Skip to main content

On Thursday, the federal government’s expert panel released its first three recommendations for ways to add some momentum to the economy. It called for a national infrastructure bank, a more co-ordinated effort to attract foreign investment, and a dramatic increase in immigration.

Mark Blinch/Reuters

Canadian executives across a wide range of industries broadly support a new plan to boost the economy over the long term, although they are cautious about the proposals and say business needs to be consulted on implementation.

On Thursday, the federal government's expert panel released its first three recommendations for ways to add some momentum to the economy. It called for a national infrastructure bank, a more co-ordinated effort to attract foreign investment, and a dramatic increase in immigration. Finance Minister Bill Morneau said he may put some of the ideas in place as early as Nov. 1, when he will release the government's fall economic update.

Steve Letwin, chief executive officer of gold miner Iamgold Corp., said the options the panel has put forward could support the long-term health of the Canadian economy if they are implemented correctly. But, he said, "it will be important to involve industry in their design. Close co-ordination is necessary to ensure those plans are tailored effectively. Without it, the risk of a misstep is high."

Story continues below advertisement

Guy Nelson, CEO of Empire Industries Ltd., an engineering firm based in Winnipeg, said he is enthusiastic about the proposal to smooth the flow of foreign investment in Canada, but it needs to be focused on areas where there is economic leverage. "If they are just going to help us build some roads [it won't work] … I think we should be spending more time on science and technology."

As for boosting immigration, it is clear that Canada's economy would benefit from a larger population, Mr. Nelson said. "Thirty-five million people doesn't do much. We need that net inflow."

Over all, Mr. Nelson said all these efforts to boost the economy are worthwhile, but it will take more just to overcome the damage done by the decline in oil markets. "The wind that has been taken out of the construction market in Alberta is so massive, that no amount of tinkering [will do more than] playing around at the fringes."

Kent Brown, co-founder and director of BluEarth Renewables Inc., a Calgary-based developer of green energy projects, took issue with the panel's view that it is difficult to attract infrastructure investment in Canada because the projects here are small.

"My experience on the renewables side and with infrastructure investment, generally, is there is a tremendous worldwide hunger for projects to invest in," he said. "There is a ton of infrastructure capital out there and not enough places to invest … so I'm really not sure what forming an infrastructure investment bank would do."

One crucial way to promote growth, he said, is to diversify the economy away from our traditional resource-based investments. "Yes, those will continue to be important, but we have too much of our economy focused on this area, so are subject to the large ups and downs of commodity price swings. In the long term, as the world decarbonizes, we risk the future of our country."

Economist Matthew Stewart, associate director at the Conference Board of Canada, said his research shows that increasing immigration will offset some of the costs from an aging population, but it won't have much of an impact on overall economic growth. To really affect GDP, increases in immigration would have to move "beyond what is reasonable," he said.

Story continues below advertisement

As for the national infrastructure bank, Mr. Stewart said research shows that boosting investment in this area can indeed improve the economy. There are dual benefits, he said, in that the money circulates in the economy while improved infrastructure actually boosts corporate productivity.

Bank of Montreal chief economist Douglas Porter said he was skeptical of the potential impact of the foreign investment recommendations.

"We have had a fairly significant effort for years to attract foreign investment both at the federal and provincial level," he said. "It doesn't hurt to keep trying, and maybe modify the way we do things. But foreign investment is driven by many factors, and it is not going to be significantly altered by Canada basically changing the way we present ourselves to the rest of the world."

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Tickers mentioned in this story
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies