies boost oil prices. But Ms. Hamberg said it is still early days to try to forecast Mr. Trump's impact on business given inconsistencies in some of his statements.
"The takeaway for business leaders is there must be some ability to plan for a degree of uncertainty in these early days," she said. Fewer than one-third of executives surveyed expect Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to have a good relationship with Mr. Trump, and 68 per cent forecast a negative impact on Canada-U.S. relations over the next two years.
Executives said the top priority for Canadian government relations with the United States should be preserving free trade and market access to the United States, with 64 per cent identifying it as a priority issue.
Willy Kruh, global chairman of consumer markets at KPMG, said the message to the Trudeau government is to be pragmatic about maintaining a strong relationship with Canada's largest trading partner. He advocates a message focusing on the importance of the historic friendship and trade between the two countries.
"I don't think this is a time necessarily for dogma and for polarization," Mr. Kruh said. "It's a time to reinforce the relationship we've had for decades and decades, and the fact NAFTA has been a significant positive for both countries and that automation has been a greater issue for job loss certainly than free trade."
Canadian oil patch backs Trump
There are no Canadian executives more optimistic about Donald Trump's administration than those in Canada's oil patch, who believe his pro-energy policies could help breathe new life into their beleaguered industry.
The quarterly C-Suite Survey of business leaders shows 69 per cent believe Mr. Trump is likely to be supportive of developing Canada's oil and gas resources and 88 per cent agree his administration is likely to approve the Keystone XL pipeline, a project rejected by President Barack Obama.
Sixty per cent of executives believe crude oil prices are likely to be higher by the end of 2017, including the vast majority working in the oil and gas sector, while 86 per cent of executives surveyed said they think the U.S. political environment for the oil and gas sector will be better over the next five years than during the past five years.
David Smith, chief executive officer of Calgary-based Keyera Corp., said Mr. Trump's policies to encourage energy self-sufficiency should help the Canadian energy industry, which is already showing signs of growth, as long as Canadian producers remain competitive.
Executives are divided on whether Canada should suspend plans to introduce a national carbon-pricing regime in light of Mr. Trump's election, with 52 per cent favouring suspending the plan and 44 per cent disagreeing.
Mr. Smith said he believes Canada has to be careful not to put itself at a competitive disadvantage.