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Alberta’s Fiscal Update

Earlier today, Alberta’s President of Treasury Board and Minister of Finance, Travis Toews, unveiled the First Quarter Fiscal Update and Economic Statement.

It’s the first look at the state of Alberta’s finances since the start of the pandemic and the oil price crash. It’s the biggest deficit in provincial history, at $24.2 billion.

Our Enterprise team has put together a full analysis.

Download/View Alberta’s Fiscal Update

Download here

The North is Waiting: Indigenous infrastructure investments could lead to future economic prosperity

This article was originally published in the July/August issue of ReNew Canada Magazine.
By Barbara Fox

Finally. It’s time to look at recovery. And as the whole of the Canadian economy looks to rebuild from the massive hit delivered by COVID-19, there is no better time than today to look North.

After a brutal start to 2020, the conversation is shifting beyond getting through the day-to-day to how we can get our people and industries moving again.

And as we get moving toward a new sense of normal, there are three key areas to focus our attention on if we plan to fast track the recovery:

The North and Arctic. What better way to drive economic recovery than the one trillion dollars of infrastructure opportunity waiting in the far North? Regional infrastructure often grabs attention – mines, ports for northern shipping lane access, or transmission like the very successful Five Nations’ East West Tie Line and Wataynikaneyap Power projects in Northern Ontario.

Community infrastructure. While the large-scale projects are critical, they are overshadowed by the need for homes, drinking water and waste systems, roads, schools, health care and community centres as well as local electricity and broadband services. Imagine literally building southern communities from scratch. The opportunities are immense.

Equitable Indigenous partnership. This is most important. While the long distance and lack of access have slowed down development in northern communities, the main barrier has historically been the lack of involvement of local Indigenous communities as partners in planning, development, and community building, and the necessary internal and connecting infrastructure.

To step back a bit, one of the last points of normalcy for Enterprise Canada, the national strategic communications firm that I lead, was on March 2. And it seems like an eternity ago.

The pandemic was on the horizon, but not yet impacting life as we knew it in North America.

The Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada’s 2020 conference was in full swing. The Prime Minister stopped by. The Ontario government announced progress on an access road to the Ring of Fire in partnership with Marten Falls and Webequie. And we made an announcement with Matawa First Nations.

The nine member communities— including Marten Falls and Webequie—with their Chiefs and Councils had agreed to pursue and direct major community infrastructure projects on their lands, preparing themselves to be active partners and leaders in the massive economic opportunity headed for northern Ontario in the coming decades.

We at Enterprise, along with PCL Constructors, Ontario Power Generation and EPCOR Utilities, had the privilege of taking part as the “major Canadian companies” noted at the time.

Then COVID-19 put the world on pause.

I am often asked what a strategic communications firm is doing in the infrastructure space. It’s a fair question. To put it simply, communications at its core is about relationships. It’s about building trust and understanding people—their wants and wishes, their concerns, and addressing those emotional drivers to create solutions.

Over the last number of years, I have watched project planning across the country ramp up only to stall or fizzle out completely after opposition from local communities over the intended use of their traditional lands.

Many companies have not adapted their approach to understand the concerns and nuances of working with Indigenous Peoples. They do not have the relationships at the local-level, and in many cases, their approaches have been transactional without the meaningful partnership required to bring the community along with the success of the project.

On the other hand, many First Nations and other Indigenous communities are looking to address long-standing community issues through development, but don’t have a clear “in” with the corporations that could deliver help.

That’s where Enterprise comes in. By using our relationships with Indigenous communities and leaders, corporate Canada and government of all levels, we are in a prime position to bring people together. We identify like-minded partnerships that can see projects come to fruition, successfully.

Indigenous owned and led projects that bring direct benefits to local communities. That is the guiding philosophy of our development practice. Indeed, it is the future of Canada’s infrastructure and resource development sector.

And so, throughout the lock-down, our work continued.

From Toronto, Winnipeg, Edmonton, and Vancouver, from Thunder Bay and far beyond across the North, Enterprise continued to facilitate the project planning with each of our alliance partners and the leadership of various Indigenous communities. Getting shovel ready from living rooms and home offices with a model that we refer to as a “PPCP”—a public- private-community partnership for people- focused, sustainable development.

