So far British Columbia has not been hit as hard by the economic downturn than other areas in the world, but illiquid credit markets, dropping real estate values, diminishing construction activity, a battered forestry sector and the drastic drop in commodity prices promise difficult times ahead.

Thanks to the fiscal discipline and resulting surpluses both federally and provincially, governments of both levels have the flexibility and means to invest counter-cyclically and have declared their intention to do so through infrastructure investments and other measures.

Infrastructure investments in times of economic downturns make sense: they mitigate the negative effects of the downturn, allow governments to take advantage of competitive pricing and afford the long term benefit of a modernized, better infrastructure. These investments can also position the economy to come out of the downturn stronger, more productive and more competitive.

However, we have to think beyond the traditional understanding of infrastructure that includes roads, bridges and buildings. In the 21st century our information technologies and communications infrastructure is equally important. Inefficiencies in computer and communications networks may be less visible than road congestion and pot holes, but they are as damaging to the smooth functioning of our infrastructure.

There are three main areas of technology infrastructure investments we believe our governments need to consider: Modernizing the governments’ own communications and IT infrastructure; improving the technology industry infrastructure and accelerating carbon reduction investments.

Modernizing government communications and IT infrastructure
In many areas governments are underutilizing information technology systems or are trying to make do with outdated hardware and software that cannot deliver the connectivity, flexibility, and self-service capabilities of modern systems. Governments need to re-invent themselves around new information technology systems that increase their efficiency and productivity. Through this re-invention, governments will also create new opportunities for the technology industry, including exportable expertise and meaningful work for Canadians.

    • Upgrading the government’s legacy IT infrastructure – By upgrading their own IT infrastructure and legacy systems, governments can improve service delivery, particularly e-government initiatives, and improve productivity. 
 
    • Improving and connecting health information systems – The one public sector area with probably the largest productivity gain potential is the area of Health Services.  While the electronic health record has been discussed for years, it is time that it happened.  Baby boomers continue to age and increase their use of the health care system.  Without investments that increase the systems efficiency, health care costs will continue to skyrocket in the future.

    • Re-investing the $4B in wireless license revenues into the wireless sector – The $4 billion in revenues that the federal government extracted from wireless telcos in 2008 in the name of spectrum licensing and competitiveness should be re-invested into initiatives that leverage wireless technologies to improve corporate and public sector productivity and service delivery.

Improving the technology industry infrastructure
Where governments are looking to invest in traditional infrastructure that protects construction jobs, consideration should be given to projects that leverage the intellectual capacity of Canadians. Specifically, we recommend:

    • Completing the last mile of the digital divide – With a growing need for alternative economic opportunities in the Interior and North, the completion of broadband Internet access for remote communities becomes even more critical. While the Province has made substantial investment to date, greater access, particularly ‘last mile’ solutions are still needed.

    • Create collaborative technology parks – Research Parks in BC have a successful track record in providing an environment to launch dozens of high-tech companies, including many technology transfer spin-outs.  Increased industry-to-industry and industry-to-academia collaborations, and increased co-op and intern placement opportunities helps to create a ‘market’ focus for BC’s research innovations.

    • Improving research facilities – To create tomorrow’s innovations, today’s researchers need world-class facilities for their research. Better facilities provide the tools required for exploration while also creating an environment to attract and retain the world’s greatest minds.

Accelerating carbon reduction investments
The BC government has made the reduction of carbon emissions a key initiative for our province, including goals l
ike carbon neutrality of the BC Government’s operations by 2010 and electricity self sufficiency by 2016. To achieve these goals, not just the provincial government, but all levels of government need to look at accelerating their carbon reduction investments.

When it comes to power, dams and power lines are still important; however, today’s definition of infrastructure must also include systems that produce power closer to the point of consumption.  Specifically, opportunities for infrastructure investments exist in:

    • Green power projects – Several technologies are emerging for power generation, including wind, tidal, solar power and biomass, as well as solutions that create power from waste and landfills. Aside from producing power more cleanly, these projects often have a smaller footprint and do not create the environmental impacts that often delay and derail large projects.

    • Public sector carbon neutrality investments – Similar to the IT investments suggested, governments should be investing in internal infrastructure projects that reduce their footprint while also creating exportable expertise for Canadian vendors.

By investing smartly into the broad public sector, governments can use the economic stimulus investments to create new opportunities for companies in the technology industry, not only as a short term stimulus, but also as a longer term increase in competitiveness.

Infrastructure investments have to go beyond bricks and mortar. 

I therefore call upon technology sector and our governments to develop new ideas, plans, projects, and recommendations that will help our economy manage this downturn smartly and prepare our Province and Country for its recovery and growth.

Sincerely,

Pascal Spothelfer
President & CEO