MEDIA: CBC News Network Weekend Business Panel (January, 2021)

Another busy news week and a historic political week ahead make it a great time to be on the CBC News Network Weekend Business Panel, alongside Elmer Kim and John Northcott.

Here’s an overview of the topics we discussed:

  • Airline job and service cuts.  As the days of COVID19 march on, Canada’s airlines continue to struggle, with unprecedented declines in demand.  What do the latest service and job cuts mean for the airline industry and when might recovery begin?
  • Office space vacancies reach record highs.  The pandemic has changed how many companies operate, leaving their office space needs in question.  What can we expect to happen in the days ahead, in terms of office vacancies?
  • Biden stimulus plan announced As Inauguration Day will take place in the week ahead, what could the Biden stimulus plan mean for those in the US, as well as Canadians?

In the early days of the pandemic, Canadian airlines saw demand for their services decline in excess of 95%, and the ongoing strategies to combat COVID19 have meant little improvement for the travel industry.  We have seen numerous stories about staff cuts and flight decreases over the past several months, with the latest impacting more small centres.  Given that Canada is a geographically large country, air travel is essential, while at the same time, businesses must make decisions that are in the best interest of the sustainability of the company.  We haven’t seen as much collaboration between government support initiatives and the airlines as would be ideal, recognizing that both parties have to “give a little” in order to get to a solution.  Top of mind for many Canadians is the ongoing challenge of receiving refunds for flights that were cancelled due to the pandemic, as well as the relative fairness of potential funders wanting to understand how support would be used, in advance of providing it.  With a traditional high traffic travel season upon us, it will be interesting to see how this situation unfolds.

The expectation of increased office vacancy rates is another topic that we have followed on the Business Panel over the past year.  COVID19 has changed the manner in which many Canadians work, with a significant increase in remote arrangements.  As businesses consider their need for office space going forward, the outcome will have a lot to do with the type of company at hand and the competitive landscape within the sector in which it operates.  Remember that office space represents “overhead” and can be costly, creating a situation where some businesses might not be as competitively priced as those who have decided to continue their operations on primarily a remote basis.  Landlords are on the other side of the equation, and could face an abundance of empty office space with a low potential to find new tenants.  Of interest, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo raised this issue in his State of the State address, with the objective of introducing legislation to convert office and commercial space into housing.  As urban centres may be poised for their next evolution, governments should take notice and act proactively.

As Inauguration Day nears, President Elect Joe Biden announced his administration’s first stimulus plan, covering a wide range of areas in need of support, including financial assistance, protection from eviction, food security, childcare, tax relief, small businesses, healthcare, COVID19 vaccination and testing, and a $15 per hour minimum wage.  It is a tall order to provide help where little has been received for months, while COVID19 rates have been devastating across the US.  Some might say that this $2 trillion stimulus plan is too costly, however, the past number of months and concerning events of January 6, 2021 make it clear that the US has a choice to make.  In an economy that has left many behind, arising from a complex mix of technology, education, and business evolution factors, as well as a significant wealth gap, something has to change.  It will be interesting to see what 2021 will bring, in terms of much needed recovery and hope.

And finally, here’s a look at the first time I “met” Joe Biden.  Here he is, walking with his family on Inauguration Day, January 20, 2009; Vice President Biden.  This photo is from a series that I captured from my vantage point on the Parade Route, witnessing history pass right in front of me.  The Bidens were excited, animated, as they walked, and I remember this day very well (including conducting a live interview with CBC Radio and, later, a video segment for TV from the National Press Club).  It’s hard not to recognize the sheer privilege of witnessing history first-hand, something that might just be one of the most important things that we can do in life: actively observe what we see, learn, remember, and pass our knowledge to those that follow.  We can all play a role in documenting our time here.

Thanks for watching, and see you again soon, CBC!

IMG_1193 small

MEDIA: CBC News Network Weekend Business Panel (November, 2020)

What a historic day to join the CBC News Network Weekend Business Panel, within a mere hour of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris being projected to win the Presidency and Vice Presidency of the United States.  As someone who has closely followed US politics for decades, it’s a pleasure to have this opportunity.

Our discussion, including Elmer Kim, Mark Warner, and John Northcott, focused on what had become Election Week in the US, with a handful of remaining states continuing to count the final ballots to determine who would win the Presidency.  With all eyes on Pennsylvania, it proved to be the defining factor, at 11:24 AM ET, on November 7, 2020.