As early as April, word was swirling that federal cabinet ministers not directly involved COVID-19 response had been called to address post-recovery stimulus. From the Diefenbaker era of Roads to Resources to Pearson’s Building our North, it’s no secret that the quick spurring of infrastructure spending has been a tried and trusted recovery measure in times of economic strife.

While so much of this current crisis is new and uncharted, that much is still true.

And while the root cause of this economic disaster is different, the best national case study for recovery continues to be Canada’s actions following the Great Recession of 2008. Then-Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced the Economic Action Plan, a $61 billion package of federal stimulus and provincial spending—a small amount relative to what we expect to see for post-COVID recovery. That Plan outlined five focus areas to spur Canada back to fiscal health.

This included measures to strengthen the financial system and to stimulate spending among the Canadian public to address the needs of that situation, as well as short-term support for businesses and communities. More than $7 billion was committed to stimulate housing construction with a massive influx of infrastructure funding to the tune of $12 billion.

That infrastructure bill covered construction and repair to roads, bridges and harbours and increased broadband infrastructure nationally. Basic, foundational infrastructure development that could be conducted quickly to spur the economy and put money back into the pockets of Canadians and the financial system as a whole.

While much can be done in fixing potholes, mending bridges, improving highway networks, even building out transit systems down south, development across northern Canada holds a mass of opportunity for infrastructure—and the jobs across the nation that come with it.

Here in 2020, there are roads, homes, schools, electricity, hospitals—the very basics of the foundation for whole communities— that have been waiting for decades for shovels to hit the ground. There are more than 60 communities across Canada under long-term boil-water advisories that could benefit from water utility infrastructure. This development won’t just make lives better. It can save them.

Even the excitement around the Ring of Fire cannot become reality without the necessary investment in not just roads, but mining camps, electricity transmission, water and waste-water facilities and operational needs for a regional population that’s predicted by some to boom to the size of a city. And before all of that, it will need local partnerships.

Many of the major infrastructure opportunities left in our country are in or around Indigenous communities, far in northern Canada. Not only that, there’s a lot more to come.

Guggenheim Partners have projected that more than USD$1 trillion in infrastructure is headed to the Arctic region by 2040 as warmer waters and receding ice coverage open up a Northern sea route for global trade. That’s roads, rails, ports, electricity infrastructure, and community building.

As we navigate this recovery and move back to a period of prosperity, any Canadian company that hopes to take part in this Northern Boom without meaningful and real Indigenous partnerships can attempt to try at the expense of their own balance sheet. It’s no small feat, to be sure. The massive scope of these projects will need the leadership of the communities on the ground, and the strategic, technical planning and expertise of the kinds of private-sector companies that can get it done—not as owners, but as partners.

In a time when we, as a country, need to move money on a scale larger than ever before, we owe it to Indigenous communities across Canada to meaningfully share in the rebuild, for the benefit of all of us. The whole of the Canadian economy will be lucky for their partnership.

Alberta Legislative Highlights – Cabinet shuffle

Today, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney unveiled his first cabinet shuffle since winning the provincial election in 2019. The small shuffle, called a “limited cabinet reset,” focuses on implementation of Alberta’s Recovery Plan. Here’s what’s changed:

  • Kaycee Madu, Minister of Justice and Solicitor General – Edmonton’s lone MLA in the government caucus moves from Municipal Affairs to take over as Minister of Justice and Solicitor General. A lawyer by training, Minister Madu is now tasked with overseeing the ongoing review of the province’s Police Act as well as implementing the UCP government’s democratic reform agenda, including citizen’s initiatives and recall legislation.
  • Tracy Allard, Minister of Municipal Affairs – Minister Allard is a new addition to cabinet. The first-time MLA from Grande Prairie comes from a business background, franchising Tim Hortons restaurants in Prince Rupert, British Columbia, and in Grande Prairie. Premier Kenney said that Minister Allard has a bit of Margaret Thatcher to her, with “an iron fist and a velvet glove.” She takes over the role from Kaycee Madu, who moves to Justice and Solicitor General.
  • Doug Schweitzer, Minister of Jobs, Economy, and Innovation – The Economic Development, Trade and Tourism portfolio is being renamed with added functions to be clarified in the coming weeks. Minister Schweitzer, a bankruptcy lawyer by training, will be overseeing much of the implementation of the province’s economic recovery plan. He replaces Calgary-Peigan MLA Tanya Fir, who is no longer in cabinet.

