Editorial: Canadians thinking small in a big land

A big land averse to big thinking: welcome to Canada at 150.

Energy East is its latest casualty. TransCanada Corp.’s $15.7 billion pipeline proposal, which would have generated an estimated 3,000 jobs during its construction and allowed Canadian energy to flow to markets other than the U.S., fell victim to the country’s business backwater outlook.

It’s more evidence for international investors that geography is the only thing big about Canada.

However, ambitious resource infrastructure projects are one thing; the country’s trade and mobility infrastructure is another.

The former is key to opening doors to allow Canada’s energy riches, which generated $160 billion in federal gross domestic product in 2015, to reach world markets and command international market prices; the latter is fundamental to maintaining all goods movement within the country and beyond, and it needs attention now.

The Boston Consulting Group in Canada (BCG) has launched a project to address that issue, because, as the management consulting firm points out in 15 Things to Know about Canadian Infrastructure, Canada’s infrastructure deficit has reached $270 billion.

As an infrastructure laggard, the country will face more constraints in exports that are already squeezed by its supply-chain bottlenecks, mediocre productivity and inability to execute major projects. Factor in shortfalls in digital infrastructure, which is now as critical to any country’s success as are roads, rail lines, shipping corridors and airports, and small-time Canada won’t be getting any bigger any time soon.

The BCG’s CanInfra Challenge is one way to spark innovative idea generation, but the country’s enterprise core needs a radical remake to address systemic complacency and develop a national vision for energy and resource development and a culture of audacious ambition to match this vast land.  Without it, B.C. and the rest of Canada will continue to be a bargain-basement resource warehouse for a United States economy that is increasingly insular, self-absorbed and punitively hostile to competitive Canadian products and trade.