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A working session to tackle the infrastructure challenges and opportunities in Canada -Morning Session

Over 80 participants joined our morning workshop at the Globe and Mail Centre to discuss Canada’s infrastructure needs, challenges and opportunities. A cross section of Canadians, from students to public policy makers to C-suite executives, listened to global and Canadian experts on infrastructure before engaging on the issues and generating ideas in a workshop.

Amid the debate and discussion, some general themes emerged. First, the favourable tailwinds that have propelled our economic growth over recent decades may not continue. Canada may need to act in a more deliberate and proactive way to seize economic opportunities, and infrastructure will be an important part of this.

Second, we need to think more ambitiously. This includes finding ways to overcome the powerful forces that encourage incrementalism and delay, such as:

  • Insufficient awareness of Canada's infrastructure gaps, both in terms of investment budgets and also infrastructure quality
  • Our tendency to spread investment possibly too widely without resourcing major, transformational infrastructure initiatives
  • Unpopularity of user-pay models, even when they can enable otherwise unaffordable infrastructure projects or free up government budgets for social or other infrastructure
  • Pressures for short-term results, whether from the electoral cycle or quarterly market expectations

Third, participants surfaced interesting perspectives on digital infrastructure. Several noted that not only will Canada need traditional infrastructure such as highways that are digitally enabled, as well as world-leading infrastructure in areas such as 5G and deep fibre, but we will also need a national policy and governance framework for things such as data repositories or geo-locational data for people and things.

Finally, many suggested that for major projects to be successful there must be earlier and more intensive engagement of users and stakeholders. Norm Anderson's comments around the need to take the "user experience" into account when designing and approving infrastructure resonated with many.