A playbook for restarting Canada’s economy

At some point, we’re going to emerge from isolation and begin the normalization process for our lives and livelihoods.

When will that be?

When can that be? What kinds of key indicators will let us know that it is safe to relax certain restrictions?

What kinds of principles should guide us in understanding how to manage risks of viral transmissions? How (and when) do we begin to have government and industry collaborate to develop workplace standards and protocols to mitigate transmission risks?

Last Friday, the Crisis Working Group of the C.D. Howe Institute released an important report, “Canada Needs “Playbook” For Restarting Economy” [pdf, 167KB]. The Institute’s Working Group on Business Continuity and Trade (co-chaired by former Ontario Minister of Finance Dwight Duncan, and GE Canada VP Government Affairs and Policy Jeanette Patell) “discussed the need for a “playbook” to restart Canada’s economy, the implementation of supports for businesses to “bridge” the present shutdown, and the importance of continued investment in robust telecommunications infrastructure to meet the current surge in demand.”

While the focus of the discussion was an examination of the general economy, nearly a quarter of the report is dedicated to the telecommunications sector, recognizing “the important enabling role of Canada’s resilient telecommunications services during this crisis.”

The working group acknowledged the challenges facing telecommunications providers to maintain network reliability amid record usage levels when “every day is Superbowl Sunday.” Looking ahead, the roll-out of next generation networks will be essential for helping Canadians to adjust in a “new normal” (e.g., sustained “work from home”) for Canada’s economy post-crisis.

Members particularly emphasized that Canada’s telecommunications services have sustained economic activity as many Canadians switch to working by remote connection at home. The resilience of telecommunications networks today is a result of past investments and current efforts in the field to maintain infrastructure. Network providers are also rapidly building new facilities where these are needed – for example, to service remote learning for students and temporary medical facilities.

The report contains suggestions for measures governments could undertake to encourage further network resilience post-crisis, by providing incentives to accelerating capital investment by service providers. Referencing an report from a month ago [discussed in my blog post: “Could political interference create ‘sovereign risk’ for Canada’s digital infrastructure?”], the working group observed “government policies directed at reducing prices for telecommunications services (such as low rates for mandated access by resellers to telecommunications facilities) may discourage future investment.”

Looking ahead, the roll-out of next generation networks will likely be necessary in a “new normal” for Canada’s economy post-crisis. “Work from home” is likely to be sustained until the COVID-19 virus is fully contained. Fast and reliable telecommunications services will be essential for helping Canadians to adjust.

Recall, the group had previously stated, “If government pursues short-run political objectives at the expense of returns on long-lived infrastructure investments, certain Council members believe confidence in Canada’s regulatory regime for telecommunications will be difficult to win back.”

As a recent Intelligence Memo observed, “Recent experience demonstrates that, whatever discontents the federal government may be channeling, the quality and coverage of Canada’s networks, the cost of services, and the variety of platforms and carriers available, is impressive. Our telecommunications infrastructure is a vital asset. Good public policy should strengthen it.”

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