For Canada’s provinces and a federal government accustomed to fierce negotiations, it was like assembling an aircraft in mid-flight. As only a major crisis could, the COVID-19 pandemic united the various levels of government in pursuit of a common goal. While historic tensions between the federal government and the provinces will not disappear, crisis management textbooks will look back on this pandemic as a time of cordial collaboration. As the long-term impacts of the crisis are just beginning to emerge, one thing is certain: The coming years will provide many opportunities for Canadian businesses to position themselves as leaders in the conversations that affect them. Here are four examples:
1. More than ever, businesses in the healthcare sector will have an interest in establishing strong links with provincial governments
The dismay of the various governments regarding the scale of the pandemic quickly revealed previously hidden flaws in our ability to effectively fight a pandemic, including the absence of institutional mechanisms. This unprecedented situation created confusion in hospital settings, as well as significant shortages due to fierce competition for medical equipment on the international markets. The challenge was daunting, and the speed of creating and implementing large-scale assistance programs was crucial to limiting the impact on our country.
The crisis has exposed major flaws in provincial public institutions. This is particularly true for retirement homes in Quebec and Ontario. This situation could result in the provinces gaining more leeway in public health. Whether in managing health equipment supplies or requesting increased federal health transfer payments, the provinces will be better prepared for a second wave of COVID-19 or the outbreak of future pandemics. This is the ideal opportunity for companies to position themselves to become essential suppliers to provincial governments and to be heard on existing issues.
2. The energy sector: At a turning point in the public discourse
Western Canada was hit hard by a sharp drop in oil prices at the start of the crisis. Will the pandemic change the way the provinces discuss issues surrounding energy? Some see this as an opportunity to accelerate the energy transition by investing massively in renewable energy. This is what the International Energy Agency is proposing in its post-pandemic plan, presented in June. That said, the crisis has also highlighted the fragility of the oil industry, which accounts for just over 10% of Canada's GDP.
The environment, jobs and the economy will, of course, remain hot topics, but perhaps in a new form: since the start of the crisis, consumer reflexes have evolved, particularly in terms of online commerce, public transport and telework. The coming years will therefore offer companies many opportunities to express their views, both before governments and in public forums, and to position themselves as key players in an open discussion on the energy sector.
3. Supply chain traceability has become a necessity
If ever a new trend has been widely adopted by Canadians in recent months, it is the trend toward local consumption. Whether personally or within their businesses, Canadians want to encourage local enterprises, and they can more easily put this desire into action. With new technologies constantly ensuring better product traceability, the transparency of the supply chain has never been so essential for companies wishing to maintain a relationship of trust with their employees and customers.
At the same time, this trend has been accentuated by the federal government's calls to empower the country's supply chain to produce medical equipment. Since the start of the crisis, several measures have been implemented to prevent an over-dependence on supplies from other countries in strategic sectors. Efforts in this direction could continue to be encouraged after the crisis. This trend could be welcomed by the provinces and by the population, who would adopt local purchasing as a new consumer reflex. Canadian companies will have to participate in this movement by innovating to allow improved traceability of their products, thereby ensuring responsible, sustainable and local sources of supply for consumers.
4. Leverage the common ground between provinces to advance your ideas
The post-crisis period could accentuate the role and influence of provincial governments that have enjoyed a surge in popularity. While disagreements between the provinces and the federal government have often marked public debate in this country, Canadian businesses will have to exploit the common ground between provinces, rather than what separates them, so that their interests are heard.
NATIONAL's pan-Canadian network of public affairs experts can help you align your interests across very different political contexts from province to province, and put forward the best strategy to help you achieve your goals.
In collaboration with Jake Enwright, Director, Public Affairs at NATIONAL Ottawa
——— Camille Bélanger is a former Associate at NATIONAL Public Relations