Political speech writer, author and commentator David Frum said one of the biggest questions those in the construction industry should be asking during this federal election campaign is: "Who will be the investor as Canada builds what Canada is going to need to build?"
Frum, the keynote speaker at the 30th Annual CanaData East Construction Industry Forecast Conference in Toronto, told those in attendance that both Canada and the U.S. are at very high political risk currently as governments begin to challenge the idea of the private sector being in control of decisions about investment and the use of capital.
"We're seeing the rise of politicians who reject private sector-led growth for the first time really in 30 years. What that means is that elections are about to become much higher risk events with much higher consequences," Frum stated.
"This is an industry that is very affected by these issues. The question is, who will be the client in the future? Will government be your most important client, or will private sector clients be your most important client? The question of who invests probably is more immediate for people in the construction industry than almost everywhere else."
A senior editor at the Atlantic, Frum is also the author of eight books and served as speechwriter and special assistant to President George W. Bush in 2001-2002; in 2007-2008, he was senior adviser to the Rudy Giuliani presidential campaign. While politics dominated his discussion at CanaData, with Canadians heading to the polls Oct. 19 and the Americans voting in 2016, Frum also pointed out some interesting aspects of the economy and how change is imminent.
"I wanted to get across first, that the news about the Canadian economy is impressively hopeful. The Canadian economy has reacted much faster than traditionally would have been expected to the changing value of Canadian currency," he explained about the dollar, adding Canada has seen a manufacturing and jobs surge over the past three months. "
Canadian manufacturing is really coming back," he said.
This is evident in the auto sector, he added. Frum was also quick to point out the change that's beginning to emerge between our relationship with the car, which in turn could change the way places are built.
"We have waited for 20 years to know what was the next such thing that would really transform the economy. I think that we can begin to see it's first the change in our attitude towards the car...and the coming of the driverless car that is going to change the way we use urban space," he said.
"The revolt against spending hours and hours a week commuting, (as well as) the desire to be in closer proximity to one another to enjoy urban life, that is going to be a dramatic event, especially for construction industries."
All of these elements, however, are being overshadowed because of rising political risk, Frum added.
"How does business get done in a world in which the rules of the game that we have known for 30 years may be about to change, and change very dramatically?" he asked.
He said that throughout the Canadian campaign, he's seen the Liberals and NDP come forth with major ideas and promises that could overwhelm voters.
"The two parties that had a change message took an early lead. They began to compete with each other to have ever more ambitious approaches to change," he states.
"My sense is at this point, they have outpaced the appetite of the electorate for change. Both the Liberals and the NDP are now offering more change than Canadians are going to be comfortable with. That leaves a tremendous opening for the Conservatives to be the party of responsibility, protecting what people have, avoiding adventures."
But, while Canadians await their chance to vote, there are still factors to consider across the border as well. During Frum's address, questions from the audience inevitably surfaced around Donald Trump and his attempt to become the Republican presidential candidate. Many wondered if he can be taken seriously.
"Donald Trump is an unserious person, but the movement that he is leading is a serious movement," Frum stated.
"He will not be president of the United States. He's going to fade. Donald Trump is exactly the type of figure who would not sell in Canada. Canadians are very cautious voters."
Frum also noted that elections, regardless of what country, "are not about the past, ever."
"The vote is for tomorrow," he said.
The 2nd Annual CanaData West Conference is taking place at the Vancouver Convention Centre on Oct. 22. This year's line up of speakers includes keynote speaker Michael Campbell, Ken Peacock, Cameron Muir, Cliff Stewart and CMD Group senior economist Alex Carrick. For more information or to register visit www.canadata.com/agendawest.html.