What could a Biden Administration mean to Canadian companies?  With the US as our largest trading partner by far, Canada has faced uncertainty over the last four years, from an administration that imposed tariffs on Canadian steel and aluminum imports, bluster around the negotiation of NAFTA 2.0 (both have been Business Panel topics), as well as limited attention overall, focusing instead on countries outside of traditional US allies.  The US response to COVID19 has been devastating, with the highest number of cases and deaths globally, resulting in significant job losses, companies closing, and many households in peril.  What could the future look like?

Once the proverbial dust settles in areas such as election related legal disputes and the transition of power (which might not be particularly easy, depending on whether the current administration decides to continue to fight or, instead, brush off the White House as not being particularly important and move on to something else), it’s a reasonable expectation that a Biden Administration would quickly move to combat and manage the coronavirus in a manner that has not been seen in the US thus far, as well as reconnect with traditional allies who have been of limited focus over the last four years.  Joe Biden is well suited to this type of conversation, recalling childhood advice to “keep the faith”, but to also spread it around.

Canada and its business community should expect to see a better level of stability with its neighbour and a more collaborative, productive relationship.  It’s difficult to predict the impact on the longstanding Keystone XL pipeline, however, politicians have a way of keeping their options open, especially when times are tough.  Infrastructure and similar projects have the potential to create a significant number of jobs, which is especially relevant, given the massive number of job losses in 2020 due to COVID19.  Also, expect an increased focus on “kitchen table” issues, including employment and wages, as we know that these are areas that are very close to Joe Biden’s heart, as the stories of job losses in his own family have been told many times.

It has been said that changes in leadership have the potential to bring a level of uncertainty that is counterproductive and risky.  In this case, the circumstances may be different, as what has been a tumultuous last four years fades into the past; but, we are not quite there yet.  The US remains as a country that is highly divided, bringing to mind an important reality that experienced business leaders know: deals often get done “in the middle”, when parties are able to arrive at solutions that allow both sides to win.  In the absence of the necessary skills and experience to arrive at this point, little is achieved, with potential and lost opportunity being left on the table.  Think about the practical implications of what is lost in this type of situation, including in terms of new paths forward and dollars and cents.  In the meantime, all eyes will be on what will unfold up until Inauguration Day in January.

Finally, in advance of Remembrance Day on November 11th, we honour the service and sacrifice of those who have given so much, allowing us to be True North, Strong and Free, every single day.  We will remember them.


MEDIA: CBC News Network Weekend Business Panel (October, 2019)

The fun of live TV, combined with a busy news morning in advance of the Federal election, characterized this week’s CBC News Network Weekend Business Panel.  Standing by for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s press conference, Elmer Kim, John Northcott, and I chatted all things business, including what we didn’t see on the campaign trail.

Playbacks can make things interesting, and review of some of our commentary from September 14th, at the beginning of the campaign, puts areas where business concerns could have been better addressed into context.  Following the theory that politics and business “travel on parallel tracks”, it is often evident that governments and political parties do not fully appreciate the challenges of managing and growing a company (or just how much policies can negatively impact the real world).  One of the best things that governments can do is put business leaders in a position to focus on what matters, as opposed to on administrative burdens in areas such as taxation and regulatory matters; this approach provides the opportunity to fuel growth and progress.

How can this be achieved?  Although governments are likely of the view that they consult with business, the lack of focus on the issues that matter suggests that this isn’t done nearly enough.  Further, advisors and investors bring a wealth of knowledge and context, in terms of business strategies that work (and those that do not), as well as the trends and opportunities of the future.  It is this perspective that is integral to developing a long term strategy to build a greater number of companies that can be globally competitive, an opportunity of particular importance in our current world of economic and political uncertainty.

And a word about economic diversity, particularly in terms of Canadian regions where the focus has long since been on resources: diversity is a state of mind.  Regions that have a lengthy history of a business community and local economy that include a range of industries can appreciate how products, services, technologies, and human capital can reach across various applications, with a bit of tailoring.  Those who haven’t lived this experience might not see the opportunity or scoff at even looking for it (have seen this first hand), and it is in this reality where the state of mind that is diversity can take hold, for those who are willing to take the leap.  It will be interesting to see how this unfolds over the next couple of years, as it is progress that is already overdue.

In the meantime, business leaders need to have a range of plans for whatever the election results might be; this is simply good management.  Failure to do so puts a company at risk and in a reactive position, as opposed to the relative strength of being proactive.  In the event that the current predictions of a minority government come to pass, uncertainty might continue to unfold for a period of time; advisors can help companies to navigate forward in this type of environment.

Don’t forget to get out and vote on October 21st, as it is so important to do so.  Thanks for watching and see you again soon, CBC!