One key change to senior staff change is the departure of the Premier’s Principal Secretary Howard Anglin. Mr. Anglin, who previously served as Chief of Staff to then-federal Minister Jason Kenney, recently accepted a post-graduate fellowship at Oxford University. He is being replaced by Larry Kaumeyer.

WHAT’S NEXT – Alberta’s First Quarter Fiscal and Economic Update will be released on Thursday. It will be the first detailed look at the province’s fiscal situation after a difficult year with both the pandemic and oil price crash. As a result, it is expected to be the largest deficit in provincial history.

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Ontario Fiscal Outlook

Ontario Minister of Finance Rod Phillips has released 2020-21 First Quarter Finances today, simultaneously giving a look at what Ontario has had to spend in order to manage COVID-19’s health and economic impact and a look forward at what Ontario must do in order to manage a second wave.

Download/View COVID-19 Provincial Measures Update Report

Enterprise strengthens Hamilton team with addition of homegrown talent

Enterprise is excited to announce the hiring of Jesse Shea as our new Public Affairs Consultant based out of the recently launched and growing Hamilton office.

A born and raised Hamiltonian, Jesse has a wealth of experience in political campaign management, strategic communications and policy development locally, provincially, and federally. Jesse comes to Enterprise after spending half a decade working for a Liberal Member of Parliament in Ottawa.

“We’re thrilled to welcome Jesse to the team as we continue to expand our government relations and public affairs practices in Hamilton,” says Enterprise CEO Barbara Fox. “With his experience and unique perspective, there is no doubt Jesse will make significant contributions to serving our clients.”

Jesse has worked closely with the Hamilton community and its stakeholders through his work with local candidates, elected officials, and government ministers. He has spent years working in Ottawa developing his relationship with the federal Liberal government and brings with him an extensive network to assist our clients.

From his involvement with the federal All-Party Steel Caucus on issues pertaining the renegotiation of NAFTA, to helping small and medium-size enterprises and grassroots community organizations navigate the complexity of government, he’s has ensured that corporate and local voices are heard in government decision making.

Jesse’s strong network enables him to effectively navigate local issues in both Toronto and Ottawa. With his political intuition, skill in issues management and deep understanding of local dynamics, Jesse provides “Made in Hamilton” solutions to ensure that our clients succeed.

“Jesse knows the Hamilton community and understands the issues and opportunities local business face better than most,” says Enterprise President Jason Lietaer. “He’s got the right mix of experience in the city and in Ottawa and we’re excited to have him on board to help us grow our business in the GTHA.”

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Incentives needed to unlock private capital to invest in private Canadian businesses

Article originally published in The Star
By Susan McArthur
Contributors Betsy Hilton and Dennis Matthews

It’s called sticker shock: That moment of honesty and dismay when the final bill arrives. We’re not even close to that moment when it comes to Ottawa’s COVID-19 spending, but that feeling is starting to set in.

So far, deficit spending has reached $343 billion this year covering everything from wage subsidies and unemployment benefits to money for seniors, students, rent relief and loans to business.

It may look like some politicians believe we can spend our way out of the economic shock, recession, and, perhaps, depression headed our way.

But what if tax dollars aren’t the only way to free up much needed investment dollars? What if there was a way to encourage Canadians to use their own capital to provide stimulus and support Canadian business?

Wealthy Canadians and corporations are holding cash and there are few incentives for them to invest in private Canadian businesses.

While the 2008 global economic crisis hit the big banks hardest, today’s calamity has struck a death blow to small business with little in the way of assistance coming from Ottawa.

