Innovation and regulatory certainty will be central to restarting Canada's economy post-COVID-2019

Stewart Muir and Margareta Dovgal look at emerging ideas for a strong recovery from the pandemic.

recent paper from David Williams of the Business Council of British Columbia points to Canada's nagging inability to improve living standards for its residents.

Comments Williams: "Once the COVID-19 crisis has passed, it will be important for policymakers to start addressing the inefficiencies and disincentives in Canada’s economy that have been holding back productivity growth and the spirit of innovation."

He points to five long-term priorities that will allow for a stronger economy in the recovery phase:

  1. Modernizing the tax system
  2. Delivering certainty and timeliness in regulatory processes
  3. Reducing interprovincial trade barriers
  4. Invigorating competition in product markets
  5. Spurring business innovation and capital investment.

For those preoccupied with the natural resource economy, all five of those priorities are relevant. However, the most significant ones are numbers 2 and 5: regulatory times and the combined factors of innovation and investment.

Research conducted by Margareta Dovgal for Resource Works found that the impact of regulatory uncertainty on investment in oil & gas is also detrimental to Canada’s innovation performance. Market forces alone do not explain the decline in capital investment in Canadian energy, which points to a troubling loss of investor confidence.

Moreover, the resulting constraints on transportation infrastructure mean that energy sector growth is capped and therefore so is the adoption of new technologies.

While incremental process improvements are common, large-scale revamps to deliver drastically improved environmental performance typically occur when a new project (such as a mine, well, or refinery) is built. So, what happens when these projects aren’t being built?

Resource industries are typically among the largest innovation spenders. Yet in the typical urban environment, the vision of modern innovation that most readily comes to mind includes creative technology, biomedicine, and urban infrastructure.

In other words, everything but our country’s top innovation performers.

It’s not just oil & gas, to be clear, but it’s also innovation in mining, forestry, and aquaculture that matters here. Across natural resource industries, innovators are working to reduce emissions, deliver superior local environmental impacts from water to wildlife management, and reduce cost and stay competitive on the global commodities market so that they can continue to create Canadian jobs.

These vital activities will become more important than ever before.

Challenging times have already started. Once this crisis is over, our federal and provincial governments will be faced with difficult decisions about spending and stimulus. Ensuring that the right enabling conditions are there for our most productive sectors is critical.

Market conditions are unavoidable for some products, but they are far from the only barrier to natural resource developments. Unlike the Saudi-Russia price war, improving both the regulatory and innovation ecosystems is very much in the hands of government.

It never made sense to kneecap our major resource development in the best of times. It makes even less sense to do that now, when economic recovery is needed so direly and when natural resource industries can play their part.

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