Economic Recovery: What does the path forward look like for Canada’s urban regions?
A roundup of the most compelling ideas, themes and quotes from this candid conversation
1. Social Infrastructure and ground-up solutions are key to economic recovery
The recovery from COVID-19 provides cities with an opportunity to improve existing social infrastructure and confront the deep inequity in our default growth-at-any-cost mindset. Nova Scotia’s value proposition as a growing economy is directly linked to the city’s wellbeing and quality of life, says Jennifer Angel, President and CEO of Develop Nova Scotia. “We see great opportunity in continuing to prioritize social infrastructure so that the economy we rebuild is one where everyone can participate. [We also need to change] the way we measure growth and progress to be focused more on wellbeing […] than on growth at the expense of people and planet”.
2. Systemic inequality puts minority-owned businesses and workers at greater risk.
COVID-19 has exacerbated existing systemic inequalities in the Black community. Frances Delsol, Executive Director of Black Business and Professional Association, quotes a recently published report by the African Canadian Senate Group and Senator Colin Deacon on the barriers faced by black entrepreneurs: 80% of Black-owned businesses stated that emergency subsidies would not help them as compared to only 37% of non-Black-owned businesses; 85% of Black-owned businesses are worried about permanent closure; and 98% of Black-owned businesses have no more capacity to take on debt. Indeed, 20% of non-Black-owned businesses were able to remain open during the pandemic compared to only 7 to 8% of Black-owned businesses. Says Frances, “The infrastructure has to be dismantled and be rebuilt to include those who have been excluded.”
3. Harnessing the potential of turning IP in to GDP
Edmonton’s regional economy was facing challenges well before the pandemic. The Region’s current growth strategy, in large part focused on diversifying the economy and reducing its dependence on the oil and gas sector, aims to help the region become more competitive globally. Malcolm Bruce, CEO of Edmonton Global, says that the region is concentrating on emergent technologies and industries: food and agricultural technology, hydrogen, artificial intelligence (AI), and more. Edmonton is one of the top three major cities in Canada exploring AI, and the University of Alberta is ranked third globally for its AI research. Turning that IP into GDP, says Malcolm, will lead Edmonton through the economic recovery.
4. Foreign Direct Investment is closely related to a vibrant and dynamic city
Despite COVID-19 challenges, Stéphane Paquet of Montréal International reports that Montréal just had its best first quarter ever for regarding attracting foreign direct investment (FDI) to the Greater Montréal region. He discusses how FDI is crucial in bringing in new actors and ideas, providing employment opportunities for local talents, and stimulating the local economy. Stéphane highlights that attracting FDI depends on building a vibrant, dynamic, and attractive community where talent can live, work, and play. Cities must invest in urban wellbeing and complete neighbourhoods to stimulate economic growth.
5. Transportation infrastructure will help distribute the economic growth and success
According to Marcy Burchfield, Vice President of the Toronto Region Board of Trade, to chart the best path forward, we need to understand the unique dynamics of our economies at the regional and subregional scales. Regional connectivity is also critical. Marcy gives the example of better transportation infrastructure in the Toronto region, such as a Two-Way All-Day commuter GO service. Just last month, the Province of Ontario announced the next step towards this service on the Kitchener line, which will contribute to continuing to stimulate the region’s economic development.