That’s not to say a few small loan programs haven’t been helpful; they just haven’t moved the needle, and many small business owners have been reluctant to take on the risk of additional debt.

A recent survey by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business found that 25 per cent of small businesses will close their doors if they sustain a 50-per-cent drop in revenue for a month.

Many Canadian business owners are already well past that point. This is a tragedy. Small businesses are the heart and soul of the Canadian economy.

If you are a successful small business owner who has built a nest egg over many years, it is unlikely you will double down during a pandemic and reinvest your savings to keep your business afloat.

If you are evaluating an investment in, for example, a tech company looking for additional capital, the risks have increased significantly.

Unlocking private capital would provide additional support from Canadians who are not only looking for a return, but are also emotionally invested in the business’s success.

We’ve seen grassroots, microscale economic support for small business in communities across the country, including from community crowdfunding platform Distantly.ca, which enables individuals to send funds directly to local businesses.

The platform was conceived to make sure Mainstreet was still open post lock down.

Businesses such as restaurants, salons and gyms, which are closing their doors daily, would benefit greatly from an incentive for Canadians to make a much bigger commitment with that support.

Small businesses have a desperate need for capital to invest in digital transformation, working capital, personal protective equipment and other modifications required to comply with new pandemic regulations.

If Canada is going to emerge from this crisis stronger and more resilient, we need tax policy to encourage Canadians to invest in our small businesses.

We are not looking for anything unique or groundbreaking here. A handful of Canadian provinces have tax policy that encourages private investment in small business. New Brunswick has the Small Business Investor Tax Credit program, the most generous in the country.

If you live in New Brunswick and invest in a small business, you get a personal income tax credit of 50 per cent of your investment up to maximum of $125,000 annually. Corporations, trusts, co-ops and local economic development agencies are entitled to similar benefits upon investment. In the last five years, the program has generated almost $450 million of investment, supporting 2,200 small businesses in New Brunswick.

The federal government needs a bold, game-changing tax policy that will encourage Canadians with capital, including small business owners, to step off the sidelines and invest in small business.

We must establish qualifying parameters that encourage small businesses to grow. We must set the bar high in defining “small business,” so we don’t discourage growth.

The U.S. does this well. Section 1202 of its tax code allows for tax-free capital gains of up to $10 million or 10-times the investment if it is in a private business with up to $50 million in assets.

It’s a bold idea. That is easy to implement, were Ottawa so inclined.

As New Brunswick did, the federal government could provide an income tax credit to Canadians for investment in small- and medium-sized businesses. Business owners who double down and reinvest in their own business, could get a tax holiday on income earned, or charge no tax on dividends paid, for up to three-times the invested capital. For investors looking to back potential high-growth entrepreneurs, the program could provide tax-free capital gains — up to tenfold.

Ottawa has the power to do all of the above.

High-income earners in Canada pay more than half of their income to the government, not including municipal and sales tax.

Why not create a plan where Canadians can choose to provide private stimulus and invest in the small businesses and entrepreneurs so vital to the Canadian economy?

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Enterprise Presents: The Re-opening Checklist

Get insight from the Enterprise team as we reveal our checklist designed to help your organization navigate challenges when the economy begins to re-open.

Special guest Eric Reguly, European Bureau Chief for The Globe and Mail, joins us from Rome to provide his expertise and a look inside the current scenario in Italy and Europe, including their strategies and response to re-opening.

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To restore hope, start with changing the tone of sad, one-note pandemic commercials

Article originally published in The Globe and Mail

By Dennis Matthews

Dennis Matthews is a conservative strategist and commentator who is a vice-president at the national communications firm Enterprise Canada.

Sombre piano music plays in the background. A voice speaks calmly about the “challenges” we face in “these uncertain times.” We’re heading for a new normal, the narrator says – if not exactly with those words, then something very much like them.

These days, no commercial break on television is complete unless multiple companies have reassured you that things are far from business-as-usual – as though that hasn’t become painfully obvious to all of us.

