Canada Infrastructure Bank: Calgary’s built for this
Mayor Nenshi wrote the following column for the
Globe and Mail. It appeared on January 26, 2017.
In announcing the Canada Infrastructure Bank, Ottawa has a historic opportunity to not just address Canada’s massive infrastructure deficit, but also to shape the future of Canada’s powerful financial services industry.
Locating the bank in Calgary would not only ensure it has the access to the resources it needs to be successful, but also would make a powerful statement about the role of Canada – all of Canada – as a global financial centre.
First, the case for Calgary is clear.
We have the talent and the players here. Calgary has long been the second-largest head-office centre in Canada, and we have long punched far above our weight in global financial circles. Every major global investment bank has a presence here and eight of the 10 largest banks in the world are here, along with major functions of every Canadian bank.
In 2014, Calgary firms accounted for 12 per cent of the deal flow in the energy sector worldwide – about four times our share of world energy production. From a Canadian perspective, 35 per cent of all private equity finances by value in this country happened in Alberta in 2015.
This level of activity is largely because we have an extraordinary level of not just banking talent here, but also top-quality legal, accounting, human resources, risk management, IT and other professional services.
And if there is a silver lining in the human pain of this economic downturn, it is that many of these brilliant people are in the process of reinventing their careers, and are available to start building the bank in Calgary.
(And, for the first time in decades, we have available office space downtown at very good prices!)
No surprise, then, that the financial services sector is an incredibly important part of the city’s economy and a major part of our 10-year economic strategy for diversification.
But what’s even more important is the creation of an environment where creativity can flourish. One of the reasons that so much deal flow in energy has come to Calgary is because we have developed and championed innovative financing tools here: things such as junior capital pools, royalty trusts and flow-through shares.
Calgary therefore offers the opportunity to get out of the financial sector bubble and look to creativity and innovation in financing.
That, above all, is the key factor Prime Minister Trudeau’s government should consider. The bank will be doing work that is without peer in the world, and the world is watching us.
The bank cannot rely on the same old solutions – traditional P3 models (public-private partnerships) can be very useful, but won’t get us where we need to go on massive investments in public transit and waste-water infrastructure, for example.
If we get this right as a nation – if we can figure out how best to leverage pools of private capital that are currently looking for investment to things that really help people live better lives, get to where they need to go, and protect our land, air, and water, we will have done something incredible not just for Canada, but for the world.
So, Finance Minister Bill Morneau and his team have an incredible opportunity: With one decision, they can help address economic diversification in a region of the country that is hurting and set this great experiment of the Canada Infrastructure Bank on a base of success.
In so doing, they could help solve some of the most pervasive problems in the Canadian economy – helping resource-rich regions build on the resource base to create new growth engines, and finally addressing our infrastructure deficit, helping Canadians live better lives.
The road starts in Calgary.