Canada Is Too Big To Think Small

Among the first projects undertaken by the Centre for Canada's Future were the Canadian Transformational Infrastructure Summit and the CanInfra Ideas Contest. These efforts were part of a 6-month initiative by BCG undertaken in collaboration with media partner The Globe and Mail, founding sponsor Brookfield Asset Management, and other private-sector partners.

The summit and the contest aimed to surface infrastructure ideas with transformational economic and social impact, as well as spark dialogue among leaders in government and the private sector, and advance the national conversation on infrastructure.

“Canada is too big to think small, and we need transformational infrastructure ideas to position ourselves for the next century,” said Kilian Berz, a Toronto-based senior partner and chair of the Centre for Canada’s Future. “Canada has an enviable quality of life and strong economy, but our infrastructure is often not keeping up with our growth.”

Canadian Transformational Infrastructure Summit

Private-sector infrastructure leaders and policy makers gathered on May 28-29, 2018 for the two-day Canadian Transformational Infrastructure Summit in Toronto. The conference continued the national dialogue begun at the Leadership Launch on October 4, 2017, which was attended by more than 270 academics, students, public policy makers and C-suite executives.

The Canadian Transformational Infrastructure Summit featured:

  • An opening keynote by Bill Morneau, Canada’s Minister of Finance. Minister Morneau shared his vision for infrastructure and the government’s program, and then congratulated the CanInfra teams. “It is these ideas that will help us decide what we need to do to make long term change in this country," he concluded.
  • David Walmsley of the Globe and Mail and Kilian Berz of BCG’s Centre for Canada’s Future opened Day 2 of the conference. They talked about how CanInfra could be a catalyst for ideas that could change Canada.
  • Toronto Mayor John Tory then covered his vision for the city’s infrastructure, including the need for transit, affordable housing and recreational space. “We have 80 to 100,000 people coming to Toronto every year, so doing nothing is not an option,” he said. “Getting something done even if delayed or over budget is usually better than not getting things done.”
  • Prime Minister Justin Trudeau gave the concluding keynote address, congratulating the Ideas Contest teams and saying that, "Infrastructure is about growing our communities. It's about making our towns and cities better places to live, not just today, but for generations to come."

Panels with Canadian Thought Leaders. Private and public sector experts explored key topics such as infrastructure for Canada’s digital economy, leveraging private-sector capabilities to meet infrastructure challenges, and some of the nation-building projects on the drawing board today.

The Showcase Panel featured Margaret Kenequanash, CEO of Watay Power; Kim Stangeby, chief strategy and growth officer of GTAA; and Rick Janega, COO of Emera and a leader of Maritime Link. They discussed ongoing transformational projects in Canada. It was illuminating to have leaders of major real-world projects talk about their benefits and challenges. The panel discussed the need to work closely with the people affected as well as the need to find common ground and to establish a business case that ensures that multiple parties benefit.

The Digital Panel looked at the digital future for Canada’s economy and society, and what infrastructure would be needed to make it a world leader. Nadir Mohamed, the chair of ScaleUp Ventures; Andrea Stairs, the general manager of eBay Canada and Latin America; and Tawfik Hammoud, BCG senior partner and managing director stressed the importance of data governance and the need for Canadians as a nation to get ahead of this issue and define a national framework. The concept of the “data utility” could be critical, ensuring widespread and well-governed access for all Canadians and all businesses to the data that will fuel the analytics, automation and decision-making that will make the future economy happen.

Over lunch, leaders Janice Fukakusa and Bruno Guilmette, the chair and interim chief investment officer of Canada Infrastructure Bank (CIB), participated in a fireside chat about their work setting up Canada’s premier new infrastructure institution. The bank’s mandate is to partner with governments and the private sector to help launch infrastructure projects that otherwise wouldn’t be viable. Janice and Bruno talked about three parts of the bank’s work: investing in projects; advising communities, governments and projects; and developing shared data to support everyone involved.

The Leveraging the Private Sector panel hosted Michael Bernstein, special investment advisor at Waterfront Toronto; CIB board member and former Canada-Line CEO Jane Bird;  and Dag Detter, co-author of The Public Wealth of Nations and BCG senior advisor. Michael pointed out that infrastructure is changing, becoming riskier as technologies such as solar power or autonomous vehicles disrupt formerly stable asset classes. This has big implications for financing. Dag shared his work on public commercial assets, saying that new ways to manage these assets can be a big boost to cities and nations looking for ways to fund infrastructure. And Jane talked about the Canada Infrastructure Bank’s advisory mandate, pointing out that it is critical in helping governments create the right environment for public-private partnerships.

Interactive Breakout Sessions. Participants helped tackle challenges such as how to imagine a more ambitious national pipeline of infrastructure projects or how to avoid a “digital divide” in the access to future digital infrastructure across Canada.  BCG innovation expert Alan Iny led a “Brainblizzard” session on how Canadian infrastructure might look if we brought the mindsets of Amazon, SpaceX, or Uber to the topic.

The CanInfra Ideas Contest Finale. The Summit wrapped up as finalists in the national infrastructure contest pitched for $100,000 in prizes.

The CanInfra Ideas Contest

The CanInfra Ideas Contest surfaced more than 70 infrastructure ideas that could bring transformational benefits to Canada. A wide range of ideas were submitted from universities, think tanks, and the general public.

Applicants tackled the diverse challenges we face as a nation. Some offered ideas that would have a national impact; others presented city-focused solutions. More than half of the submitted ideas contained a significant digital component.

The top 10 finalists presented their ideas in a live pitch session to a panel of judges and a live audience on May 28 at the Canadian Transformational Infrastructure Summit. The audience enjoyed the passionate pitches by the teams, and the judges faced some tough decisions. After the final pitches, four winners were announced:

  • Grand Prize: Ice Grid—A Renewable Energy Microgrid for Nunavut from Memorial University in St. John’s
  • Runner Up: Redefining the Waste and Water Utility Model from MaRS
  • Second Runner Up: Taking the High Road—the Dynamic Wireless Vehicle Charging Concept from a University of Toronto Team
  • People’s Choice: Electric Airship Transportation System, a Vision for an Electric Cargo Airships System Serving Canada’s North (selected by public online voting)

Judges included Doug Buchanan, cohead of Debevoise & Plimpton's Global Infrastructure and Finance Group; former Deputy Minister of Infrastructure Drew Fagan; Michele Romanow, tech entrepreneur and venture capitalist; Maryse Roy, former VP, OMERS Infrastructure; Olivia Steedman, MD Infrastructure and Natural Resources, OTPP; George Stalk, BCG senior advisor and Robert Steiner, Director of the University of Toronto Munk School of Global Affair's Fellowship in Global Journalism.

For more information on the CanInfra Summit and Ideas Contest winners, please read our e-book.