In recent months, marketers in Canada have moved with impressive speed. Advertising helped companies that sold things such as luxury SUVs, steaks and all-inclusive vacation packages stay relevant during the pandemic. Their message: showing an understanding for the concerns we were all sharing, thus demonstrating all-important shared values with customers.

But while these ads made sense at the start of the lockdown, they have grown monotonous and unavoidable amid our daily routines at home. A creative YouTube user who goes by “Microsoft Sam” even edited together a supercut of COVID-related ads to show just how similar they are. That compilation of this “coronavirus aesthetic” has more than a million views and counting – which only shows just how much time we’ve all spent on our phones lately, where we’re then served even more of these one-note ads.

The messages have matched – if not enforced – the national mood. Consumers are in a funk. A study of consumer habits across 40 countries by McKinsey & Company found that Canadians are amongst the most pessimistic and least likely to spend money right now.

So how do you connect with customers in one of the world’s most pessimistic countries? Give them a dose of optimism for normalcy.

In recent days, our political leaders have increasingly pivoted toward discussing the economic recovery and the gradual reopening of the country. A recent survey from Abacus Data shows that Canadians’ anxiety about the “long-term financial situation” is now outpacing concerns about our health care system’s capacity as the driving fear about the pandemic. This past week, Quebec Premier François Legault turned a few heads when he justified his government’s announced reopening strategy by saying, “life must go on.” But so it must – even if it has not.

That means there’s a growing opportunity for companies to shift gears and start communicating about the future, and for creativity and daring to cut through the monotony.

Making a pivot to selling products and services again will require creativity anew – the same stuff that drove brewers and distillers to make hand sanitizer instead of beer and spirits. There’s no shortage of prognosticators who have elaborate visions about what the new normal will look like when this is all over, and despite the risks present, companies brave and creative enough to make a bet on that future can lead the way.

That’s why political leaders have been talking about their strategies to reopen businesses and schools at their daily news conferences, even if the execution of those plans remains far off. People need to see reasons to hope.

It’s a safe bet Canadians are ready to see love, laughter – and yes, products they can buy – again on their screens. At some point, an advertiser will need to break beyond the safety of capturing the dour mood. So if Canadians are craving scraps of a better tomorrow, it’s time for the messages about buying things, the comeback, and getting back to work – the things that broadly reflect that sense of optimism.

It matters that such hopes and visions are missing from the ads and marketing Canadians see. Advertising doesn’t just reflect back the mood of a nation; it holds the potential to shape public opinion and change behaviours. And our economic restart will rely on everyday Canadians at least thinking about making purchases sooner rather than later.

They might be missing because over the years, advertising has shifted from aspirational to honest. Authenticity reigns supreme: just think of how parenting and beauty products are portrayed today compared to decades past.

But while we might not be ready to click buy or allowed to shop in stores as we’re used to just yet, businesses shouldn’t be ashamed to start the processes of showing consumers how they can comfortably get back to normal. We’ve shown great progress in flattening the COVID-19 curve in this country, and now it’s time to flatten the curve of ads that increasingly remind us of the bad spot we’re in, not the bright road ahead. In fact, our jobs, our economy, and our long-term financial situation depend on it. ​

Enterprise strengthens digital and public affairs teams with addition of new talent

Enterprise is strengthening its digital and public affairs practices by adding four new members to its growing team of strategists and consultants.

Alex Opiola joins the Hub at Enterprise, the firm’s in-house creative agency, as a Digital and Creative Consultant, having previously spent time with the firm as a digital and public relations intern. She’ll be working closely with the senior digital and creative strategists to execute content and advertising campaigns for a wide-range of clients.

Jharna Bajaj is joining us as a Public Affairs and Communications Coordinator and Charlie Mortimer is joining us as an Associate Consultant. Both have strong skills and backgrounds in government relations, business and digital communications and will play a key role on our public affairs team and in the Hub.

Katie Lear joins as the firm’s new Executive Team Coordinator, drawing on her background in journalism, writing and consulting. She’ll be taking on a lead role in supporting Enterprise’s executive team and working on communications and digital projects.

“We’re thrilled to welcome Alex, Jharna, Katie and Charlie to the team as we continue to expand our public affairs and digital practices at Enterprise and at the Hub,” said Enterprise CEO Barbara Fox. “They each bring unique skills and perspectives to our team and they’ve already made significant contributions to serving our clients.”

“When you have the chance to add smart, creative people who think digital-first and understand how to bridge the gap with strategic communications and public affairs, you take it,” said Jeff Blay, Creative Director at Hub at Enterprise. “We’re excited to have Alex, Jharna, Katie and Charlie on board.”

Enterprise strengthens digital and public affairs teams with addition of new talent

(Virtually) meet our new team members. Charlie, top left. Alex, top right. Katie, bottom left. Jharna, bottom right.

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We may not know when, but we can plan

What companies can do to prepare for a return to work post COVID-19

Here is a problem you might not know you have yet: We’re going return to work.

Be it in the office or some version of what we had before. We can’t know exactly when, but we do know for certain it will happen, and it will certainly be different.

For those of us in non-essential services, that could mean leaving the home office and returning to the workplace or starting to look for employment after being laid off or put on furlough.

Whatever our situation, our return won’t look entirely the same as it did before COVID-19. It will feel strange and unfamiliar, and many will look to their employers to provide a sense of comfort and guidance on how to navigate the journey back.

Organizations – and their employees – have learned a lot in a very short time during the wild ride of the COVID-19 pandemic. We’ve learned to adjust how we work in real time. We’ve learned how to deliver services virtually and how to deliver a wide range of goods – from food and all varieties of retail products, to alcohol and restricted goods, to medical advice and education. We’ve learned how to pivot our manufacturing to necessary supplies.

We’ve learned how to integrate our personal lives into our professional lives, tolerating (even welcoming) restless children, barking dogs and keyboard-sitting cats into conference calls. We’ve learned how to manage our households, while at the same time working, caregiving and educating.

A lot of what we’ve learned through the course of this COVID-19 period will follow us into the new normal, whenever that comes to pass. It’s important to acknowledge that it won’t happen overnight — or even all at once.

We should expect changes to be transitional, over several months, as companies phase in their workforce. Not only will the phase-back be conditional on businesses having the revenue to bring back their teams, but caregivers, parents and others may have a longer road ahead as schools remain closed, summer camps are possibly unable to open and restrictions on the immunocompromised potentially linger, leaving them still unable to safely venture into populated public spaces.

As a result, the initial cohort returning to work may be a significantly reduced portion of the overall workforce and the feasibility of a permanent work-from-home opportunity may become a reality.

In the coming weeks, organizations need to consider what adaptations they’ve made that can – and should – stick, while balancing productivity within their business.

Decision-makers should be sitting down now with human resources to work through transitional and long-term employee policies. This whole situation may be unprecedented, and those who have an employee-first work culture and willingness to be nimble are already at an advantage. But that doesn’t mean that you too can’t look ahead and adapt.

What is being asked of companies isn’t new. We’ve done it before, building out return to work procedures for maternity, long-term disability and other leave policies.

But this will require identifying an authentic approach for each business to create policies that address both a return to work and necessary contingencies, should we face a backslide in the spread of the virus that requires renewed quarantine measures after the initial wave passes.

Above all, to make this work, organizations must ensure they have a firm grasp on the communications required — leading up to the transition, throughout all the phases, and into a fully post-pandemic workplace. Communication that pre-empts and anticipates the needs and concerns of employees will go a long way in ensuring all employees remain connected and committed, regardless of where they fit in the phases of the return.

It’s been said by many (including pieces by us at Enterprise here and here) what corporate reputations will be made or broken through this crisis. That extends to how we manage our recovery.

Preparedness, along with regularity, consistency and empathy in communications will win the day in the recovery phase of this crisis.

Erika Barootes, Betsy Hilton, and Melissa Lantsman hold senior roles at Enterprise Canada, a national communications and public relations firm based in Toronto with offices in Edmonton, Hamilton, and Niagara. They bring over a decade of experience in corporate communications, issues management, and working with clients to develop a strong corporate culture.